The Pride of the Yankees will now become the pride of all baseball.
Major League Baseball announced Thursday that it will hold a sport-wide Lou Gehrig Day beginning this season, designating June 2 to honor the New York Yankees Hall of Fame first baseman whose fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis highlighted his grace and courage.
Gehrig joins Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente as the only players to have a day reserved in their honor, according to MLB.com. On Lou Gehrig Day, all players, managers and coaches will wear a special uniform patch, with red “4-ALS” (the logo will include Gehrig’s retired uniform number) wristbands available to be worn in-game. Additional ceremonial details for each home park that day will be announced at a later date.
MLB will also use the occasion to raise money and awareness to battle ALS and pay homage to ALS advocacy groups like the LG4Day committee, ESPN reported.
Gehrig died June 2, 1941, from ALS, which is now commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is a progressive nervous system disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control. People afflicted with ALS lose their ability to walk, talk, eat and, eventually, breathe, according to the Mayo Clinic, which originally diagnosed Gehrig with the disease in 1939.
There is no cure for ALS.
June 2 is also the date in 1925 when Gehrig made his first start in his then-record 2,130 consecutive games playing streak. Cal Ripken Jr. broke that mark in 1995.
“Major League Baseball is thrilled to celebrate the legacy of Lou Gehrig, whose humility and courage continue to inspire our society,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “While ALS has been closely identified with our game since Lou’s legendary career, the pressing need to find a cure remains. We look forward to honoring all the individuals and families, in baseball and beyond, who have been affected by ALS and hope Lou Gehrig Day advances efforts to defeat this disease.”
The first day honoring Gehrig was July 4, 1941, between games of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. It was during that ceremony that Gehrig gave what has been called the Gettysburg Address of baseball.
“For the past two weeks, you have been reading about a bad break,” an emotional Gehrig told the 61,808 fans in attendance. “Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”
On June 24, 2019, songwriter Bryan Wayne Galentine, who had been diagnosed with ALS in 2017, texted friends whom he’d met through the tight-knit ALS community, ESPN reported. He asked, “Do you think it would (be) possible and appropriate to approach MLB with doing something with Lou Gehrig like they’ve done Jackie Robinson?”
Galentine, who died Oct. 22, 2020, worked to persuade MLB to honor Gehrig with a day, ESPN reported.
The goal of LG4Day was for something more specific than just a ceremony. Galentine and six other members of LG4Day met in August 2019, and they worked toward achieving something tangible.
“He just said, ‘I can sit here and wither away, or I can get up off my keister and do something,’” Staci Galentine, Bryan Galentine’s wife, told ESPN. “From day one, that was his mission.”
All 30 MLB teams agreed in October to Galentine’s initiative, two days before his death.
Other efforts in raising awareness for ALS included the Ice Bucket Challenge started in 2014 by former college star Pete Frates, which raised more than $100 million, ESPN reported. Frates died of ALS in December 2019.
MLB has raised money for ALS through its annual Winter Meetings Charity Auction and the “MLB Fights ALS” campaign through the years, MLB.com reported.
After his diagnosis, Gehrig immediately retired from baseball with 493 home runs, 1,995 RBIs and 1,888 runs scored. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in a special election in 1939.