Biopic · Drama

Gary Cooper as the Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth

Gary Cooper delivering the most famous speech in baseball. Image: otsoNY.com

Even if you’re not a baseball fan – or a classic movie fan – you know this line:

Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

You can just hear it, can’t you, echoing over the stadium PA system.

It’s from a 1943 movie called The Pride of the Yankees, a film about the real-life ball player, Lou Gehrig, who played first base for the New York Yankees from 1923-1939.

The film follows Gehrig’s life from a child of working-class immigrants to his career as a professional ball player.

In the film, Gehrig is played by Gary Cooper who looks the part of a professional ball player. We (as in, yours truly) quite like Cooper as the straight-laced, gum chewing Gehrig.

Teresa Wright plays Gehrig’s wife, a smart woman with just enough sass to keep Gehrig humble. She’s courageous and resourceful, but not Made Of Stone. When Cooper delivers the speech about being the Luckiest Man on Earth, her reaction breaks your heart.

Because the Luckiest Man line is from the saddest scene of any baseball movie we’ve seen.

Teresa Wright keeps Cooper in check. Image: Doctor Macro

The entire movie is set up for that line. The script takes pains to endear Gehrig to us: as a youth, he’s awkward around girls, and his classmates mercilessly tease him. He’s also afraid tell his mother he quit college to play for the Yankees.

But life improves. Gehrig meets the woman he will marry, and his baseball career is red hot. He plays two thousand consecutive games, earning the nickname “The Iron Horse”. Still, he remains a down-to-earth fellow, the kind of guy who reluctantly promises a hospitalized kid he’ll hit two home runs during the next game – and does.

And then.

It starts with a loss of balance and a slowness of movement. He’s unable to hold the bat. After 14 years and 2,130 games, he can no longer hit the ball.

Cooper is superb as a man who realizes the particular ball game he’s playing will be his last. He’s about to go to bat, when he suddenly tells the coach to send someone else. “I can’t make it any more,” he says.

Cooper smiles at the replacement batter and pats him on the arm. But as he walks into the dugout, his optimism collapses. The camera isolates Cooper on the bench; his solitary image tells us he knows he’s Finished.

After a battery of medical tests, Gehrig’s condition turns out to be a terminal disease: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

Or, as it’s more commonly known, Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The real Lou Gehrig (L) on July 4, 1939, and Cooper (R). Image: Sports Illustrated

In the film, the Luckiest Man line is from Gehrig’s last public appearance at Yankee stadium. It is July 4, 1939, and Gehrig, in uniform, walks to the microphones on the infield to give a farewell speech to over 60,000 fans.

Gehrig is not just saying goodbye to the game or the fans. He’s also saying goodbye to life. Two years later he would be dead.

Here are excerpts from the film version of his speech:

“I have been walking on ball fields for 16 years and I’ve never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans…. I have been given fame and undeserved praise by the boys up there in the press box…. I have worked under the two greatest managers of all time…. I have a wife, a companion for life who has shown me more courage than I ever knew…. People all say that I’ve had a bad break. But today, today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

Cooper turns to leave the infield, and is met with resounding cheers and applause. As he walks unsteadily down the stairs to the dugout, we hear the umpire shout, “Play ball!”

The Pride of the Yankees: starring Gary Cooper, Teresa Wright, Babe Ruth. Directed by Sam Wood. Written by Jo Swerling & Herman J. Mankiewicz. Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1943, B&W, 128 mins.

This is part of the The 2nd Annual Classic Quotes Blogathon hosted by The Flapper Dame.

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30 thoughts on “Gary Cooper as the Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth

  1. I’ve never had much interest in baseball movies, but this one definitely sounds worth watching (though I’ll have to be in the mood for a tearjerker — I teared up a little just reading your post).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post! You are so right in staying that Teresa Wright’s portrayal of his spouse delivers enough sass to keep him humble!

    This movie is extremely heartfelt and moving, and ALS is such a devastating disease. It was heartbreaking to see his career and ability to pursue his passion taken away from him because of it, and so many suffer the same fate 😦 Really reminds you to live life to the fullest.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. They definitely have great chemistry in this! She was wonderful in Mrs. Miniver, and she could have easily won an Academy Award for this performance as well. That would have been unprecedented to win two Oscars that same night haha. Greer Garson was tough competition for Best Actress!!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. As I recall, they don’t explicitly name ALS in the movie, which kinda makes no damn sense. Otherwise, yeah, good movie. Teresa Wright is very good as well.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Great topic! I just read W.P. Kinsella’s “The Iowa Baseball Confederacy”. It was a little out there, but I liked the idea of going back in time to play a ridiculously long baseball game.

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  4. Gary Cooper is so noble and graceful, full of dignity and strength that it is hard not to get choked up during this film’s masterful climax. “The Pride of the Yankees” is a rare sports film that actually focuses on the player rather than the game, and that is something I can appreciate!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Your point about the film’s climax is a good one. They didn’t cheapen the story by giving Cooper’s character the cliche Last Time Ever At Bat where he hits a home run and wins the game. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a sucker for that kind of ending in any other sports movie. Just not this one.

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  5. There are a number of excellent, emotional sports movies (e.g., BRIAN’S SONG, BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY), but this may be the granddaddy of them all. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I don’t “get” baseball, but I enjoyed this movie very much. It is, indeed, a sadilly ironic line, but for sure a heartfelt one. Gehrig, as the film shows, has always been very loved in the baseball field, and he’s lucky in that sense. Cooper is great in the role.
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!
    Le

    Liked by 1 person

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