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Possibly the most inspiring and heartbreaking story baseball has ever seen, the legacy of Lou Gehrig is remembered today on the same day America celebrates its independence.

In 2,130 games, he demonstrated the difference between mortal athletes and heros.

  • Hit four home runs in one game on June 3, 1932.

  • Won the Triple Crown in 1934 when he led the American League in batting average (.363), home runs (49) and runs batted in (165).

  • Holds the record for most grand slams in a career with 23.

  • Hit 493 home runs in his career, setting the record for the most home runs hit by any first baseman in history until Mark McGwire recently hit 500.

  • Became the only player in history to drive in more than 500 runs in three years. He ushered in 174 runs in 1930, 184 in 1931 and 151 in 1932, for a total of 509.

  • 184 RBI's in a single season (1931) is first in American League history and second in baseball history (behind Hack Wilson's 190 RBI's with the Chicago Cubs).

  • Became the first athlete to have his number retired.

2,130 games and he played every one like it was Game 7 of the World Series. Like it was the last day of the season and he was in a neck and neck race for a batting title. Like there wasn't already a stacked line-up of men in the roster who could support the team's offense. Lou Gehrig played every game like it was an honor and one that he'd never disrespect by giving less than everything he had. He gripped each day like baseball was oxygen, and in 2,130 games, he never loosened his stranglehold on his rapt commitment to baseball.

On June 21, 1939, the Yankees announced Gehrig's retirement and pronounced July 4, 1939 Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day. In his famous ceremonial speech, Gehrig humbly called him "the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

But who was luckier than his contemporaries, the people who, by fate, were fortunate enough to be alive to witness one of the greatest acts of determination, humility, and fortitude? Who was luckier than the city of New York, who housed what Mayor Mayor Fiorella La Guardia called, "the greatest prototype of good sportsmanship and citizenship"? Who's luckier than every Yankee who was blessed enough to have played with this legend?

And who's luckier than the generations of baseball fans who, in the face of a era plagued by controversy, can remember The Iron Horse and be comforted by the resiliency he infused into the game, and who can forever be inspired by his valor and intrepidity?

There’s an article from former Tigers Visiting Clubhouse Manager Vincent “Jimmy” Palermo at that relates to his personal experience with Gehrig, that makes you understand how sad it was to see Lou falling apart. He quotes:

After everyone was gone except Lou, he called me over to his locker which was the second one from the door. He was trying to put on his shoes, which I had shined many times for him in the past. “Jimmy, can you help me with my shoes,” he asked as he tried in vain to put them on. He just couldn’t bend over from his stool far enough to even slip them on. My hands shook as I loosened the laces and then slipped both shoes on his feet, one at a time. He smiled at me and said “thanks.”

Then, after Lou attempted to tie them himself and as I stood by, he looked up and said, “Jimmy, I think you’d better tie them for me too - because I just can’t.”

My hands still shaking, I tied each of his shoelaces. He smiled at me again, drew a breath and rose from the stool. He paid his swindle sheet bill, said “thanks” and gave me a $10 tip. I don’t think he noticed the tears in my eyes as he very slowly walked out of the visitor’s clubhouse at Sportsman’s Park for what would be the last time.

Thank you, Lou Gehrig. Baseball might have been given some bad breaks, but thanks to you, we have an awful lot to root for.

* * *

And if you're comfortable with crying, these are really touching and fantastic testaments from the Yankee blogosphere that brought a tear to my eye:

"The Luckiest" from Fack Youk

"To Be the Luckiest Man on the Face of the Planet" from Pinstripe Alley


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