80 years ago today, Lou Gehrig, afflicted with a fatal disease, stepped to a microphone at New York’s Yankee Stadium and announced his retirement from baseball, telling the crowd that he considered himself “The luckiest man on the face of the earth”.

The poignant address was “one of the most touching scenes ever witnessed on a ball field”, said The New York Times. The 61,808 fans were silent during the minute-long speech, then rose to their feet thundering a hearty farewell during a two-minute standing ovation. Known as ‘baseball’s Gettysburg Address’ it began like this: “Fans, for the past two weeks, you’ve been reading about a bad break. [Referring to his ALS diagnosis, which we now call Lou Gehrig’s disease.] Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” The 36-year-old was visibly shaken as he stepped back from the microphone, and wiped the tears away from his face with his handkerchief. Then, Babe Ruth came over and hugged him as a band played I Love You Truly and the crowd chanted, ‘We love you, Lou’. WATCH a Smithsonian video about the famous event… (1939)

He continued, “I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such fine-looking men as are standing in uniform in this ballpark today?” He closed by saying, “So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. – Thank you.”

The humble Gehrig set several major-league records during his career, including the most career grand slams—23—and most consecutive games played (2,130), a record that stood for 56 years, was long considered unbreakable, and earned him the name The Iron Horse. He died two years later.

MORE Good News on this Day:

  • Henry David Thoreau, the American writer, embarked on a two-year experiment in simple living at Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts (1845)
  • Leaves of Grass is first published in NY, Walt Whitman’s seminal book of poems (1855)
  • The Tuskegee Institute, esteemed historically black university, opened in Alabama as a one-room school (1881)
  • The Philippines is granted independence by US after 381 years of colonialism (1946)
  • The Freedom of Information Act was signed into law by US President Lyndon B. Johnson (1966)
  • Direct flights across the strait between mainland China and Taiwan commenced (2008)
  • The Statue of Liberty’s crown reopened to the public 8 years after the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks (2009)

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Happy Birthday to the United States of America. On this day 243 years ago, the leaders of the Continental Congress of the 13 American colonies voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence, breaking with the King of England to start their own country. (1776)

And, Happy Birthday to Bill Withers, who turns 81 years old today. The soulful American singer-songwriter and musician earned three Grammys and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his classics, “Lean on Me“, “Ain’t No Sunshine“, “Use Me” and “Just the Two of Us”.

Born in the small coal-mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia, he spoke with a stutter in his childhood until he overcame it serving for nine years in the US Navy when he turned 18. He then moved to Los Angeles and worked in factories, while pursuing a music career. Even after he debuted with the song “Ain’t No Sunshine”, he refused to quit his job because he believed the music business was too fickle. (1938)

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