What Can You Learn From The Iron Horse

Written July 8th, 2014
Categories: Public Speaking, Uncategorized
The Pride of the Yankees.

The Pride of the Yankees.

This past July 4 was the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech to baseball. In case you are not familiar with Gehrig, he was a first baseman for the New York Yankees in the 1920s and 1930s. He was nicknamed “The Iron Horse” because of his dependability. He set the record for consecutive games played, 2,130, among other accomplishments. Along with Babe Ruth, the two were the most potent 1-2 punch in baseball history.

No doubt you are at least familiar with Gehrig’s most famous line from his speech: . . . today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. The poignancy of that sentiment was that a month or so early, Gehrig had been diagnosed with ALS. He had been told he had two years to live and that his baseball career was over. On July 4, 1939, the Yankees had a special day in honor of Lou, which was to be his official retirement from the game. After all the tributes and presentations were over, Gehrig, a very shy man, began to walk off the field. The cheering fans implored him to say a few words. Lou hesitated and then returned to the microphones. While newsreel footage make it appear that he only said two or three sentences, Gehrig actually delivered a full, albeit short, speech. The following is a transcript of his speech. Though short, it has several attributes that you can incorporate when writing your own speeches.

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 seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. 

Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky. 

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 remember 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. 

So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.

lous-farewellGehrig starts with a powerful opening. After acknowledging the common sentiment that he received a bad break, he introduces the twist about being “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” That is a classic attention-getter. How could it be possible that Gehrig, having his life come crashing down a month or so earlier be lucky? Gehrig uses the rest of the speech to explain. Using the “lucky” theme, Lou recites a litany of blessings he has received over his life starting with baseball and working through his family before ending with the most important person to him, Eleanor, his wife. In the end, Gehrig returns to the opener to acknowledge that he has been given a bad break. Instead of finishing with “lucky,” he states he has a lot to live for. That line leaves the crowd with a twist, since they know he has been given a death sentence by ALS.

The whole speech only took Gehrig a minute or two to deliver. In that short time he was able to craft a memorable opening, establish and develop a theme, close with references to his opening to provide a sense of completeness, and infuse it all with the passion of a man knowingly facing a limited future. That is a powerful minute or two!

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