Fans old enough to have rooted for the Seattle Pilots think of baseball commissioner Bud Selig as the Milwaukee automobile dealer who pilfered a fledgling franchise out of spring training and rerouted it to Wisconsin.
Others might recall him as the tongue-tied clod who stumbled through a Safeco Field tribute to Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn at the 2001 All-Star Game.
Suave and dashing, Selig ain't. But sometimes the guy with the permanent mustard stain on his tie gets it right. This Saturday, Lou Gehrig's "Luckiest Man On the Face of the Earth" address will be commemorated with a reading of the 277-word speech during the seventh-inning stretch at every home ballpark.
Selig got the idea of paying tribute to Gehrig from a 57-year-old law professor at BYU, Michael Goldsmith, who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – known as Lou Gehrig's Disease throughout the United States and Canada – in 2006. Last November, Goldsmith wrote a guest column for Newsweek urging Major League Baseball to acknowledge the 70th anniversary of Gehrig's famous farewell at Yankee Stadium.
Selig read Goldsmith's column, and then did something not associated with the bureaucrats of professional sports leagues: He took up the ailing professor's suggestion. At Selig's urging, equipment and uniforms from all 30 teams in action on Saturday will be donated for auction. The proceeds will go toward research on Lou Gehrig's Disease, which remains incurable.
The "Luckiest Man" speech, by the way, will be read on Saturday as written by Gehrig. (The former Columbia University student didn't need a ghost writer.) For reasons that seem impossible to fathom, the Hollywood recreation of Gehrig's words, as spoken by Gary Cooper in "Pride of the Yankees," varied from the text.
Gehrig began: "Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans."
In the 1942 movie, released a year after Gehrig's death, Cooper began: "I have been walking onto ballfields for 16 years and I've never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans."
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