#Shortstops: Pete, Lou and the fight against ALS

Part of the SHORT STOPS series
Written by: Janey Murray

In his ALS Ice Bucket Challenge video, filmed in August 2014, Pete Frates made a request of then-MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.

“To Commissioner Selig, I challenge you to make July 4 ALS Awareness Day across Major League Baseball,” Frates said. “Because of Lou Gehrig, this is baseball’s disease. We need baseball to fully support us in this fight.”

While the day will be celebrated on June 2 rather than July 4, Frates’ wish has now become a reality: Lou Gehrig Day will be an annual celebration in MLB to honor Gehrig’s legacy and raise awareness and funds to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Frates’ role in making Lou Gehrig Day a reality is now part of history, and the former Boston College baseball captain’s legacy is honored within the collection at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Prior to Game 2 of the 2014 World Series on Oct. 22, MLB recognized Frates for his efforts. With Frates unable to travel for the occasion, his parents, John and Nancy, and his brother and sister, Andrew and Jennifer, accepted a silver ice bucket from Selig on his behalf and were honored on the field at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. Thanks to a recent donation from the Frates family, the silver ice bucket is now a part of the Hall of Fame’s collection.

Engraved on the silver ice bucket below Frates’ name is the following message: “Not since the legendary Lou Gehrig has anyone inspired a nation to take up the fight against ALS as you have. Major League Baseball extends its deepest gratitude for all you have done to bring awareness to this important cause.”

“We’re so blown away. We’re living in a surreal moment,” Frates’ father John told the Boston Globe that night. “We’d take it all away in a second if he didn’t have the illness. But Pete has always said he was chosen for this.”

While Frates did not invent the Ice Bucket Challenge, his participation popularized it and made it into a viral phenomenon. After he shared a video of him taking part in the challenge at Fenway Park, numerous celebrities completed the challenge as well, including Bill Belichick, George W. Bush and LeBron James, among many others.

The challenge is estimated to have raised more than $220 million for ALS research.

“We have never seen anything like this in the history of the disease,” Barbara Newhouse, president and chief executive of the ALS Association told the Boston Globe in August 2014. “We couldn’t be more thrilled with the level of compassion, generosity and sense of humor that people are exhibiting as they take part in this viral initiative.”

In addition to the silver ice bucket, the plastic bucket and sunglasses Frates used for his own Ice Bucket Challenge as well as a cap and glove from his playing days at Boston College are already part of the Hall of Fame’s collection.

Frates, who grew up in Beverly, Mass., remained connected to the game of baseball throughout his life, from playing baseball for his high school, St. John’s Preparatory School in Danvers, Mass., to serving as captain of the Boston College baseball team and later being named Director of Baseball Operations for his alma mater.

Frates, a lifelong Red Sox fan, also spent time playing baseball professionally in Germany following his graduation from Boston College in 2007.

Frates was diagnosed with ALS in March 2012. From that point forward, he saw it as his mission to spread the word about ALS and contribute to the search for a cure for the disease.

“Upon my diagnosis, it became abundantly clear that my calling was to raise ALS awareness and to fight for a brighter future for all those affected today and those yet to come,” Frates wrote in an essay published in Bleacher Report in July 2014.

The establishment of MLB’s Lou Gehrig Day is a step forward, but Frates, who passed away in December 2019, had aspirations for progress in ALS research that extended much further.

“I want the 100th anniversary of Lou Gehrig's speech to be a celebration of a courageous man who became the poster boy for a disease with a cure, not a cruel reminder of how nothing has changed in a century,” he wrote.

Janey Murray was the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the SHORT STOPS series