On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig stood at home plate in Yankee Stadium for a ceremony between the two games of a double-header. Only 36 years old, he was withered, bent, and dying. But it was Lou Gehrig Day.
Some speeches were made, some gifts presented; Gehrig shifted uncomfortably and said nothing. Then his manager, Joe McCarthy, whispered to him that the 60,000-plus fans in attendance — fans who had come to complete silence — were waiting for him to say something.
The line that you remember — the line that Hollywood wisely moved to the end of his speech — actually was the second sentence of his remarks. The primitive microphones reverberated his words: “Today I consider myself … the luckiest man … on the face of the earth.”
As he shuffled toward the dugout a band, in deference to Gehrig’s heritage, played the German beer-hall song “Du Du Liegst Mir im Herzen” (loosely translated as “You Are Always in My Heart”). The crowd somehow knew the words and sang along. Just a few years later it was something that no American band would play, and that no American would sing.
About now you’re wondering what the most poignant moment in the history of American sports has to do with a Constitutional Calendar.
It seems that Gehrig had, understandably enough, left almost the entirety of his estate to his wife. His parents, very domineering types who had never liked their daughter-in-law, threatened suit. Lou’s widow spoke to a lawyer named Milton Eisenberg, who may or may not have pointed out to Mama and Papa Gehrig that they had never become American citizens; that they were therefore still citizens of the German Reich; that the property of a citizen of the Reich residing outside of Germany in 1939 was subject to confiscation by the Reich; and that he — Eisenberg — trusted that this would be the last that the widow Gehrig ever heard about any claim to the estate.
The matter was settled quietly.