From Gehrig's official website:
Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky.
When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift - that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies - that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter - that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body - it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed - that's the finest I know.
So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.
'Sure, I'm lucky,' he said.
It's a folksy, casual but proud declaration, even in the face of doom. Open your eyes, he says. Look at the things I've got you'd beg for. Of course I'm the luckiest man alive.
Is that perspective what makes Lou Gehrig an indelible American icon? Today, 70 years after he actually said all that, is it his honest assessment that is as impressive as his courage?
When Babe Ruth stood at the same spot 8 years later, he quipped, "You know how bad my voice sounds- well it feels just as bad." But Gehrig wasted no words in self pity, and he was not attempting to entertain. No one would have thought less of him if he had, just as I'd never fault Ruth for a little levity. But Gehrig is working with great confidence and a crystalline understanding of who he was: the hero to millions, legend of the game, a superstar.
Baseball wasn't big business yet in 1939 (at least not for the players; the owners did alright); there were easier ways to make a living than as a baseball player. Gehrig worked winter jobs to make ends meet, but he understood the adoration of the crowd. He knew how badly everyone in the stands had wanted to be him every one of those 2164 games.
Maybe that's what makes Gehrig's speech so resonant- we can all see ourselves in it. He opens by addressing us directly, by praising us even though someone somewhere must have booed at some point. He offers us a day in his life, and since that's all we've ever want we'll take it. And now we're standing at home plate, and we are speaking with the greatest courage and humility imaginable, just the way we would want to if we were important enough to share our tragedies with the world. Anyone can be a victorious champion, and we often forgive the faults of those who fail. Thrown helmets, curses, smashed water coolers are overlooked, even admired as signs of dedication (except by Lou Piniella). But the greatest champions show the same even temper in victory and defeat.
Lou Gehrig gives us a glimpse of perfection, and we are left looking on with pride, jealousy, and awe because he is who we wish we could be, even at the worst of times.