July 4 a special day in baseball

sports@macon.comJune 30, 2014 


Texas Rangers broadcaster Tom Grieve, left, shakes hands with former President George W. Bush as Nolan Ryan looks on as the Rangers play host to the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday, October 8, 2011.


Baseball is as much a part of July 4th festivities as watermelons, picnics and fireworks. Independence Day has produced some of the great moments in the history of the national pastime.

The Iron Horse, Lou Gehrig, who played in 2,130 consecutive contests, gave his famed farewell speech on July 4, 1939, at Yankee Stadium between games of a doubleheader with the Washington Senators. You know the one that begins, “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 the Earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 years, and I have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.”

That was the first paragraph in a 258-word speech given by Gehrig, who suffered from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a disease that became known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He died from the illness almost two years later. Gehrig’s No. 4 jersey was retired by the Yankees on the date of his speech, the first time a player had been so honored.

July 4, 1983, saw New York pitcher Dave Righetti give Yankees owner George Steinbrenner a special birthday present Righetti pitched a no-hitter against the hated Boston Red Sox as Steinbrenner celebrated his 53rd birthday. It was the Yankees’ first no-hitter since Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

One year later, Hall-of-Fame pitcher Phil Niekro, at the time pitching for the Yankees, became the ninth player in Major League Baseball history to reach 3,000 strikeouts He had five strikeouts in the Yankees’ win over the Texas Rangers. Nolan Ryan, owner of seven no-hitters, had recorded his 3,000th strike out exactly four years earlier, pitching for the Houston Astros on July 4, 1980.

And who could ever forget the game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium between the Braves and New York Mets that started on July 4, 1985 and ended in the wee morning hours of July 5? That was the game that seemed as if it would never end. Atlanta scored two runs in the first two innings off Mets ace Dwight Gooden to take a 2-0 lead before rains came, forcing a long delay.

Mets manager Davey Johnson switched to Roger McDowell -- the Braves’ current pitching coach -- after the rain stopped, and the lead changed hands several times before the wet stuff came again. When play resumed, the Mets held a 7-4 lead in the bottom of the eighth, only to see Atlanta score four runs, highlighted by a home run from Terry Harper. Atlanta led 8-7 in the ninth, but New York tied things up with a run to force extra innings.

It looked as if the Mets would prevail with two runs in the 13th to go up 10-8, but Atlanta scored two in the bottom of the inning to tie it up at 10 and send it to the 14th. The game remained knotted up until the 18th, when the Mets scored to go up 11-10. The Braves, with no pinch-hitters or pitchers left, sent Rick Camp to the plate, and he homered to tie it again.

In the top of the 19th, the Mets put five runs on the board for a 16-11 lead. In the bottom of the 19th, Atlanta scored twice and had the tying run at the plate in the form of Camp, who struck out to end the game at 3:55 a.m. New York first baseman Keith Hernandez hit for the cycle that night in 10 trips to the plate.

Following the game, the 1,000 fans still in attendance were treated to a fireworks display that began at 4:05 a.m.

Hope you have a happy and safe Fourth of July this year.

Contact Bobby Pope at bobbypope428@gmail.com

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