Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Leadership of Lou Gehrig: Baseball's Opening Day Reflection


"Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." — Lou Gehrig


As the 2012 season opens for Major League Baseball, we would do well to reflect on the life of Lou Gehrig—not only because he was one of the greatest players on the field, but because of the greatness of character the Iron Horse displayed off the field.

I have spent many days at Yankee Stadium with my son Austin while he was growing up, enjoying regular season games, playoffs and even the World Series. These games—Austin wore the jersey of his favorite player, Paul O’Neill as I wore the jersey of my all time favorite, Lou Gehrig—provided many memories and a special father/son bond.

Aside from these memories with my son, my past experience as a confidant to the New York Yankees in the 1980's and authoring a book titled And on the Eighth Day God Created the Yankees during that time make baseball a special part of my life. In the book is one of my favorite photos of Lou Gehrig signing his 1937 contract for $37,700 while Jacob Ruppert, Joe McCarthy and Joe DiMaggio look on.

The Character of Lou Gehrig—The Iron Horse

Immortalized as the Pride of the Yankees, Lou Gehrig's durability and dedication are reflected in his playing in 2,130 consecutive games between 1925-1939. Complimenting this streak, his record of 23 career grand slams still stands today. He had a .340 lifetime batting average, won the American League MVP Award in 1927 & 1936 and was a Triple Crown winner in 1934.

The character of Lou Gehrig was exemplified throughout his life, beginning with his humble upbringing in New York City, his college career at Columbia University and throughout his years with the New York Yankees. His character is most remembered through the memory of July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium. Lou, after a lifetime of contributing to the game of baseball as a player, was only 36 years old and dying. More than 61,000 fans listened to his words—one of the greatest messages of character America has ever heard:

"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."
Perhaps Richard Vidmer, a reporter covering the story the next day for the Herald Tribune, expressed it best:
"Somehow I felt that at the Stadium yesterday not a great baseball player but a truly great sportsman who could take his triumphs with sincere modesty and could face tragedy with a smile. His records will attest to future generations that Lou Gehrig was one of the greatest baseball players who ever lived, but only those who have been fortunate enough to have known him during his most glorious years will realize that he has stood for something finer than merely a great baseball player—that he stood for everything that makes sports important in the American scene."
Lou Gehrig - Pride of the Yankees (2:53)
Lou Gehrig - The Iron Horse (5:21)
<A HREF="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vya1NrHyXE">Play the clip on YouTube</A>

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