Imagine a young boy and his father going to the New York Yankees ballpark on a warm sunny day. The date is July 4, 1939 and it is Lou Gehrig appreciation day at the ballpark. Lou Gehrig had been playing major league baseball for seventeen years and is one of the most well thought of players in the game. When the boy and his father arrive at the ballpark, Lou walks to a podium and begins to talk. Without any prior warning, this icon begins to talk about a deadly disease that he has been contracted with and that he must immediately retire from the game of baseball forever.
The stadium sits silently and Lou continues to describe how he considers himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. The humbleness of the man on the podium shocks the crowd and begins to bring the spectators to tears. Children, men, and woman across the ballpark cannot believe that this icon, this hero to all American, is dieing as he speaks. At the close of Gehrig’s emotional speech, Babe Ruth walked up, put his arm around his former teammate and spoke in his ear the first words they had shared since 1934. Gehrig was elected to the Hall of Fame that December.
He died in 1941, at age 37 (Cavicke, Dana, O’Leary 393). When examining the history of baseball, Lou Gehrig remains one of the most highly respected and most inspirational figures in the game. Gehrig seemed to have the world in the palm of his hand. This man had it all: a beautiful wife, a salary that would equal millions of dollars today, and the idolization of people across America. Gehrig had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. This disease is perhaps one of the most feared diseases, for it traps a person’s mind inside their body.
The disease completely paralyzes the victim’s body and prevents them from even talking (Cavicke, Dana, and O’Leary). The victim of this disease can still hear and is still able to think properly, but cannot control his own body. It is hard for one to imagine a scenario such as this. It is hard to imagine knowing that one is about to be trapped, about to die a terrible death and still have the strength and willpower to go upon a podium and deliver such a moving speech. Lou Gehrig steps upon the podium, and not just talks about is disease and about how he must immediately retire from the game forever, but also describes that he feels “like the luckiest man on the face of the earth. ” (Gehrig 1) When children and fans alike idolize a player like this, they seem to think of them as invincible (Muder 16). This shock to the world was like when Magic Johnson announced that he had contracted the HIV virus. Baseball is considered America’s pastime, and because of this, the abruptness of the announcement was multiplied far more than if it had been an actor or politician that had contracted the disease.
The cause of this disease is unknown and it is still considered incurable today. Some researchers have contrived hypotheses that suggest that ALS is linked to a hereditary gene that is passed down through offspring (Marx). Many scientists have speculated that athletes that play contact sports, such as football are more prone to contracting ALS (Sequeira). These scientists also believe that people that have been hit in the head and received concussions from such blows are also at a higher risk for the disease (Abel).
Because the disease is so rare and unique it is hard for scientists to pinpoint the causes of it even with todays technology. The main rhetorical element that Gehrig utilizes throughout his speech is pathos. Although when one thinks of pathos they generally imagine a persuasive speech. Although Lou is not persuading anyone in this speech, he is thanking all the fans and spectators for supporting him throughout his seventeen-year career. In the introductory paragraph, Lou begins by stating “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”. With these two sentences alone, one can see the humility of the man upon the podium far exceeds that of the average man. One would expect that a man with such a limited time left on this earth would be somber and sad. Lou, however spends the entire speech articulating the blessings that he has had throughout his life. In the second paragraph, Gehrig uses repetition and the phrase “sure, I’m lucky” to express how blessed he feels that he has had the opportunity to associate himself with certain men throughout his career.
Lou mentions several baseball icons such as Jacob Ruppert, Ed Barrow, and Joe McCarthy. He explains that it would be the highlight of any career just to spend a day with these men, yet he has been lucky enough to play with them throughout his career. In the third paragraph, Gehrig goes on to use repetition again to show how blessed he believes that his life is. He uses the phrase “that’s something” to show that he considers himself lucky that he has a caring, loving family, that even rival teams respect him enough to send him a gift, and that he has been given the talent to win trophies and earn respect.
He then ends the paragraph and the repetition by stating that having a wife that loves and supports her husband is “the finest I know”. The conclusion to this astonishing speech is only one sentence. In one of the greatest sentences in sports history, Lou remarks, “So I close in saying that I may have had a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for. ” (Gehrig) This statement wiped any question of the self-abnegation of Lou Gehrig from the minds of the 62,000 spectators that were in attendance that day. Upon retirement, Lou was almost immediately voted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame by a special election.
One can almost consider it ironic that Lou contracted this disease. He was known as “the iron horse” for his endurance and ability to play through injuries. This amazing athlete with impeccable strength contracted this disease which would trap his sharp mind inside his own body. It is even more flabbergasting to imagine that Gehrig knew that his death was soon, yet he had the courage and humility to go upon this podium and speak about how lucky and blessed his life has been. Many researchers have attempted to find a cure for Lou Gehrig’s disease but have yet to find one.
Many have speculated that a cure may be found through stem cell therapy (Tyagi, Satyanand, Sachin, Singla, 4). This method of curing the disease is extremely controversial, however because the main method of receiving the stem cells is through aborted fetuses. Still pother researchers have speculated that Lou Gehrig did not actually have ALS at all, but actually had a different disease of similar symptoms (Miller 8). Due to the medical technology of the time period in which Gehrig lived, it is impossible to tell if he really did have Lou Gehrig’s disease.
It is, however, so widely accepted that Lou Gehrig had ALS that it is not a huge controversy. Due to the courage and humility that this baseball icon showed on the podium in Yankee Ball Park that day, this speech has gone down as one of the most inspirational speeches in history. Lou Gehrig used pathos and repetition to encourage and thank all the fans and spectators that have supported him throughout his career. Lou thanks his wife, coaches, teammates, and even in-laws for the love and strength that they have showed to Lou through the “bad break” that he got.
Gehrig’s speech can be found on the list of top 100 speeches because of the humility that Gehrig showed and because of how it led America to the shocking realization that no one is invincible. Gehrig has inspired athletes, children, and adults alike because of the audacity that he held upon the podium that warm day in July.
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