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MLB launches annual Lou Gehrig Day to be held on June 2 to help fight ALS

Following a two-year campaign by people battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and their loved ones, Major League Baseball will launch the annual Lou Gehrig Day on June 2 to honor the legendary Yankees first baseman’s battle against the disease and raise money for ALS charities.

Uniformed personnel will also help raise awareness about the disease by wearing patches with the ‘4-ALS’ logo, which references Gehrig’s retired jersey number. ESPN was the first to report the decision, which is expected to be announced Thursday. 

The date is significant for two reasons: Gehrig died at 37 from ALS on June 2, 1941, which was 16 years to the day after his record streak of 2,130 consecutive games played began. (Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. broke the mark in 1998)

The Hall of Famer has been the face of ALS in the United States for over eight decades.

Many Americans have been referring to ALS as ‘Lou Gehrig’s Disease’ ever since his famed ‘Luckiest Man Alive’ speech, in which he bid farewell to a tearful crowd at Yankee Stadium on Independence Day in 1939. The moment was later portrayed by Gary Cooper in the 1942 film, ‘Pride of the Yankees.’

ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that damages nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, resulting in paralysis or muscle weakening. The average life span for patients is only a few years after diagnosis, according to the Hospital for Special Surgery. However, many can survive for years with ALS, such as physicist Steven Hawking, who died over half a century after his diagnosis.

There are approved treatments for ALS, but there is no cure. An estimated 5,000 Americans are diagnosed with ALS every year.

Many Americans have been referring to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis as ‘Lou Gehrig’s Disease’ ever since his famed ‘Luckiest Man Alive’ speech, in which he bid farewell to a tearful crowd at Yankee Stadium on Independence Day in 1939. The moment was later portrayed by Gary Cooper in the 1942 film, ‘Pride of the Yankees’ 

Following a two-year campaign by people battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and their loved ones, Major League Baseball will launch the annual Lou Gehrig Day on June 2 to honor the Yankees first baseman's battle against the disease and raise money for ALS charities

Following a two-year campaign by people battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and their loved ones, Major League Baseball will launch the annual Lou Gehrig Day on June 2 to honor the Yankees first baseman’s battle against the disease and raise money for ALS charities

‘This disease chose baseball,’ Minnesota Twins president Dave St. Peter told ESPN. ‘When you think about it, I think we have a responsibility and an obligation to continue to pay it forward. I can’t imagine there’s a franchise in the game that hasn’t been touched by ALS. For us, it’s personal. 

‘Other teams share that view. Certainly we all share the connection to Lou Gehrig and what he stood for and represented. Finding a way to celebrate his legacy and the class and dignity he found in his darkest hours is something that’s truly worthwhile.’

As first reported by ESPN, the successful campaign began in 2019 when ALS sufferer and songwriter Bryan Wayne Galentine texted the idea to friends: ‘do you think it would [be] possible and appropriate to approach mlb with doing something with Lou Gehrig like they’ve done Jackie Robinson?’

The text message helped launch the group, LG4Day, and a specific mission to replicate Jackie Robinson Day or Roberto Clemente Day in a way that would benefit people battling ALS.

MLB holds Jackie Robinson Day on April 15 to celebrate the Brooklyn Dodgers infielder who integrated baseball in 1947; and Roberto Clemente Day is held on September 9 to honor the Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder who died in a plane crash while flying aid to Nicaraguan earthquake survivors in 1972. Each occasion provides MLB with opportunities to raise money for charities, such as the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

Singer-songwriter Bryan Wayne Galentine, 53, died after a battle with ALS on October 22, 2020 in Lebanon, Tennessee. A text message he wrote in 2019 helped launch LG4Day

A picture of the 4ALS patch

Singer-songwriter Bryan Wayne Galentine, 53, died after a battle with ALS on October 22, 2020 in Lebanon, Tennessee. A text message he wrote in 2019 helped launch LG4Day

In the two years since his text message, Galentine along with co-chairs Adam Wilson and Chuck Haberstroh petitioned teams directly. However, they only recently began gaining traction last fall when St. Peter, the Twins president, Arizona Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall and Boston Red Sox president Sam Kennedy joined the cause by sending personal emails to the presidents of two dozen other teams.

Actor James Gandolfini, star of the HBO show "The Sopranos," tips his cap to the crowd after reading the farewell speech of New York Yankee great Lou Gehrig as part of Project ALS Day in Yankee Stadium in 2002

Actor James Gandolfini, star of the HBO show ‘The Sopranos,’ tips his cap to the crowd after reading the farewell speech of New York Yankee great Lou Gehrig as part of Project ALS Day in Yankee Stadium in 2002

As ESPN reported, the responses followed soon after, and within a short amount of time, every MLB club was on board.

Unfortunately, Galentine passed away from ALS on October 22, becoming the sixth member of LG4Day’s 27 founders who have succumbed to the disease.

‘They deserve all the credit,’ St. Peter told ESPN. ‘The story they tell resonated with all of us. When those guys reached out, it was a no-brainer.’

Grayson Galentine, the songwriter’s oldest son, spoke to ESPN about his father’s effort: ‘He spent so much time on it. Especially when we were in quarantine. Basically from whenever he woke up to whenever it was time for dinner, he was in his room on his computer.’

‘It became his purpose,’ Staci Galentine said of her husband. ‘He ate, drank, lived, breathed it. To be able to take this game and this disease, put them together and see it come to fruition … he knew it was coming. I’m so thankful for that day we found out this was happening. It is a celebration. This is not a sad thing. It’s something he believed in so deeply.’

MLB will also commemorate the LG4Day members on June 2.

The LG4Day members were hoping to replicate MLB's celebrations for Jackie Robinson (whose statue at the Hall of Fame is center in this photo) and Roberto Clemente (right), but in a way that would help people suffering from ALS. Gehrig (left) famously died from ALS in 1941

The LG4Day members were hoping to replicate MLB’s celebrations for Jackie Robinson (whose statue at the Hall of Fame is center in this photo) and Roberto Clemente (right), but in a way that would help people suffering from ALS. Gehrig (left) famously died from ALS in 1941

YANKEES GREAT LOU GEHRIG’S 1939 ‘LUCKIEST MAN’ SPEECH 

‘For the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen 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 a fine looking men as they’re standing in uniform in this ballpark today? 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 might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.’ 

Lou Gehrig on July 4, 1939 at Yankee Stadium 

 


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