This summer, July 4th, will mark the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” speech. For a man that was so quiet in his life, it is almost ironic that he has one of the most prolific speeches not only in baseball history, but in American history.
Lou Gehrig was never larger than life, never self absorbed. For one of the best players of all-time, he surprisingly lacked any sort of ego, almost to the point of not having confidence. Gehrig was too shy to ask for a raise for many years, while Babe Ruth went into the front office every off-season. Ruth got his money and Gehrig felt fortunate to have a team to call home. He was the anti-superstar. In fact, that entire “Luckiest Man” speech almost did not happen. He had to be coerced into speaking.
Based on everything in Gehrig’s background, would you believe that he almost played the role of Tarzan? Gehrig’s wife, Eleanor, persuaded him to hire Christy Walsh, Babe Ruth’s agent, to help transition Gehrig into a larger than baseball role. In short, there is a photo of Gehrig in Tarzan’s famed leopard skin costume that was published and made its way into the public eye. Unfortunately Gehrig was not picked for the role because his muscles were made for baseball, not looking pretty in Hollywood. Just imagine the Iron Horse on the silver screen in that iconic role.
We know the rest of the Lou Gehrig story. Just three years later, he died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, in my hometown of Riverdale, New York, in the Bronx. It’s ironic that part of the reason he did not land the role was because of his massive muscles. Of course, ALS took his muscles, and eventually his life, from him at such an early age. Everyone should remember him as the quiet ballplayer that was too strong to play the king of the jungle.