Ryan L. Fox
The sport of baseball has always been synonymous with America. As the sport that is known as ‘America’s Pastime’, there have been many historic feats and moments throughout the sports history on certain dates. But when something happens on the Fourth of July, you know that it is a special moment that only a few could say that ‘they were there when x happened’.
There have been many special moments in baseball that have happened on the Fourth of July throughout the sport’s history. Some where just spectacular feats while others had a more somber tone. But in the end, only 5 were able to make this list. Which 5 of those moments made this list? Let’s find out.
Honorable Mention: The Grand Slam Single
Baseball can be a finicky mistress to say the least. Sometimes the rules of the game can alter the course of a game for better or for worse. In the case of former MLB catcher Tim McCarver, the rules altered what would have been a memorable moment into a memorable folly. During the 1976 season while McCarver played with the Philadelphia Phillies, the team squared off against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a Fourth of July doubleheader at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
In game one, McCarver faced off against Pirates starter RHP Larry Demery in the top 2nd with the bases loaded and the Phillies up 1-0. He then knocked the ball clear out of the park for what appeared to be a grand slam. But while rounding the bases, McCarver ended passing teammate CF Gary Maddox along the way. According to MLB rules (specifically Rule 7.08 (h)), a baserunner will be called out immediately by the umpire if he passes another teammate on the base path unless the teammate gets called out first. A costly (and also memorable) blunder on McCarver's part but luckily for him (as well as the Phillies) the other 3 Phillies baserunners still count as if it was a 3-run RBI single. That gave the Phillies a 4-0 lead as they went on to win the game 10-5.
Fun fact is that McCarver's grand slam single was one of three total in all of MLB history.
5. . BoSox with Beantown Fireworks
Nothing like a good firework display on the Fourth of July to make it magically. But over at Fenway Park in 1977, the fireworks on display were explosive in more than one way.
In an earlier afternoon showdown against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Red Sox found themselves down 2-0 early in the ball game. Then in the bottom 5th, 1B George Scott hit a 2-run home run off Blue Jays starter LHP Jerry Garvin to make it 2-2. Then in the bottom 6th down 4-2, CF Fred Lynn hit a solo shot off Garvin to make it 4-3. Then in the bottom 7th down 6-3, 3B Butch Hobson and PH Bernie Carbo hit back-to-back home runs off Blue Jays RHP Chuck Hartenstein to make it 6-5. Then in the bottom 8th, Lynn and CF Jim Rice hit back-to-back home runs on Hartenstein to give the Red Sox the 7-6 lead. Even as the Blue Jays changed pitchers, the home runs continued as LF Carl Yastrzemski and Scott hit solo shots off Blue Jays LHP Mike Willis to make it 9-6, which eventually was the final score.
Overall, Red Sox batters hit 8 home runs with 7 of them being solo shots. Only starting SS Rick Burleson, C Carlton Fisk, DH Tommy Helms, 2B Steve Dillard, and pinch-hitter Denny Doyle didn’t go yard for the Red Sox after getting at least one at-bat. Also, the 8 home runs by the Red Sox set a new single-game MLB record, which hasn’t been topped to this day.
4. An Old-Timers Duel for the Ages
Some people love to see offense and home runs in a baseball game with scores. But what gets real baseball fans going is a classic pitching duel, especially when it carries over into the later innings as fans watch on the edge of their seat to see which pitcher will be the first to crack. One of baseball’s most memorable pitching duel came on July 4 in 1905 between the Philadelphia Athletics (now present-day Oakland Athletics) and the Boston Americans (now present-day Boston Red Sox) over at Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds in Boston, Massachusetts. Taking the mound for the Athletics was LHP Rube Waddell while he was opposed by RHP Cy Young of the Americans, both would be voted into Cooperstown years later.
Unlike most pitching duels that would last 7-8 innings in modern day baseball or even 9-10 innings in old-timer games. However, the duel between Rube and Cy went 20 innings with each pitcher pitching in all 20 innings. Rube gave up the game’s first scores as he allowed back-to-back RBIs by Americans LF Jesse Burket and CF Chick Stahl in the bottom 1st. But then in the top 6th, Cy gave up a two-run blast to Athletics 1B Harry David to tie the game up. From there it, it became a war of attrition as each pitcher held the opposition off the scoreboard. Finally, in the top 20th, the Athletics plated 2 runs across the board to make it 4-2 and ended up winning the final score. Rube emerged the victory in the 20 inning marathon as he faced 79 batters while giving up 15 hits, 2 runs, walked 4 batters, and struck out 11. Cy, on the other hand, got saddled with the loss as he faced 75 batters while giving up 12 hits, 4 runs, and struck out 9 batters.
By the way, this was the 2nd game of a doubleheader that day between both squads In Game 1, the Athletics won 5-2 with Rube getting the victory in that game while pitching in the 9th inning. Nothing like celebrating the 4th with 2 wins in a doubleheader.
3. A No-No on America’s Birthday
There are two crowning in-game achievements that many pitchers strive to get. First is the ‘Perfect Game’ where it’s 27 batters up and 27 batters down. The other is a no-hitter, where the opposition cannot muster a hit against you (but can still get on base via error or bases on ball). Throughout baseball’s 152-year history in the United States, there have been 312 recorded no-hitters (aka, ‘No-No’). But out of the 312, only 3 no-hitters have ever occurred on July 4th, less than 1 % (approximately 0.96%).
The first July 4th no-hitter occurred back in 1908 between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies over at the Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan in New York City. In that game, Giants starter LHP Hooks Wiltse went 10 innings strong against the Phillies, facing 31 batters in total while striking out 5 and plunking 2 others as the home team won 1-0.
The second July 4th no-hitter occurred 4 years later in 1912 in a game between the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Browns (now present-day Baltimore Orioles) over at Navin Field (now present-day Tiger Stadium) in Detroit, Michigan. Tigers starter RHP George Mullin pitched in all 9 innings, facing 31 batters total while striking out 5 and walking 5 more as his team crushed the Browns 7-0.
It would be 71 years until the final July 4th no-hitter (up till this point) occurred in 1983. This time, the no-no took place in a match-up between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees over at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. In this match-up of baseball’s classic rivalry, Yankees starter LHP Dave Righetti was the one who blanketed the Red Sox for 9 strong innings, facing 29 batters while striking out 9 batters and walking 4 others. This included getting Red Sox 3B Wade Boggs (who was hitting .356 at the time and would go on and win the 1983 AL batting title with a batting average of .361) to strikeout twice. Oh, by the way the Yankees won the game 4-0.
2. The Game That Would Not End
If there is one thing that most fans and media members dread is a baseball game that goes longer than anticipated. A game that is expected to go a few hours (3-4 hours tops) could stretch out even further or go deep into the night as the game goes into extra innings. That was the case back on July 4th in 1985 in a game between the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves.
Going into the game, the Mets were sitting at 40-35 in 4th place in the NL East Division, 4.5 games back of the St. Louis Cardinals at 44-30 with 2 weeks left before the All-Star Break. They traveled down to the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia to face off against lowly 34-41 Atlanta Braves of the NL West Division for a 9:00 p.m. game (first pitch was at 9:04 p.m.).
The game started off with each team scoring a run in the 1st inning to make it 1-1. Then going into the bottom 3rd, the game was halted for a 2-hour rain delay. The tarps didn’t come off until around 11:00 p.m. when play resumed. But by then, the Mets decided to go with their bullpen for the remainder of the game instead of letting starter Dwight Gooden finish up the bottom 3rd (he was already pitching on 3-days rest).
The Braves tagged Mets reliever RHP Roger McDowell for 2 runs in the bottom 3rd to take a 3-1. The Mets then repaid the favor by scoring 4 runs in the top 4th off Braves reliever RHP Jeff Dedmon to take a 5-3. Both squads added another extra run in the bottom 5th and top 6th innings (Braves and Mets respectively) to make it 6-4 heading into the 8th inning. A solo shot in the top 8th by Mets 1B Keith Hernandez made it 7-4 as it looked like victory was assured. Instead, the Braves scored 4 runs in the bottom 8th (including a 3 RBI double by Braves CF Dale Murphy) to take an 8-7 lead. An RBI single by Mets CF Lynn Dykstra in the following top 9th made it 8-8 as the game went to extra innings and into the next day.
Playing deep into the night, the Mets took a 10-8 lead in the top 13th thanks to a 2-run home run by Howard Johnson off Braves RHP Terry Foster. But the Braves responded with a 2-run home run by LF Terry Harper off Mets LHP Tom Gorman to tie the game up, sending the game into more extra innings. A sac fly by Dykstra in the top 18th was then countered with a solo home run in the bottom 18th inning by the unlikeliest of players in Braves RHP Rick Camp, creating the game's most iconic moment as as well as extending it even more into the early morning hours of July 5.
Then in the top 19th, the Mets offense surged one last time, tagging Camp for 5 runs to take a 16-12 lead. The Braves tried to rally one last time as Harper knocked in a run off Mets RHP Ron Darling to make it 16-13. But with 2 outs and the tying run at the plate, Darling got Camp to strikeout for the final out, mercifully ending it to give the Mets the 16-13 victory.
The two teams combined for a total of 29 runs (Mets 16; Braves 13), 46 hits (Mets 28; Braves 18), and 5 errors (Mets 3; Braves 2). Eleven players (Mets 7; Braves 4) had 7 or more at-bats with four players having 10 at-bats (Dykstra, Hernandez, 2B Wally Backman, 3B Ray Knight for the Mets and Harper for the Braves). It took a runtime of 6 hours and 10 minutes to play 19 full innings with an additional 2-hour rain delay, capping the actual total time of 8 hours and 10 minutes. To put it in perspective, the Mets and Braves could have played a doubleheader in that same span and still finished before the completion of their 19-inning slog fest.
Although the Mets and Braves continued their rivalry over the years and into present day, they have yet to play in a marathon game like the one they did on the night of July 4 in 1985.
1. Lou Gherig Says Good Bye
If there was a moment in baseball history that was more iconic as well as tragic, it would be New York Yankees Hall of Famer Lou Gherig’s retirement speech. Known as the Iron Horse, Lou played with many Yankee greats like Babe Ruth, Earle Combs, Tony Lazzeri, Bill Dickey, Waite Hoyt, and more. His playing career accolades included 2 AL MVPs, 7 All-Star Appearances, the 1934 AL Batting Title, the 1934 Triple Crown, 6 World Series Titles, was also a member of the legendary ‘Murder’s Row’ of the 1927 Yankees Squad, and played in 2,130 consecutive games, one of baseball’s most respected and revered records that stood the test of time before it was passed by Baltimore Orioles SS Cal Ripken Jr. in 1995.
Lou played in an era where players had the mentality of showing up to the ballpark and continue to play the game no matter what. Even through illness and injury, players would take to the diamond to play the game that they love and only would exit if extreme circumstances dictate.
Unfortunately, it was extreme circumstances that forced Lou to hang up his cleats.
During the 1938 MLB season, Lou started to show symptoms of the muscle degenerative disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), later coined as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The man who was known for his consecutive games started streak and his physical prowess and power started to slowly grow weaker and weaker, even collapsing during spring training in 1939. As the 1939 MLB Season went on, Lou’s condition worsened. His coordination, speed, power, and playing ability had deteriorated to the point where he benched himself because he felt he had become a hinderance to the team.
Then on June 19, 1939, Lou Gehrig announced his retirement from the game of baseball. To honor their former star, the Yankees announced they would be holding ‘Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day’ on July 4 at Yankee Stadium during a double-header with the Washington Senators (now present-day Minnesota Twins) and would retire his No. 4 jersey, making him the first ever player to have his jersey retired.
When the fateful day came, over 60,000 fans poured into the stadium to say one final farewell. From current Yankee’s manager Joe McCarthy to former teammates like Babe Ruth to New York politicians like Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, everybody paid tribute to Lou. Then when he came to the microphone, Lou delivered his final farewell in what would be later referred to as “baseball’s Gettysburg Address”:
It was a tragic moment in baseball history. You saw a man open up his heart to his teammates, his managers, the fans, and to the city of New York. You saw a legendary icon, a generational talent, being forced to step away from the game that he grew up playing, the game that he loved, due to a incurable disease that was draining all his strength. You felt the pain and sorrow of his words. You could see the anguish and sadness on his face as well as the sadness on the faces of all who were there that fateful day.
But in the same token, you saw one of the most memorable speeches delivered by a baseball player. That many baseball players, historians, and fans game respect and revere as if it was from the mouth of God himself. It was one of those ‘You had to be there’ moments not just in baseball history but pop cultural and even American history. If you were there, you would never forget what you were doing or how you felt that moment Lou Gehrig uttered his famous line, "Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." Even in today’s game, Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech is still recited and as well as become an inspiration in the fight against ALS.
On that fateful Fourth of July in 1939, Lou Gehrig went from being Lou Gehrig the baseball player to Lou Gehrig the baseball legend.
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