The Iron Horse
by Michael Aubrecht
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Unlike vanity, pride, when tempered with humility, can be a gracious gift to those in need. Even in the face of great despair and adversity, pride has always been an invaluable emotion that can provide strength, comfort and more importantly, hope.
Pride can also help us reflect on the good that we have done as well as the good that we yearn to do. It allows us to believe in ourselves and can inspire others to achieve things they otherwise would not have attempted.
When expressed properly, pride can be the foundation for healthy self-esteem. In Galatians 6:4, it states: "Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else." In other words, take pride in yourself, but not over others.
One example of pride can be found in the bittersweet story of one of baseball’s most hard-working and humble gentleman, Mr. Lou Gehrig.
Although his performance on the field made him an American icon, it was his tragic and untimely death that made him unforgettable. A real-life folk hero, Gehrig was everything a professional baseball player should and shouldn't be. A quiet man who "carried a big stick" Gehrig was a blue-collar champion. His records and statistics spoke louder than his actions and his career numbers still rank among the highest in the history of major league baseball.
As a member of baseball's most storied franchise, his accomplishments with the first Yankees dynasty are without question. His dedication to the game was certainly second to none, yet beyond baseball, there was nothing newsworthy or spectacular about him. In the words of his widow Eleanor, "He was just a square, honest guy."
Simply stated, Lou Gehrig was a baseball player… a great baseball player.
But even more importantly, Lou Gehrig was a man… a great man.
All-Century Teammate, Hall of Famer, Triple Crown Winner, All-Star, World Series Champion, Most Valuable Player… these are just some of the terms used to describe the one they called "The Iron Horse". His life story represented the "American Dream" and read more like a Hollywood movie script. Surprisingly more fact than fiction, it was appropriately translated into THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES, which was nominated for eleven Academy Awards in 1943 and is still regarded by many today as the finest baseball movie ever made.
His statistics spoke volumes as well and continue to prove that his impact on our national pastime remains second to none by a player from his era.
A true thoroughbred christened the "Iron Horse" he held the "unbreakable" record of 2,130 consecutive games played until 1998 when it was finally topped by another "Iron Man" named Cal Ripken Jr. A tireless worker, Gehrig played every game for more than 13 years despite a broken thumb, a broken toe, and back spasms. Later in his career his hands were X-rayed, and doctors were able to spot 17 different fractures that had "healed" while he continued to play. This toughness could be attributed to the fact that he was the only surviving child (out of 4) of hard-working German immigrants.
Somehow though, even his resilient exterior could not overcome the growing sickness he hid within.
Things began to change in 1938 as Gehrig struggled and fell below .300 for the first time since 1925. He appeared clumsy and sluggish on (and off) the field and it was painfully clear that there was something wrong.
He lacked his usual, dominant swing and many pitches that he would have normally hit out of the ballpark fizzled into meager fly outs.
Initially, Doctors diagnosed him with having a gall bladder problem, and put him on a bland diet, which only made him weaker. Determined to work through his pain, he managed to play in the first eight games of the 1939 season, but fatigue weighed down his bat and he was barely able to field the ball.
Gehrig knew when his fellow Yankees had to congratulate him for stumbling into an average catch it was time for him to leave. Eventually, he took himself out of the game and unfortunately, he would never return.
After a battery of tests, Doctors at the Mayo Clinic diagnosed Gehrig as having a very rare form of degenerative disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The prognosis was terminal and there was no chance that he would ever play baseball again.
Aware that his days were numbered, he continued to carry himself with unwavering dignity despite being unable to conceal his failing health. New York sports writer Paul Gallico suggested the team have a recognition day to honor Gehrig on July 4, 1939. With more than 62,000 fans in attendance, Gehrig spoke his immortal words of thanks and composed one of the most emotional and heartfelt speeches ever given. As a testament to his courage and selflessness, he opened his remarks with the infamous line, "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."
As a fitting tribute, Gehrig was elected to the Hall of Fame that December. During the last months of his life, he worked tirelessly on youth projects in New York until he was unable to walk. He died in 1941, at the age of 37. His sudden death brought national attention to this relatively unknown affliction known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and the illness has since been renamed "Lou Gehrig's Disease". His position in the public eye helped to inspire more intensive research and today the ALS medical community is hopefully getting closer to finding a cure.
Without question, Lou Gehrig accomplished more in his short life than most athletes could ever dream of. The inner-strength and pride that he exhibited not only at the end but also throughout the course of his life is a testament to the man and what he was able to accomplish both on the field and off.
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