Here is the full text of Gehrig’s speech. The start and end are very well known, but I’m not sure how easy it is to find the middle of what Gehrig had to say about retiring. So, here is the speech in its entirety:
“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
“Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.
“When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies – that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter – that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body – it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know.
“So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”
As background for the speech, here’s part of a feature in the Bill Mazeroski Baseball Annual for 1995 that told the story of Gehrig’s career and, in this excerpt, the end of his consecutive games played streak on May Day 1939:
On May 1st, in Detroit, he went to see McCarthy in his hotel room. Gehrig was McCarthy’s favorite; he loved him like a son and it tore at him to see this great man so down. McCarthy wouldn’t remove Gehrig from the lineup and left it up to Lou. That night Gehrig asked to be taken out of the lineup and McCarthy agreed. At Briggs Stadium the next day, it was announced that Babe Dahlgren would be at first base in place of Gehrig. An unbelieving hush settled over the crowd. As captain of the Yankees, Gehrig brought the lineup card out to the umpires at home plate. He walked back to the dugout to an ovation—a tribute from the fans to a remarkable man. Gehrig went over to the water fountain and, taking a drink, started to cry. He sat in the dugout as the Yankees took the field and for the first time in fifteen years he was not one of them. McCarthy and Gehrig explained to the press after the game.
“I knew there was something wrong with him,” McCarthy said, “but I didn’t know what it was. His reflexes were shot. I was afraid of his getting hit with a pitched ball. That was my chief concern, to get him out of there before he was hurt. Lou just told me he felt it would, be best for the club if he took himself out. I asked him if he really felt that way, He told me he was serious. He feels blue. He is dejected. I told him it would be as he wished. Like everybody else, I’m sorry to see it happen. Fellows like him come along once in a hundred years.”
“I decided last Sunday night on this move,” Gehrig said. “I haven’t been a bit of good to the team since the season started. It wouldn’t be fair to the boys, to Joe, or to myself. It’s tough to see your mates on base and have a chance to win a ballgame and not be able to do anything about it. McCarthy has been swell about it all the time. He’d let me go until the cows came home; he is that considerate of my feelings. But I knew in Sunday’s game that I should get out of there. I went up four times with men on base. A hit would have won the game for the Yankees, but I missed, leaving five stranded. Maybe a rest will do me some good. Maybe it won’t, who knows? Who can tell? I’m just hoping.”
You can take a look at Gehrig’s performance in the eight games he played in 1939.
(There’s also a post on this blog about Gehrig’s prep career and Yankees debut, the time when he looked more like the man you see above.)