Baseball, Fourth of July go hand in hand
From amazing feats to fireworks, national pastime has seen it all on Independence Day
Baseball is woven into the fabric of Independence Day.
Or maybe it's the other way around.
Well, whatever the equation, the result is clear: The Fourth of July and the national pastime pair perfectly. The Continental Congress, naturally, didn't know this when it adopted the Declaration of Independence in the heart of summer in 1776, but here's to happy coincidences. Because Major League Baseball has seen its share of memorable moments on the nation's birthday.
These are the most memorable.
An articulate adieu: How many among us could have demonstrated the poise, the grace, the eloquence and the gratitude with which Lou Gehrig said goodbye to baseball and the Yankees faithful under devastating conditions?
On July 4, 1939, Gehrig was 36 years old and just two weeks removed from his diagnosis with ALS, the disease that would eventually bear his name and would soon claim his life. "The Iron Horse" was, to that point, not prone to public displays of emotion. But the words he uttered in what came to be called the "Luckiest Man" speech linger to this day, and this stands as one of sports' most hallowed moments, as Richard Sandomir wrote for Sports On Earth.
Booms and blasts: On the same day as Gehrig's speech came one of the better single-day performances in MLB history. The Red Sox's Jim Tabor became one of just 13 players all-time to hit two grand slams on the same day. He did it in the fourth and sixth innings of the nightcap of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia A's, and the second of those slams was an inside-the-park job.
As if the two grannies weren't enough, Tabor had also gone 2-for-3 with a run scored and two stolen bases in the first game, and he went deep again with a solo shot in the eighth inning of the second game, capping an 11-RBI day at the ballpark. He homered again on July 5 for his fifth homer in three games. He went deep just nine other times in the entirety of that '39 season.
A hitless holiday: The bombastic blasts of fireworks might be the Fourth's signature, but one game played on July 4 was notable for the sound of silence from the Boston bats.
Dave Righetti put his name in the history books on July 4, 1983, tossing the 166th no-hitter of the modern era. Two years removed from his Rookie of the Year campaign, Righetti became the first Yankees pitcher to throw a no-no since Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series and the first Yankees left-hander to achieve the feat since George Mogridge in 1917.
The game -- a 4-0 win for the Yanks -- was punctuated by a Wade Boggs strikeout in the ninth. No small feat, considering Boggs hit a Major League-best .361 that season and struck out just 36 times. Indeed, Rags had it going on that day.
Independence K: Only 16 pitchers have reached the 3,000-strikeout plateau in the game's long history, and two of them did so on July 4, just four years apart. Those are two patriotic punchouts.
The first was Nolan Ryan, who would of course go on to become the all-time strikeout king with 5,714. Then with the Astros, Ryan reached No. 3,000 when he struck out Cesar Geronimo in an otherwise frustrating July 4, 1980, loss to the Reds at Riverfront Stadium. Interestingly, that was the second time Geronimo had been victimized by a pitcher's 3,000th K. He punched out to make Bob Gibson the club's second-ever member in 1974.
Four years after Ryan's feat, Phil Niekro struck out the Rangers' Larry Parrish for his 3,000th, en route to a 5-0 victory for the Yankees. Niekro is the only knuckleballer to have reached 3,000 K's.
A near no-no: Before throwing his first (and only) no-hitter with the Reds in 1978, the great Tom Seaver threw five one-hitters for the Mets, including two that were broken up in the ninth inning. One of those occurred on July 4, 1972, against the Padres. In front of an enthusiastic Shea Stadium crowd, Seaver retired Dave Roberts for the first out of the ninth. But the no-hitter was broken up by Leron Lee, who singled up the middle to center field.
The single was fielded by none other than Willie Mays.
The Grand Slam Single: Before he became a Ford C. Frick Award-winning broadcaster, Tim McCarver had a playing career notable for two All-Star appearances, two World Series championships and one infamous moment.
It happened in the second inning of a Phillies-Pirates game on July 4, 1976. With the bases loaded, McCarver broke a scoreless tie with a grand slam over the right-field wall. Only one problem: He passed teammate Garry Maddox on the basepaths. Per the rulebook, Maddox and the other two baserunners safely scored, while McCarver was called out with what went into the books as a three-run single.
The lost run didn't matter much. The Phillies went on to win, 10-5.
Physical fireworks: Yankees catcher Bill Dickey is generally remembered as a mild-mannered guy. But tempers flared in a brief but riotous Fourth of July battle after Dickey was bowled over by Washington Senators outfielder Carl Reynolds in 1932. Dickey got up off the ground and knocked Reynolds to the ground with a right hook, breaking Reynolds' jaw in two places.
Dickey was given a $1,000 fine (12.5 percent of his season salary) and a 30-day suspension. Reynolds missed the next six weeks because of the injury.
The Fourth becomes the Fifth: The Mets and Braves didn't seem to want the holiday to end at Fulton County Stadium in 1985. They played one of the craziest games in history -- a 19-inning affair that didn't end until 4 a.m. ET on July 5.
The night would have been notable enough for Keith Hernandez's cycle, but that was hardly all. Twice, the Mets took an extra-innings lead to seemingly end a wet and soggy night. But twice, Tom Gorman, who would throw six innings of relief in extras, gave up a tying home run to the Braves. The second of these was particularly memorable, as it came off the bat of light-hitting pitcher Rick Camp, whose 18-inning blast cemented this game's spot in baseball lore.
The Mets, though, would have the last laugh, scoring four runs off Camp in the top of the 19th. And Camp struck out to end a would-be rally and the game in the bottom of the inning to put the seal on the Mets' 16-13 win.
Undeterred by the loss and the time of day, the Braves proceeded with their postgame fireworks extravaganza.