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Lou Gehrig Speech On July 4 1939 Yankee First Baseman

John Marsh
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On July 4, 1939, Yankee First Baseman Lou Gehrig gave a short speech of farewell during reirement ceremonies at Yankee Stadium in New York City. In terms of the rehetorical situation, the speaker produced a fitting response that eliminated the exigence in that situation. In any ceremony, of course, it is customary for the guest to honor to make a few remarks and the speaker eliminates that exigence by saying something. Lou Gerhig perceived an additional exigence: sadness among baseball fans. He reduced that exigence by giving his speech.

A rhetorical analysis of the speech begins with the historical context: Lou Gehrig had set a record for the number of consecutive games played in U.S. major-league baseball, but he suddenly quit playing for health reasons. The occasion was “Lou Gehrig Day,” a ceremony held at the stadium prior to a game to commemorate the career of the retiring ballplayer. The audience included spectators, other players, team and league officials, and radio listeners.

The speaker was a professional athlete who, not as comfortable with sportswriters as his teammate Babe Ruth had been, had not planned to speak until his wife convinced him that he should. The speech was short, extemporaneous, and reflected gratitude.

But this only recounts the facts about the speech without accounting for the constraints and opportunities from each element that the speaker was able to use to make the speech a fitting response that reduced exigence.

In this rhetorical situation, the occasion provided the speaker with constraints and resources. He was obliged to speak, given the conventions of such occasions, and was in uniform at a public gathering in a place where people were used to seeing him.

As such, the occasion requires a somewhat formal ceremonial speech that reflects on the shared values of the community in public, rather than private, gathering. In a familiar setting, the occasion gave a somewhat shy man comfortable space in which to speak.

The audience would expect a speech that was short, graceful, and respectful of shared values that would address their feelings appropriately but not overshadow the baseball game. The audience provided respectful attention and a heightened emotional register for the speaker, which gave his speech purpose: he spoke to eliminate the emotional exigence of sadness.

The speaker, who had attended Columbia University in the engineering program (on a baseball scholarship), was an uncomfortable public speaker, but he had a strong sense of responsibility. His intelligence and determinism sustained him in a time that was difficult personally, professionally, and publicly.

The speech had to be short, emotional without being weepy, prepared but heartfelt, and appropriate to the occasion in its ideas, structure, and language. The speech drew on the resources and accomodated the constraints of each element in the rhetorical situation to be a fitting response that achieved its purpose.

After you have viewed and read the speech, identify the ideas and values that make up the propositional content of the speech. Then, consider the structure. The speech does not follow all of the advice given by the Zarefsky textbook, of course; ceremonial speeches often privilege resonance of ideas over clarity of expression, and Gehrig’s speech does not contain all of the functions of an introduction, conclusion, or transition that you will be expected to use in your speech — just most of them.




Lou Gehrig Speech On July 4 1939 Yankee First Baseman

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