Lou Gehrig looked unbreakable. Broad shoulders, powerful arms, he seemed as solid as the Adirondack ash trees that were tooled for baseball bats. His prodigious strength underscored a flare for the dramatic. His major league record 23 career grand slams stood for over 50 years.
Of all his accomplishments, the one that kept the luster on his legend was the streak that transformed him from flesh and bone into “The Iron Horse.” He played in 2,130 consecutive games.
As a left-handed little league first baseman, I was
captivated by the story of the Yankees’ most famous first baseman. I devoured
schoolboy biographies of the pride of Columbia University. As I pored over the
endless numbers in the Baseball Encyclopedia, the achievements of Lou Gehrig
were impossible to overlook. He had 12 seasons in a row where he drove in 120
runs or more. Later in life I learned so much more from Jonathan Eig’s
definitive biography: Luckiest Man, The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig.
My own involvement in the Les Turner ALS Foundation had nothing to do with Lou Gehrig although like many people, I was quick to invoke the disease’s popular shorthand, “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” Les Turner had a fundraiser every year in the parking lot of the Old Orchard Shopping Center. It was the Mammoth Music Mart. WXRT, where I worked, always had hundreds and hundreds of record albums both used and new that needed a good home. This radio station and the Mammoth Music Mart were a perfect fit. We did promotions and live broadcasts and we got to know the hard-working staff of the Foundation. We also learned about the disease that claimed the life of Lou Gehrig.
They call it a rare disease, but we all know friends or family or public figures who face the inevitability of ALS with hope and strength.
This July 4th marks the 80th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s public farewell at Yankee Stadium. It is more than fitting that we take this occasion to acknowledge the patients who face the challenges of this insidious disease every day. We celebrate the Herculean efforts of the Les Turner ALS Foundation to provide support and assistance. And we remember the tearful speech of a man who seemed unbreakable saying that this disease would not break his spirit.
“Fans, for the past two weeks, you’ve been reading about a bad break. Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
On this July 4th, take nothing for granted. It’s great to be alive.
Les Turner ALS Foundation Spokesperson
WXRT Morning DJ