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Lou Gehrig, nicknamed “”The Iron Horse,”” was an all American first baseman for the New York Yankees. He played for the Yankees his entire career of seventeen seasons. Lou a part of six World Series champion teams, became the league’s most valuable player twice, and he was named for the all-star team seven consecutive years, and won the Triple Crown once. In nineteen thirty-nine he was inducted into the baseball hall of fame and was the first player to have his number retired by a team. And in 1969 he was voted as the greatest first baseman of all time. And still to this day is arguably still one of the greatest.
Lou Gehrig gave his farewell speech on July 4, 1939, at Yankee Stadium. It is considered to be the most famous speech in baseball history. He gave this speech shortly after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or more commonly known now as, Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is a progressive, fatal, neurogenerative disease that affects an estimated 20,000 Americans every year. More than sixty-two thousand fans witnessed his speech in person.
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At the beginning of Lou Gehrig’s, he makes it known it’s about his fans. Lou starts off his speech, “”Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.”” The bad break he got was obviously the disease he contracted, but even through that he found something positive to look at, saying all those years he played for the Yankees, no matter how poorly he played or how frustrated he may have gotten at his teammates, or how poorly the team may have played one year, the fans never got mad and quit cheering for him, they just pushed through the bad days and believed in him possibly making him a better player.
At the time of Lou’s farewell speech and his career the country was going through, The Great Depression. The Great Depression was the worst economic downturn in the history of the newly industrialized world, lasting from 1929 to 1939. It began after the stock market crash of October 1929, which sent Wall Street into a panic and wiped out millions of investors. So during this time baseball was really all most people had. Which means it was a big deal when one of the greatest baseball players of all time is retiring. Lou talks in his speech about the generosity of people, just people giving him gifts, even people who don’t necessarily like him. It just goes to show how much respect people have for him, even fans of his rival team, the Boston Red Socks. According to baseballhall.org Lou received a silver service set from the Yankees front office; a fruit bowl and two candlesticks from the New York Giants; a silver pitcher from the Henry M. Stevens Company; two silver platters from the employees of Henry M. Stevens. He also received a scroll from the Old Timers Association of Denver. Arguably the most cherished item Gehrig received was a trophy given to him by his teammates in New York. Presented by the Yankee manager Joe McCarthy, the 21 inches tall silver trophy with wood-based features an eagle perched on top of a baseball supported by six bats. This to him would be his most valuable trophy because it was given to him by the ones he loved.
Lou Gehrig later says in his speech, “”When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remembers you with trophies – that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter – that’s something. 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. 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. In the first part of this line he is referring to the respect that all these people have for him, even the ones that don’t necessarily like him, or that he doesn’t necessarily like, they still have respect for him and acknowledge his talent and the loss they’ll feel for him. He’s bringing to light the impact he has had on all these people, even though the country is going through a tough time, it shows that there are still good people out there. Gehrig brings up his mother-in-law which is special enough in itself because most people don’t have the kind of relationship that they seemed to have. He then brings up his parents that worked hard for their entire life just to give him a good life; he shows how thankful he is for them and their sacrifices that got him to where he was. In the last part of this quote, he brings up his wife that was always there for him, and always believed in him no matter the circumstances.
Lou Gehrig was by no means a professional public speaker, yet he was able to create a speech filled with rhetorical elements and appeals. This could raise some questions of Gehrig’s intentions in his speech. Did he actually know what he doing by saying what he said? As found on scribd.com, according to his wife Elanor, “”he had spent the previous night working on his speech””. She eventually went on to say that Gehrig felt there was no need to take the written speech with him because his message was simple and he would speak from the heart. Therefore, one would believe Gehrig did indeed take the time to organize his message.
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