On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig gave a farewell-to-baseball address
from home plate in Yankee Stadium to a crowd of 60,000+. He was being honored that day as no one else in baseball history
because he was dying from a lethal and rare disease, ALS. On June 1, 2002, major league ballparks held Project ALS Day in
effort to raise money for ALS research. As a marketing gimmick, each park had a celebrity read Gehrig's famous farewell address
from home plate. For whatever reason, probably because he's from New York, the Yankees chose The Sopranos star James
Gandolfini. What was suppose to be part charity event and part Gehrig tribute turned sour when Gehrig fans got wind of the
following Gandolfini words:
"I'm sorry to admit this but I'm not the greatest baseball fan. I'm more basketball and football.
But my father is and I got to bring him with me today. I don't know a great deal about Lou Gehrig other than I watched the
movie [Pride of the Yankees, assumedly]."
To let someone who doesn't have a flea-size amount of knowledge about
Gehrig and doesn't even like baseball to begin with stand in the exact spot Gehrig stood reading, weeping and dying more than
60 years prior is unforgivable. To know Lou Gehrig is to know just how agonizing and heart wrenching it was for the reclusive
Gehrig to even be the center of attention, let alone to be articulate in front of so many people, to bleed his heart empty
despite extreme physical strain and the resulting embarrassment.
I believe Gandolfini would have been a fine choice for, say, Wrigley or even Shea, but not Yankee Stadium.
Not one of few shrines this world still has to honor Gehrig. Not when considering that Gehrig's speech is widely thought to
be one of the most memorable of the twentieth century. Gandolfini did not respect the magnitude of cherishment baseball/Gehrig
fans feel for those words; he did not understand what those words meant to Gehrig.
Gandolfini should have shut up while he had a smidge of respect left from the Gehrig fans, namely this Gehrig
fan. He didn't. Observe:
"It [reading Gehrig's speech] connects me with history, being here in the same place. And it's New York. This
is New York. You don't get any more New York than this."
Let's review: He goes from ego-centric to geo-centric, never once getting close to something along the lines
of, "Happy to do this as a small step in the monstrous battle against ALS and to honor the man I could never rise above even
in my dreams."
Sure, the main objective of the day was to raise awareness of ALS, and Gehrig would not have wanted ALS research
to take a back seat to him, but at least give him and his words a proper amount of deserved respect. That's all I ask.
There are at least a few people I can name off the top of my head that would have been a much more reputable
choice than Gandolfini to read at Yankee Stadium: Ray Robinson, Yogi Berra, Curt Schilling. And if a twenty-three-year-old
kid can think of better people, why in a deity's name couldn't the Yankees think of someone better?
To my new object of distaste, Gando, allow me to say that you don't get any less New York than not
being a baseball fan.
And to the marketing wizs at the Stadium, I throw my hot dog wrapper and empty soda cup at you.
Note: Quotes as reported by press.