Gehrig retired from the game because of ALS, but the disease popularly has his name attached to it. A "Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day" was held on July 4, 1939. His "Luckiest Man" speech that day is one of the greatest moments in Yankee history, and in sports history. He died in 1941.
The film The Pride of the Yankees (1942), with Gary Cooper in the Gehrig role, is a classic.
Official Lou Gehrig Website
Full text version of the Farewell Speech
"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 this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
"Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? 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 may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for."
(Oxford English Dictionary)
Lou Gehrig, n.
[The name of Henry Louis 'Lou' Gehrig (1903-41), U.S. baseball player, who died from the disease.]
Lou Gehrig('s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Not a term used formally in Med.
1941 Evening Star (Washington) 4 June PC-1/1 No virus has been found in cases of 'Gehrig's disease' as the affliction has become popularly termed. 1953 Sci. News Let. 19 Sept. 184/1 (heading) Lou Gehrig disease study started on Guam. 1958 New Scientist 17 July 430/1 Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's Disease). 1986 New Yorker 7 Apr. 37/2 This lady's only fifty, she's got Lou Gehrig's disease.
What is ALS
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's disease," is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually lead to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed. Yet, through it all, for the vast majority of people, their minds remain unaffected.
A-myo-trophic comes from the Greek language. "A" means no or negative. "Myo" refers to muscle, and "Trophic" means nourishment---"No muscle nourishment." When a muscle has no nourishment, it "atrophies" or wastes away. "Lateral" identifies the areas in a person's spinal cord where portions of the nerve cells that signal and control the muscles are located. As this area degenerates it leads to scarring or hardening ("sclerosis") in the region.
5 July 1939, Los Angeles Times, pg. 22:
Crowd of 60,000 Packs
Yankee Stadium for
Tribute to "Iron Horse"
"For the past two weeks," he said, his voice breaking, "I've been reading about my bad break. Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I've been walking onto ball fields for 15 years and never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans."