But through the first 8 games of the 1939 season, Gehrig batted .143 with 1 RBI. The poor start was inconsistent with the true Lou Gehrig. Thus, on May 2, 1939 Gehrig voluntarily benches himself "for the good of the team." Gehrig did make one quick appearance during the game, when he brough the Yankees lineup out to the umpire... but ultimately, his consecutive-game streak was halted at 2,130 games.
Though he didn't know it at the time, Gehrig had contracted amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, aka Lou Gehrig's Disease). Gehrig's streak would stand for another 56 years. On September 6, 1995, Cal Ripken Jr. played in his 2,131st consecutive game. Ripken would go on to play in an unprecedented 2,632 consecutive games, before he too benched himself for the good of the team.
May 2, 1939, will forever be the day when Gehrig "hung 'em up." Two month's later, on July 4, Gehrig would make his famous Farewell speech at Yankee Stadium. Full text of the speech is below. (Hollywood echo, not included...)
"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."