Looking Across the Grill: Independence Day Reflections and Gratitude

Looking Across the Grill: Independence Day Reflections and Gratitude

The 4th of July and the national pastime go together like peanuts and Crackerjack so it should be no surprise that Baseball BBQ celebrates Independence Day (and the start National Grilling Month) at the grill. Whether you like your hot dogs with mustard and relish, or ketchup, or anything else, we’re happy to celebrate with you. But, before we fire up the coals and get ready for fireworks on the ballfields and in the skies, it’s a great time to remember a very special Independence Day in baseball.

When Major League Baseball celebrated its centennial year, one of its top performers from its most storied franchise was stepping away from the game. While no retirement from the game comes easily for the boys of summer, this departure was especially tragic.

On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig — the “Iron Horse” of the New York Yankees who played in 2,130 straight games, batting .340 over his 17 seasons in the majors — said goodbye to baseball. Just 36 years old and only weeks after he was diagnosed with the debilitating motor neuron disease that now bears his name, the doomed Gehrig stood before a rapt Yankees Stadium crowd not to complain about his plight, but to offer sincere thanks for his good luck.

You can picture the scene in your mind whether you recall the black-and-white newsreel images or the scene from the film, “Pride of the Yankees.” With players and dignitaries lining the foul lines and crowded around home plate, Gehrig faces the crowd and speaks into the microphone, his words echoing through the stadium.

“For the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break,” he began before offering the words forever associated with his memory. “Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

In concluding his brief remarks, Gehrig offered, “I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for." The next day, the New York Times wrote “the vast gathering, sitting in absolute silence for a longer period than perhaps any baseball crowd in history, heard Gehrig himself deliver as amazing a valedictory as ever came from a ball player.” Less than two years later, he was gone.

Baseball is gloriously unconstrained by a clock and the game can take as long as it may. So long as your side continues to bat successfully, you can suspend time and enjoy a rally for as long as it lasts without ever worrying about a final whistle or buzzer. But, of course, the most glorious of rallies do end and even the best games conclude with a final out before everyone walks off the diamond. Gehrig’s time on the field concluded with an untimely end, but he looked back on his career and his good fortune with a grace that was more impressive than many of his on-field accomplishments.

On this Independence Day, as we host backyard barbecues and gather with families and friends to enjoy playing and watching some baseball, it’s a great time to reflect on Gehrig’s perspective in the face of his awful diagnosis. These are fraught times and it is easy to get lost in worry or worse. It’s not a bad time to look across the grill to remember how lucky we are.