MLB pays tribute to Gehrig

NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter helped Major League Baseball commemorate the 70th anniversary of Lou Gehrig's luckiest man speech Saturday, reading the famous line from the icon's stirring words during a video tribute before the New York Yankees' game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Yankees also placed a wreath of red, white and blue flowers by Gehrig's monument in Monument Park and made a $25,000 donation to Major League Baseball's "4 [diamond] ALS" initiative, an effort to raise awareness of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis -- the disease that forced Gehrig out of baseball in 1939 and took his life two years later.

"It's one thing to me to have the game taken away from you before it should be but when you start talking about taking your life before it should, the way he handled it was incredible," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who has an uncle with ALS.

"I think any time you can pay tribute to this man I think you should do it because of just the legacy he left and the type of life that he lived," Girardi added.

ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease, attacks nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord and robs from people who have it the ability to move and speak. The majority of patients die from respiratory failure within five years of the progress of symptoms, though there are exceptions.

All major league players, coaches and on-field personnel wore patches Saturday to honor Gehrig's legacy and a "4 [diamond] ALS" logo was displayed on first base in each ballpark as part of the awareness initiative.

Gehrig played first for the Yankees for 17 years, hitting .340 with 493 homers and 1,995 RBIs. He hit a record 23 grand slams, had 13 straight consecutive seasons of at least 100 RBIs and 100 runs and helped New York win six World Series titles.

The Hall of Famer played in 2,130 straight games before he sat out against the Detroit Tigers on May 2, 1939, unable to play because of the effects of ALS. His consecutive games streak was the major league record before Cal Ripken Jr., broke the mark in 1995.

Two months after Gehrig's last game, the Yankees retired the Iron Horse's No. 4 in between games of a doubleheader against the Washington Senators. He was the first player in all of sports to receive such an honor.

In front of about 62,000 fans at the old Yankee Stadium, Gehrig delivered one of the most memorable speeches in sports history. He called his disease a "bad break," praised his teammates and manager Joe McCarthy and called his wife "a tower of strength."

The Yankees recreated the speech in a tribute shown on the videoboard of their new $1.5 billion ballpark Saturday, showing Gehrig reciting the first sentence before cutting away to Jeter for the signature line.

"Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth," the current Yankees captain said.

Several Yankees stars, including Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, each read a line from the speech before the video cut back to Gehrig for the final few words.

"It was great to be part of that ceremony," Teixeira said after the Yankees beat the Blue Jays 6-5 in 12 innings. "ALS is obviously a very tough disease and Major League Baseball did a great job today of raising awareness."

In Washington, former U.S. Sen. George Allen, flanked by two ALS patients, recreated the speech before the Nationals' game against the Atlanta Braves. The small crowd stayed mostly quiet as Allen, the son of former Washington Redskins coach George Allen, took 1 minute, 42 seconds to recite Gehrig's address.

At Wrigley Field, former Cubs pitcher Dave Otto read Gehrig's words before Chicago's game against the Milwaukee Brewers. An excerpt from Gehrig's speech and a message about ALS was shown on the main center-field scoreboard during the first inning of Houston's game at San Francisco.

The Yankees also hosted a couple of people diagnosed with ALS, including Michael Goldsmith. The BYU law professor wrote a column in Newsweek that led to baseball's ALS initiative.

With help from his son, Austin, Goldsmith underhanded a ceremonial first pitch to Teixeira as the crowd saluted him with a warm ovation.

Nick Nicholson, of Virginia Beach, Va., a retired Navy commander who turns 66 on Monday and was diagnosed with ALS last August, brought his wife Joanna and two of his three children to the ballpark. His daughter scurried around the field getting autographs before the game while a grinning Nicholson sat in the dugout.

"Dream come true," he said.