ALS won't be the final word for this Atlanta reporter

June 1st, 2023
Ray Glier and manager Brian Snitker pose for a photo at Truist Park. (Courtesy of Kathryn Skeean)

In the 2021 World Series postgame press conference, I sat in the second row of the interview room and asked a question. The words came out of my mouth stilted, halting, as if I had been drinking alcohol in the press box for nine innings. I was pressed by a deadline, so maybe it was nerves, but I had been on deadlines for 40 years. It wasn’t nerves.

I remember later telling Jon Kerber, the media rep with the Braves, “Jon, I’m not drunk. I don’t know what’s going on.”

It was the first symptom of my ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease. I was officially diagnosed April 18 of this year.

For months, I kept telling myself it was an undetected stroke, or a conflict with medication. Then I started fumbling with the car keys. This disease is stealthy. People can go 16 months, like me, without a firm diagnosis. It is not only stealthy, it is unbeatable. There is no cure.

Your life is turned upside down. I’m 66. I was ready to retire from everything, but still continue my newsletter, Geezer Jock, as a side project.

And then this. A baseball guy, me, suddenly beaned by a pitch 100 mph by what I consider a “baseball disease,” because the stories of Gehrig’s courage still resonate throughout baseball 84 years later.

It is rare, so ALS does not get the funding of cancer or heart disease, but when a disease is so deadly, so absolute, there needs to be a crusade for more research. Access to drugs that treat ALS can be a challenge because of the expense of insurance co-pays, so ALS assistance programs are always looking for funding. Find a place to donate to the ALS research, please.

In the 84 years since Gehrig's speech at Yankee Stadium, the distance has not closed between Lou's outcome and my expected outcome. Think about how devastating that is to the people and the families stricken with this disease.

ALS is losing some off its fastball because of the research conducted by scientists. Just in the last year, two drugs -- Relyvrio and Tofersen -- have been approved by the FDA. In 2017, Radicava was approved by the FDA. None are a cure, but merely treatment as an attempt to slow progression. We need to retire ALS with one crusade after another.

The heroic Pete Frates, a baseball star at Boston College, launched one of those crusades with the Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014. He didn’t create the Ice Bucket Challenge, he just sent it to outer space, raising millions of dollars for ALS research. My youngest son even participated in it as a high school baseball player. Imagine, a perfect stranger, Pete Frates, teaching my son a lesson on compassion!

More recently, in 2022, Sarah Langs, a talented baseball research and analyst who works at MLB, announced that she had been diagnosed with ALS. She has used her large Twitter following to raise awareness and money for ALS research, most recently with her Fist Bump Challenge.

All of these baseball connections resonate deeply with me as I come from a baseball family. My father, Cliff Glier, was the public address announcer at the Little League World Series for 25 years. He umpired in Williamsport, Pa., and was the first director of the Peter J. McGovern Little League Baseball Museum.

On of my sons, Alexander, caught a game when he was 12 years old with snow blowing into his face mask. Then caught another game that day. Another son, Raymond, got hit in the left cheek by a fastball and wanted to take his base. The ump had to tell him, “Young man, you need to go to the ER” because of the blood. I was in the first-base coaching box as Raymond glared out at the pitcher … with one eye. These children of Jessie Bond and I leaned into baseball, like I am trying to lean into this disease and spit in its face.

Ray Glier (left, top row) and members of the Atlanta beat pose for a photo with Chipper Jones. (Courtesy of Ray Glier)

I’ve covered MLB for decades while based in Atlanta and am a proud member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA). I was there throughout most of the Braves’ historic run of 14 postseason appearances (1991-2005). One journalistic highlight was predicting in USA TODAY Baseball Weekly that the Braves would beat the Phillies in the 1993 NLCS.

The next week, after the Phils beat the Braves in the NLCS, a large envelope arrived. My story (it was still print back then) was glued to a paper plate. The postmark was from Philadelphia.

“Enjoy eating these words” was the barb from the Philly fan.

I should have framed it. It was humbling. Nowhere close to how this disease can humble you, but humbling.

I have moments of despair, you bet I do. It is hard work trying to limit them, but I can use baseball parlance from before the home run era, which is to “keep the line moving," or make things happen one base at a time.

You do not want to be a sitting target for ALS, because it will intimidate you into looking into the future and seeing yourself in a wheelchair. Stay busy. Lay down a bunt, scratch out a hit, take your walk, be happy with a blooper and score some runs. I’m continuing my newsletter and doing plenty of spring yard work. I’m leaving out the words “while I can.”

I need to focus on what is right in front of me: kids, wife, friends, today’s box scores. This disease is a great teacher. It teaches you to be mindful of what’s N-O-W.

We all need to do that. Focus on what is right in front of us. I’m not dying tomorrow.

Ray Glier has worked for newspapers and various media for 44 years. He’s been a contributor to national publications such as The New York Times, Vice Sports, USA TODAY, The Miami Herald, The Boston Globe, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post, Youth TODAY, and Ozy, among many others.