Since the beginning of summer we have seen Master Card commercials on TV asking us which of baseball’s greatest moments, is truly the greatest.
The results of the voting by the fans were given to us in a dignified ceremony before Game Four of the World Series.
Noticeably absent from the top ten were Bobby Thomson’s homerun off Ralph Branca in the 1951 Giant-Dodger playoff and Carlton Fisk’s homerun off the foul pole in the 1975 World Series.
Although those two events clearly should have been in the top ten, the greatest surprise was Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech being voted fifth, when it is clearly not just the greatest moment in baseball history, but the greatest moment in American sports history.
Mark McGwire’s 62nd and then 70th homerun were voted fourth. McGwire’s homers captivated the nation and helped elevate the popularity of baseball to near pre-1994 strike levels.
Hank Aaron’s 715th homerun, putting him ahead of Babe Ruth, was voted second. Like McGwire, Aaron’s incredible feat held more significance then just the athleticism and baseball ability of it.
He was the last Negro League player at the time still playing in the Major Leagues, and he accomplished the feat in baseball’s most southern city, where racism was among the most prevalent of all areas in the country.
The other two greatest moments in the top five, were similar to Gehrig’s farewell speech in that they did not directly involve baseball, so much as they involved the nature of their accomplishment.
Jackie Robinson’s first game on April 15, 1947, integrated Major League Baseball. At that point in American history, the Brown v. Board of Education, decision outlawing segregation, was still seven years away.
Baseball had thus led America and was years ahead of its time. This would make Jackie Robinson the second greatest African American civil rights leader, next to Dr. Martin Luther King.
Finally, Cal Ripken’s breaking of Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games record was absolutely incredible.
Ripken would go on to play 502 more consecutive games, reaching a total of 2,632. Playing in all the games inspired America, but it was not as significant to baseball and the country as Robinson breaking the color barrier. Therefore, no way Ripken’s streak should have been baseball’s all time greatest moment.
In my opinion, baseball’s all time greatest moment is Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech. Gehrig was born first generation American. Most of us whose families have lived in America for many generations have lost the significance of what it means to be the first born into this Democratic society.
Gehrig was taught by his parents to take advantage of his opportunities as an American. He studied and played sports as best and as hard as he could in his youth.
His determined mind-set eventually propelled him out of the crowded Bronx, N.Y. ghetto where he was raised, from his height of stardom on baseball and football, to Columbia University’s classrooms.
Gehrig portrayed the ideal all- American success story; the poster-child for any parent who wanted his or her child to become a success through hard work.
Gehrig’s achievments, including his position with the New York Yankees, is proof that anyone in America could be a success, if they worked hard enough.
However,Gehrig’s inspiration to others does not end with his outstanding baseball talents. His 2,130 consecutive game streak captivated baseball and America.
Gehrig played when medical technology was not as technologically advanced as it is today. He played with sprains, as well as, broken fingers and toes.
From the 1920’s up through the Great Depression, Gehrig was the knight in shining armor of the American baseball scene. He embodied all that was good in America.
In 1939, Gehrig, baseball’s “Iron-Man,” was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a disease that affects that muscles, which had no cure at the time. America knew he did not have a long time left to live.
By July 4, 1939, the Great Depression was subsiding, President Roosevelt had kept America out of the conflict in Europe that would become World War II, and Gehrig would look back on an incredible 16-year career.
As Gehrig was dying, he spoke these immortal words in his farewell speech, “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
He was being brave in the face of death. He was telling the country not to pity him, because he had had a great life. He was not afraid. Gehrig was the definition of strength, talent and success.
Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech was the greatest moment in American sports history, because it transcended sports. The speech had nothing to do with baseball, so much as, it had everything to do with grace under pressure and facing fears.