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77 years have passed since Lou Gehrig gave his 'Luckiest Man' speech

A version of this piece originally ran July 4, 2015.

The Yankees played a doubleheader on July 4, 1939, because it was a holiday and they were expecting a good-sized crowd. But it wasn't just the celebration of our nation's founding that was drawing people in -- it was also Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day.

The first baseman had retired on June 21 after being diagnosed with ALS, the disease that would later bear his name. The last time he had actually been on the field was April 30. He voluntarily benched himself on May 2, which brought an end to his streak of 2,130 consecutive games:


Though he never played again, he did make one last appearance on the grass at Yankee Stadium. We think you know the one:

That's when Gehrig made his famous "Luckiest Man" speech to a crowd of over 61,000 fans. Also on the field with him were the members of the 1927 World Series-winning Yankees, including Babe Ruth:


The New York Times described the speech and its accompanying tributes as "one of the most touching scenes ever witnessed on a ball field and one that made even case-hardened ball players and chroniclers of the game swallow hard."

Gehrig's teammates also sent him off with a trophy they had made for him, complete with this inscription:

We've been to the wars together;
We took our foes as they came;
And always you were the leader,
And ever you played the game.

Idol of cheering millions,
Records are yours by sheaves;
Iron of frame they hailed you
Decked you with laurel leaves.

But higher than that we hold you,
We who have known you best;
Knowing the way you came through
Every human test.

Let this be a silent token
Of lasting Friendship's gleam,
And all that we've left unspoken;
Your Pals of the Yankees Team.