Seventy years ago today, Lou Gehrig made his farewell speech at Yankee Stadium. Most people watching the game that day barely understood how ill he was, or that his disease was already rapidly devouring his strong, athletic body with ravenous greed. Within a year, he would be unable to walk. Within two, he would be dead.
I’m kind of a fan.
The man who would become famous for his unbroken streak of playing in 2,130 consecutive games was a man who knew the value of showing up. I personally believe that this is one of the great secrets to life, and success, in whatever way you might define it.
Let me back up a bit.
I’m a Yankees fan precisely because of players like Lou. When I discovered the game of baseball for myself — when it announced itself to me and claimed me for a fan — I was already in my mid-twenties. A history buff and voracious reader, I gained access to the mysteries of the game by reading some of the great, touching, charmingly anecdotal, and sometimes epic histories of the game and its players.
My next vacation, we went to Cooperstown. I wandered the portrait gallery in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and looked up the slightly flattened, bas relief sculptures of my newly discovered heros. I have a particular fondness for pitchers, probably because of the essentially solitary nature of that job, balanced only when there is a good, strong, mutually respectful relationship with the catcher.
But players like Gehrig just make my heart sing — even though his story is a heartbreaker in the end.
What Gehrig did wasn’t particularly flashy, even though he was the greatest hitter of his time; some of his astonishing records still stand, and some were only recently breached (and those records may still actually be his, given the still-evolving steroids chapter on the game’s history).
Although he was blessed with natural talent and profound strength (especially in the legs — check out those thighs sometime), his most powerful and lasting gift was that of persistence.
He was a grinder.
His famous humility was lived every single day of his adult life by his unwavering persistence in suiting up, and showing up, for work, for life, every day, come what may. He simply never felt that any excuse would be good enough to allow him to fail in what he saw were his responsibilities.
I think showing up is far more than half the battle — it’s practically the whole damn game.
To be physically, mentally, spiritually — not merely present, but committed. Really there.
That’s what wins. That’s what works. That’s what makes a good student, teacher, boss, employee, parent, child.
Not when it’s convenient, or when you’re at the top of your game, or you don’t have the sniffles, or you’d rather go for a walk, or sleep in late. Every day. Be there.
When Lou said he was the luckiest man on the face of the earth, he meant it. He was grateful, from the bottom of his heart, for having been given the chance, at least, to show up.
And so he did. Every day.
It’s guys like Lou that keep me showing up, every day, whether I happen to feel like it, or not.
What keeps you showing up?