The Sports Post wishes everyone a happy and safe 4th of July holiday! If you plan on watching sports during this year’s celebration, perhaps you will see some history made. Looking back, there have been memories made in the world of sports that are still spoken about today. Some more than others, of course. What follows is snapshot of results by sport that will live forever.
National Football League
It’s hard to believe that it’s been eight years now since the awful tragedy of former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair, who was murdered by his mistress inside a condo he owned. Many questions seem to remain, however. Two years removed from retirement, on July 4, 2009, McNair’s life was taken by Sahel Kazemi who then turned the gun on herself taking her own life. The events leading up to the crime tarnished McNair’s legacy but on the playing field, he was one of the best of his day.
Major League Baseball
Baseball always dominates July and especially the 4th. Perhaps in one of the greatest speeches ever delivered on a baseball field—and not just one of the saddest days in baseball history, but also one of the most emotional—came on July 4th, 1939. Lou Gehrig was retiring from baseball, suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), which would later take on the name of the great Yankees first baseman. Gehrig eventually succumbed to the disease but not before giving his dramatic “Luckiest Man” speech to thousands of fans at Yankee Stadium.
Gehrig’s No. 4 jersey was retired that day as the Yankees celebrated their first-ever “Old Timers Day.” Gehrig was only 37 when he passed, this after playing in a record of 2,130 consecutive games that stood until Cal Ripken broke the record many years later. When it comes to 4th of July performances on the field, one of the most difficult feats to pull off is a no-hitter.
No-hitters on America’s birthday have come just three times. The first was in 1908 when George “Hooks” Wiltse tossed a no-no for the New York Giants. And in doing so, ultimately beat the Philadelphia Phillies 1-0. Incredibly, Wiltse missed a perfect game by one batter. That came in the ninth inning with only one out to go. He hit the last batter up, putting him on base and thus ruining his effort to have a perfect game.
Just four years later, the Detroit Tigers’ George Mullin put seven players across home plate. And on the mound, he did not allow the St. Louis Browns to manage a single hit. To add an extra incentive to his effort, it was Mullin’s birthday.
On Independence Day 1983, against the rival Red Sox, the Yankees’ Dave Righetti threw a no-no, striking out Wade Boggs for the final out. It was the first no-hitter in the history of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. It was also the first no-hitter by a Yankee since Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956. And, the first by a lefty in pinstripes since 1917. As then owner George Steinbrenner looked on, Righetti presented him with a gift on his 53rd birthday.
That same summer of 1983, on the same day as Righetti was no-hitting the Red Sox, the National League New York team was in Atlanta for a holiday game. The Mets would defeat the Braves but the game ended LONG after Righetti’s no hitter. It took 19 innings for the Mets to take down Atlanta in the game that was played at Fulton County Stadium.
The final score was not typical as both teams scored a combined 29 runs, 16 by the victors. On that day, the Mets’ Keith Hernandez hit for the cycle. With a fireworks show planned, the Atlanta sky did not see that until the game ended at 4:00 a.m. the next day (July 5). Some reports say that local residents unaware a game was still being played and having no idea of any fireworks show, were assuming some kind of attack was being staged in the area.
To make matters worse, the game’s first pitch came at 9:00 a.m. on July 4th. And because of rain delays, did not end until the next morning. Dwight Gooden was the starting pitcher for the Mets; it was Rich Mahler for Atlanta. Relief pitcher Rick Camp hit a home run in the 18th inning that tied the game for the Braves, but then surrendered five runs in the 19th to take the loss. In looking at the game’s box score, both teams used 14 pitchers. There were an incredible 46 hits in the 19 innings played.
All baseball fans know and remember Nolan Ryan. Ryan did not throw any of his seven no-hitters on the 4th of July but on this day in 1980, he did register his 3,000th strikeout. And as the all-time leader in Ks, he would finish his career 13 years later with an additional 2,714 strikeouts. Four years later, Phil Niekro struck out his 3,000th batter.
At the time of Ryan’s 3,000th, only Bob Gibson, Walter Johnson and Gaylord Perry had achieved that mark. At 33 years old, Ryan was 46 when he hung up his spikes. While Ryan and Niekro celebrated great moments, famed baseball broadcaster and former player Tim McCarver had a moment on the 4th of July that he’d like to forget.
In 1976 while playing for the Philadelphia Phillies, McCarver and his team were playing the Pittsburgh Pirates. With the game knotted at zero, McCarver blasted a ball over the outfield wall with two men on base. As McCarver rounded the bases on the dinger, he had a lapse of concentration and ran by teammate Garry Maddux who was ahead of him on base. McCarver was called out but his three RBIs went into the books. It was the first game of a double-dip won by Philadelphia, 10-5.
The great heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson fought on the 4th of July in 1910. It was not just another title defense; however. The bout became known as “The Fight of the Century.” Johnson’s opponent was James Jeffries, who was lured out of retirement in an effort to take down the popular but very controversial African-American champion. With much racist vitriol being spewed towards Johnson, hundreds of thousands of fans wanted to see the demise of Jack Johnson.
In order to get down to a fighting weight, Jeffries had to lose the 100 pounds or so that he had gained in retirement. On an extremely hot day in Reno, Nevada, Johnson took the former champion Jeffries to task. Following Johnson’s dominating victory in which he simply put a terrible beating on Jeffries, riots ensued. And tragically, many blacks were attacked by whites.
Also in boxing, the 4th of July marks the debut of another great heavyweight champion—Joe Louis. “The Brown Bomber” had his first pro fight in 1934 on the nation’s holiday. Louis knocked out Jack Kracken in a fight that was held in Chicago. 56 knockouts and 69 bouts later, Louis retired as one of the greatest heavyweights of all time. Three years after his inaugural bout against Kracken, Louis would win the title and rule the division for 12 straight years.
John McEnroe made news lately by stating that women’s champion Serena Williams would not be able to defeat any of the top 700 ranked men’s professional tennis players. But in 1981, McEnroe came up against the great Bjorn Borg’s in the Wimbledon finals.
Borg had won the previous five All England Club championships. This was a rematch of the year before when Borg defeated McEnroe in five sets. Ultimately, the victory would be the first of three Wimbledon titles for the controversial and animated McEnroe. McEnroe was involved in other 4th of July Wimbledon championships as well—losing to Jimmy Connors in 1982. Pete Sampras won a title from Andre Agassi on this day in 1999. In 1993, Sampras had won his first Wimbledon by beating Jim Courier.
“The King.” That would be Richard Petty in auto racing, one of the all-time great drivers. A career that began on July 18, 1958 ended in 1992. He won his final race on July 4th, 1984—taking the checkered flat at the Firecracker 400—at Daytona International Speedway. Then President of the United States Ronald Reagan was at the speedway, becoming the first President in office to make his attendance at a NASCAR event. No racing fan can forget or is unable to identify Petty’s No. 43 Plymouth in its red and blue colors with “STP” emblazoned on it.
What was your most memorable 4th of July moment in sports? And for more from Harv Aronson, check out his website!