Analyze the “Farewell to Baseball” Speech
On July 4, 1939, Yankee First Baseman Lou Gehrig gave a short speech of farewell during retirement ceremonies at Yankee Stadium in New York City. In
terms of the rhetorical 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 of honor to make a few remarks and the speaker eliminates that exigence just by saying something. Lou Gehrig, however, perceived
an additional exigence: sadness among baseball fans. He reduced that exigence in 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. majorleague 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, workers, 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 the 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 a public, rather than private, gathering. In a familiar setting, the occasion gave a
somewhat shy man a 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 a 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 determination 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 accommodated the constraints of each element in the rhetorical situation to be a fitting response that achieved its purpose.
Lou Gehrig’s “Farewell to Baseball” provides us with an opportunity to consider the critical roles of speakers, citizen-critics, and rhetorical critics. As
speakers, we can learn from the speech, as it is an example of several of the principles of public speaking that we have developed in this course; we can
consider these whenever we speak on ceremonial occasions. As citizen-critics, we can listen for the shared values of the community reflected in the speech,
consider their merits, and think about how we would respond as the next speaker to attempt a fitting response, either reinforcing and extending the values or
modifying and revising them depending on the new exigence. As rhetorical critics, we can analyze the speech itself; for this lesson, we will focus on the
structure of the speech.
Follow the steps below to complete this part of the assignment:
Read the speech text; do not just view the video excerpt.
After you view and read the speech (Links to an external site.), identify the ideas and values that make up the claims and evidence that are the 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.
In your rhetorical situation, the constraints and opportunities for your speech assignment include using the strategies and tactics for structure in the
textbook. Using those strategies, analyze the structure of Lou Gehrig’s “Farewell to Baseball.”
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