Ripken receives award in tribute to Gehrig

November 11th, 2020

Each year, the ALS Association’s Greater New York Chapter honors baseball luminaries in celebrating the legacy of Lou Gehrig and raising money to find a cure for the disease that bears his name. This year, selecting the recipient of their top honor was an easy choice.

The organization earlier this week bestowed with the 2020 Iron Horse Award, in recognition of the 25th anniversary of Ripken breaking Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak. The milestone coincided with Ripken overcoming prostate cancer, furthering the Hall of Famer’s legacy as a symbol of perseverance.

Every November, the ALS Association chapter presents awards at the Lou Gehrig Sports Award Gala in Midtown Manhattan, routinely raising upwards of $1 million for ALS research. This year’s event was conducted virtually due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and still featured speeches from Bob Costas and more.

“What Lou did, in a really tough time in his life, was focus on the positive and even focus on the moment,” Ripken said in an interview with sports journalist Jeremy Schaap, who hosted the gala. “Here’s someone who is going through the worst thing possible and he still has that view. The biggest form of leadership is certainly in what you do in your actions and ultimately who you are, and that came out loud and clear with Lou.”

More than 6,400 people in the U.S. are diagnosed annually with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which Gehrig brought into the national consciousness in 1939 when he was diagnosed at the age of 36. Gehrig died two years later, and there is still no cure. However, major breakthroughs in research have been achieved over the past decade with increased awareness, largely due to digital campaigns like the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Gehrig was a symbol of durability before falling ill, playing in 2,130 consecutive games for the Yankees from June 1, 1925 to April 30, 1939. That record stood for 56 years, until Ripken broke it on Sept. 6, 1995. Ripken went on to play 502 more games in a row to set the record at a seemingly unreachable 2,632 games. Nobody has come within 1,480 games since.

This September, Ripken returned to Oriole Park at Camden Yards as part of Major League Baseball’s league-wide celebration of the anniversary of his record-setting game, considered one of the most memorable events in American sports history. It also links Ripken and Gehrig forever.

“I do believe it is important to be there and show up. It’s how you do your job and the attitude towards your job,” Ripken said. “People can relate to the value of showing up. They can relate to a work ethic. It's not an attendance record, per say, it was meeting the challenges of every day, no matter how hard they are.”

That sentiment dovetails with how baseball and the ALS Association both view the ongoing fight against ALS.

“During this global pandemic, our work has not stopped. It has increased,” said Kristen Cocoman, president and CEO of the ALS Association Greater New York Chapter. “ALS is unrelenting, but so is our resolve. We won’t let this year stop us from making progress and making a difference.”