LITTLE FALLS, NJ - To commemorate one of the greatest speeches in American history, the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center opened a new exhibit on Tuesday. Entitled “The Luckiest Man,” the exhibit is a tribute to Lou Gehrig’s iconic farewell 75 years ago.
Located on campus of Montclair State University, the museum will be showcasing artifacts from the life of Yankee legend Lou Gehrig on the 75th anniversary of his famous farewell speech given on July 4, 1939. Known as one of the most famous speeches in American history, it resonates with many because of the simplicity and humility of Gehrig’s speech.
Many baseball fans and ALS-cure supporters came to the opening event to view the exhibit. Special recognition was also given to Pete Frates, the former college baseball star and ALS sufferer who popularized the Ice Bucket Challenge. The popular ALS Ice Bucket Challenge viral videos have reintroduced awareness of ALS to the masses.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease," is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body.
The ALS association website defines ALS as a progressive degeneration of the motor neurons, which eventually leads to death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.
The exhibit includes archival video, rare photographs and artifacts, and a seven-foot long painting of Gehrig’s July 4, 1939 farewell at Yankee Stadium by artist Graig Kreindler. The exhibit also contains artifacts and rare photos of Gehrig’s life and career, which is forever remembered by his stepping reluctantly in front of the microphone before 61,000 at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939 and calling himself “the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”
The Yankee captain and son of German immigrants, had played in a record 2,130 consecutive games, belted 493 home runs while compiling a batting average of .340. At the time of his speech, he was 36 years old and dying, yet insisted that his disease would not rob him of all the good fortune, good friends and great love he had enjoyed throughout his short life. Gehrig died on June 2, 1941, at the age of 38.
The exhibit also pays special tribute to Pete Frates, the former Boston College baseball captain, who was stricken by Lou Gehrig Disease in 2012 and is the inspiration behind the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness and research funds for ALS. The national phenomenon that has generated greater awareness and raised well over $100 million for ALS research.
Lorie Buehler, who grew up in Montclair and now lives in California, attended the “Luckiest Man” exhibit Tuesday evening after being told about the event by childhood friend Lindsay Berra. She added that she grew up as playmates with Larry Jr. and Lindsay Berra.
Buehler said, “The Ice Bucket Challenge is a great way to put such a horrendous disease out front. While people are having fun and doing the challenge, they are also raising money and bringing total awareness to the disease.”
Like Gehrig, Frates, now 29, considers himself blessed to have played the game he loved. Thanks to the power of social media, Frates now has thousands of voices speaking on his behalf, reflecting Gehrig’s humanity and legacy of raising awareness of a devastating disease.
“Every little bit counts.” Buehler expressed, “Lou Gehrig passed away a long time ago and we have not come far in finding a solution to this problem. Hopefully with the money and awareness raised, we will come closer to finding a cure.”