In Memory of Michael Goldsmith, Baseball Fan and ALS Activist

Michael Goldsmith, the baseball fan who penned the NEWSWEEK My Turn column that became a game-changer for major league baseball, died this week at the age of 58.

Goldsmith suffered from and finally succumbed to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, the degenerative condition robbed the Hall of Famer of his life and robs 30,000 Americans at any given time of their ability to walk, speak, and eventually breathe. It's a rare disease—striking two out of 10,000—but a brutal one, agonizing for those who suffer from the disease and those who love them.

Gehrig is the most famous face of ALS, but it was Goldsmith who suggested, in a NEWSWEEK My Turn column that ran on Nov. 1, 2008, that baseball join the fight in a more public and organized way:

Major League Baseball has never taken comprehensive action against ALS. Defeating ALS will require the same type of determination, dedication and drive that Gehrig and Cal Ripken demonstrated when they set superhuman records for consecutive games played. With this in mind, why not make July 4, 2009, ALS-Lou Gehrig Day? Dedicate this grim anniversary to funding research for a cure; every major- and minor-league stadium might project the video of Gehrig's farewell, and teams, players and fans could contribute to this cause.

The column soon caught the attention of The New York Times and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, and the plan Goldsmith envisioned was put into action. On July 4 this season, the 70th anniversary of Lou Gehrig's "Luckiest Man" speech, players wore commemorative patches. ALS groups sold awareness buttons, and ballparks played video of Gehrig's noble farewell on the JumboTrons. Goldsmith was honored at Yankee Stadium that day, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. His family later recalled how much he savored that experience—despite his being an Orioles fan.

Selig issued a statement about Goldsmith's passing, saying he was "deeply saddened" and offering his condolences. Game 5 of the World Series, played last night in Philadelphia, was dedicated to Goldsmith's memory. Throughout the game, fans were encouraged to donate to ALS charities by visiting the MLB blog 4ALS Awareness. According to the George Vecsey, who wrote about Goldsmith's NEWSWEEK column in the Times, "Commissioner Bud Selig said Goldsmith believed in the power of one person to make an impact, and he promised that Goldsmith's aspirations would continue to be honored."

It would be a tribute to both Gehrig and Goldsmith and a testament to the enduring power of sports, teamwork, and camaraderie if baseball took that "comprehensive action" Goldsmith suggested. It's worth noting that the Philadelphia Phillies, who are currently trying to battle their way out of a 3-2 deficit against the Yankees in the World Series, have raised more than $11 million in the past 25 years through their charity work with The Greater Philadelphia ALS Society. A baseball-wide campaign to actively fight ALS and support those who suffer from it would go a long way to aid the cause and to bring back some lost dignity to America's pastime.

Aside from being a baseball fan, Goldsmith was the Woodruff J. Deem professor of law at Brigham Young, and a husband, father, son, and brother. We at NEWSWEEK offer his friends and family our deepest sympathies.