I enjoyed writing this analysis of Lou Gehrig’s Farewell to Baseball. This paper allowed me to combine and apply what I have learned about rhetoric with two things I’m passionate about, history and baseball. Not only did I learn about strong writing, but also about how to use it and when it is used. It was very fascinating to look a historical speech and analyze it through a new perspective. Before, whenever I read, watched, or listened to a speech, I only listened to what the speaker was saying, not the way he or she was saying it. Now I know what makes Gehrig’s speech and all great and famous speeches, for that matter, so inspirational and effective. I learned the key aspects of an evoking or powerful address while writing this paper.
I chose Lou Gehrig’s retirement speech, Farewell to Baseball, because I have always loved baseball and have found his story inspiring. While analyzing this speech I was surprised by how many times Gehrig used good rhetoric in his speech. The most difficult thing about writing this paper was the order in which to put everything. I didn’t know how or when I should introduce Lou Gehrig and his fatal disease, and when I should discuss his effect on baseball and the effect his famous speech had on baseball and the world of rhetoric. But, with a little guiding and help I think the final organization of each topic flows well together and will make sense to the reader. It came naturally to me to research and learn about Gehrig and his memorable speech. Finding information was the easy part, deciding what to keep and what to throw out was the most difficult part. But, because of what I decided to keep and what I decided to discard, this paper is easy to read and will make since to the audience; it flows nicely. I think I did a good job explaining the purpose and reasons behind why he made the speech as well as the reaction to the speech by the audience. This paper allowed me to practice many of my skills and interests I already had had.
All in all, I think this paper furthered me as a learning rhetor. It helped me grasp an understanding of all the terms and applications we have been learning in class, such as logos, pathos, ethos, exigence, decorum and, kairos. It also allowed to me apply them to a real life example, which furthered my understanding of the elements and where they belong in a speech. This paper reemphasized the elements of rhetoric for me and made me look at them in a new way, not just definitions but in a real speech. This. For a lack of better words, forced me to understand the elements and now I believe I am will be able to apply the element of good rhetoric to my own writing. I think the paper was beneficial to me as a writer and furthered me as a rhetorician.
Lou Gehrig, the “Iron Horse” of baseball, was cut down by a disease that attacked the two things the fans loved most about him-his pure athleticism and his tenacity. Gehrig had recently been diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and was retiring from a Hall of Fame professional baseball career with the New York Yankees. On a beautiful Independence Day in 1939 he said farewell to the fans and the game that had been his life for seventeen years. His unrehearsed and heartfelt speech brought tears to those who witnessed it firsthand, and it continues to captivate a nation. In this analysis, I intend to demonstrate that Gehrig used the characteristics of rhetoric in his Farewell Address, and because of this his speech is as poignant and evocative today as it was on the day he delivered it.
Gehrig was nicknamed the “Iron Horse” for his seemingly inhuman endurance. He was the starting first baseman for the Yankees from 1923 to 1939. During that period, he set a Major League Baseball record by playing in 2,130 consecutive games. He was the man who never took a sick day. He, along with team mate Babe Ruth, led the Yankees to six World Series titles. “On May 2, 1939, Gehrig’s ironman streak came to an end when he voluntarily took himself out of the lineup” (“Lou Gehrig”). Although not widely known at the time, Gehrig had recently been diagnosed with ALS. He would officially retire soon after.
Most of the fans at Yankee Stadium that day assumed that Gehrig was diagnosed with polio because that is what many of the reports had said (“Lou Gehrig”). Also, the public was familiar with polio and its symptoms because it was the disease that afflicted President Roosevelt. Therefore, people assumed Gehrig would become permanently disabled like the President, but very few realized that he was dying. Almost no one in the public had ever heard of ALS, and even the medical experts new very little about the disease at that time. We now know ALS is the deterioration of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Lou Gehrig’s celebrity brought so much national and global attention to the disease that it would eventually come to be known simply as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”
During his time with the Yankees, Lou Gehrig was one of baseball’s most beloved players, so his unexpected retirement was especially emotional for Yankees fans and players. Even outside of New York, almost everyone who cared about baseball was aware that losing Gehrig would be a loss to the entire sport. On that fateful Fourth of July, 1939, Gehrig’s audience had gone to the ball field to celebrate Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day and watch the Yankees play a doubleheader against the Washington Senators. Over 62 thousand fans, players, coaches, and reporters witnessed, first hand, Gehrig’s sincere and simple sentiments. Lou Gehrig’s Farewell Address was only 278 words long and there is no surviving footage of the entire speech; but, the essence of the speech is remembered to this day. The New York Times reported the event the following day as “one of the most touching scenes ever witnessed on a ball field’, that made even hard-boiled reporters ‘swallow hard” (“Luckiest Man on The face of The Earth”). Gehrig’s purpose was to show his audience that recent events were not going to define his career or his life. He wanted them all to know that his was a blessed life, and that he was humble and thankful for his success.
The exigence of Gehrig’s address was to bring closure to his fans about his retirement from baseball. He applies Kairos appropriately, because his fans needed to hear directly from him and see him walk off the field at Yankee Stadium while he was still able. Yankee fans were worried and confused, and it was time for them to hear from their hero. Gehrig also used the correct decorum for the audience. He used simple language and talked about things they all understood and related to: baseball and family. He started his speech by acknowledging what was on everybody’s minds: He opened with, “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got” (para. 1). In his second sentence, Lou Gehrig made the famous statement that was the thesis of his Farewell to Baseball Address: “Yet, today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” (Gehrig para.1). He reaffirmed this point twice in his address by saying, “Sure, I’m lucky.” This brought further emphasis to his thesis statement (para. 3; 5).
Although his address was unrehearsed, Lou Gehrig managed to include all three rhetorical appeals; ethos, pathos, and logos. He employed ethos when he talked about his long career, solidifying his credibility by saying, “I have been in ballparks for seventeen years..” (para. 2). He also mentioned by name some of the baseball players he has had the privilege to know and play with, which reiterated his authenticity as a ball player and connected him to his audience because they knew of and respected the players he talked about.
He also connected with the audience by using pathos to convey emotion as he talked about his affection and admiration for his family; “When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter — that’s something” (para. 7). He also mentioned his parents; “When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body — it’s a blessing” (para. 8). Lastly, he lovingly told the audience about his wife; “When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed — that’s the finest I know” (para. 9).
If his credibility and his emotional transparency were not enough to appeal to the crowd, Gehrig also implored them using logic by asking them if they could argue with his thesis. He challenges them by asking, “Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them (the other famous players) for even one day?” (para. 2, parenthesis added).
Throughout the entire heartfelt and spontaneous address, the audience was reminded that Gehrig is thankful, humble, and he believed to his core that he was indeed the luckiest man in the world. By the end of the short talk, the crowd had learned that he considered both his career and personal life to be fulfilling. In his closing statement he let them know that even though his career was over and his personal life would never be the same, he still found meaning and purpose. He leaves the audience with, “So, I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for” (para. 10).
It was not difficult for Gehrig to connect with or get support from his audience. After every pause in his address they clapped and cheered for him. At the end of the speech the entire crowd rose to their feet and applauded him for over two minutes (Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth). There is little doubt that all those in attendance felt a sense of sadness when he stepped down from the microphone and wiped a tear from his eye. Babe Ruth walked up and hugged him as the band played “I Love You Truly.” The crowd chanted “We love you, Lou!” (“Luckiest Man on the Face of the earth”).
Lou Gehrig will be forever remembered as a Hall of Fame baseball player and an American hero. Even today, seventy five years later, his story as he told it in his Farewell Address inspires and touches people, whether or not they are baseball fans. Instead of focusing on the tragedy of his situation, he remained thankful, humble, and positive. He did not discuss his illness. The audience learned that his illness would not define him. He reassured them that his life would forever be defined but his relationships with fans, teammates, and family. He said farewell with grace and dignity. Even though he probably did not do so intentionally, and maybe not even knowingly, Gehrig used the tools and techniques of the rhetorical to deliver the most iconic speech ever made by an athlete. Through his Farewell Address, Lou Gehrig solidified his place as a true American hero.
Gehrig, Lou. “American Rhetoric: Lou Gehrig – Farewell to Baseball Address.” American Rhetoric: Lou Gehrig – Farewell to Baseball Address. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.
“Lou Gehrig.” Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.
“Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth.” ESPN. ESPN Sports News, n.d. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.