Tag Archives: Lou Gehrig

Time Traveling through Baseball’s Past

For fans of a certain British television show about a guy and his companions who travel around in a bigger on the inside blue police box, today marks the start of a very important week.

The week is important for fans of Doctor Who in that it marks the final countdown to the new season of time traveling adventures Saturday night.

In honor of the countdown to the new season of the show I thought it would be fun to focus on time travel here as well.

In particular the focus this week will be on time travel as it relates to baseball in the past, present and future.

If I had a TARDIS, like the main character in Doctor Who I would travel through time and space checking out all of the key baseball moments. Photo R. Anderson

If I had a TARDIS, like the main character in Doctor Who I would travel through time and space checking out all of the key baseball moments.
Photo R. Anderson

Today we will start our journey through baseball time and space in the past.

Consider if you will, all of the historic moments that have occurred in baseball.

From Babe Ruth, to Shoeless Joe Jackson, to Jackie Robinson, and every player in between, baseball is full of larger than life players who for many baseball fans exist only as black and white news reel images or statistics on a page.

With Babe Ruth having made his professional debut 100 years ago, there are few people still around who were alive then, let alone old enough to have been there to witness it.

Now consider that time travel was possible and you had the means to visit any past moment in baseball history, including the Bambino’s first game. What moments would you visit?

I have often pondered that very question and have come up with some definitive moments that given the chance I would love to see in person.

The moments are divided up into the categories of Ballparks, Ballplayers, and Ballgames.

First let us focus on the Ballparks.

Many books are dedicated to the must see sights in baseball. But what if time travel was a reality and one could visit events as they occurred instead of reading about them afterwards? Photo R. Anderson

Many books are dedicated to the must see sights in baseball. But what if time travel was a reality and one could visit events as they occurred instead of reading about them afterwards?
Photo R. Anderson

While I have had the pleasure and opportunity to visit many Ballparks, including several that have since been torn down, there are a few of the classic Ballparks that were torn down before I had the chance to see them that I would have loved to catch a game in.

With the ability to travel back to the golden age of baseball and visit any Ballpark I would visit the Polo Grounds, Ebbett’s Field, and the first Yankee Stadium.

While many new Ballparks such as Oriole Park at Camden Yards have brought back a piece of that classic Ballpark feel, there would be nothing quite like traveling to see the ones that started it all.

It would also be fun to travel to an era where people dressed up in their Sunday best to catch a game although I could probably go without the grandstands full of cigarette smoke since I am allergic.

While visiting Ballparks from the golden age would be fun, another Ballpark that I would love to visit is technically still standing but no longer hosts baseball, or much of anything else for that matter. That Ballpark is the Astrodome.

Although I covered a high school football game in the Astrodome, by the time I moved to Houston the Astros had moved to Minute Maid Park (technically Enron Field at the time) and the days of baseball in the Dome were done.

Granted the Astrodome begat many carbon copy domed stadiums that hosted baseball in Seattle, Minnesota, and St. Petersburg but there would be something hard to miss about being at the very first indoor baseball game under a dome.

Whenever I find myself at Tropicana Field I often try to picture what a culture shock it most have been for those first Houston fans to see a game without knowing what the weather was like outside or being able to see the sky.

After Ballparks the next item to travel through time to see would be Ballplayers.

I would need to use my time machine to travel to see Babe Ruth play a game along with Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, and Shoeless Joe Jackson to name a few.

Speaking of Shoeless Joe, an interesting time traveler’s paradox comes into play. Would one warn Shoeless Joe and his Black Sox teammates about being banned for life for the World Series fixing scandal, or just let history go on as predicated.

While time travel in science fiction books and films often show negative results to the future through the butterfly effect whenever the past is changed it does pose an interesting question of what one would do in that situation.

There are of course people who would use time travel to their benefit through betting on games when they know the outcome but for our purposes here let us go with the belief that all who travel back are merely going as fly on the wall observers to soak in the events without altering the outcomes or fattening their wallets.

So with that philosophy of observe, but don’t interfere in mind, the Chicago White Sox would still throw the World Series just as Pete Rose decades later would still be banned from baseball.

As a certain British time traveler would say, some points in history are fixed points in time.

The third area of our journey to baseball’s past would be specific Ballgames.

From the first World Series game, to Lou Gehrig’s luckiest man alive speech, there are countless moments in Ballgames that would be worth traveling to.

For me some of the games I would need to see in person would be when Hank Aaron broke the home run record and when Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripken Jr. played their first games.

To see the start of the two longest consecutive games played streaks and to see a home run record fall would be truly historic events.

There are of course more Ballparks, Ballplayers and Ballgames that could be revisited given the ability to travel to any point in time. Each historic moment in baseball would be at the time traveler’s disposal to visit time and time again.

While realistically time travel to that degree will remain a mere wish and the stuff of film, television and literature, it is certainly fun to consider the big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff now and then.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get ready for travels through the present.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

 

Gehrig’s Speech is Still Powerful 75 Years Later

There are certain moments in baseball that are timeless and manage to span the generations.

Whether it is a classic call from a broadcaster who has long ago passed away, or the visuals of Hank Aaron rounding third after setting the record for home runs, the visuals and sounds of baseball stick in the memories of fans even if they were not alive when the actual events occurred.

Such is the case with Lou Gehrig’s famous “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech which was given before a game between the New York Yankees and Washington Senators 75 years ago on July 4, 1939.

In the speech Gehrig listed all of the positives of his life despite being diagnosed with a death sentence in the form of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS.

Friday marked the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig's famous speech at Yankee Stadium where he stated that he was, "the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

Friday marked the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s famous speech at Yankee Stadium where he stated that he was, “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

ALS, now known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. There is no cure for ALS. While advancements in treatment have prolonged patient life, the disease is still considered a fatal diagnosis.

Growing up I had heard the speech as it was part of a greatest moments in baseball VHS tape that I owned. While I had heard the speech for me, as a Cal Ripken, Jr., fan Lou Gehrig was just the final man to pass in the consecutive games streak. I did not really appreciate the full impact of what made the speech so perfect at the time.

Before getting into the speech it is important to look at the man who gave it.

Lou Gehrig played 2,130 games in a row for the New York Yankees until he was physically unable to play anymore. Lou Gehrig was also the first Major League Baseball player to have his number retired.

Lou Gehrig stepped to a Yankee Stadium microphone on July 4, 1939, and told fans he was “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” despite the fact that he was dying from the inside out.

Throughout the speech, and through eyes welled up with tears, Gehrig thanked teammates, fans, and his family for all of the experiences they had shared together.

“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.”

Nearly two years to the day after giving that speech Lou Gehrig died on June 2, 1941 at the age of 37. His death came almost 16 years to the day after he started his consecutive games streak on June 1, 1925.

It would have been easy for someone like Lou Gehrig to be bitter for being cut down in the prime of his career by such an invasive and painful disease but there is no bitterness in the speech. Many fans at the time probably felt that it was not fair that they were losing their first baseman to an illness that many had likely never heard of.

But instead of being bitter in his circumstances Lou Gehrig found the courage to be at peace with the hand he was dealt and to make the most of the time he had left.

I often wonder how many people when faced with the same circumstances would in the words of Monty Python, “always look on the bright side of life?”

In my own case, I would like to think that I would be able to muster the same positive response as Lou Gehrig but in reality I would likely fall well short of that level of peace in my circumstances.

As for Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak, it was finally broken in 1995 by Cal Ripken, Jr. who extended it to 2,632 consecutive games played before finally taking a game off for the first time in his career on September 20, 1998.

Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak was broken in 1995 by Cal Ripken, Jr. who extended it to 2,632 consecutive games played before finally taking a game off for the first time in his career on September 20, 1998. Photo R. Anderson

Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak was broken in 1995 by Cal Ripken, Jr. who extended it to 2,632 consecutive games played before finally taking a game off for the first time in his career on September 20, 1998.
Photo R. Anderson

It is likely that it is a record that will never be broken.

One the night that Ripken broke the streak he showed that Lou Gehrig was very much there in spirit to share it with him.

“Tonight I stand here, overwhelmed, as my name is linked with the great and courageous Lou Gehrig,” Ripken said at the time. “I’m truly humbled to have our names spoken in the same breath.”

While Gehrig’s career was cut short it is still a career that reaches through the generations as doctors and others work to find a cure for the disease that bears his name.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a speech to listen to.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson