A Look Back

Firecracker Yankees: greatest July 4th memories

The New York Yankees have a long and storied history, including the day that celebrates the United States’ independence from Great Britain. July 4th at Yankee Stadium and on the road has been marked with birthdays, sad farewells, no-hitters, and more incredible moments.

So as you get ready for a barbecue, some afternoon baseball vs. Atlanta in the Bronx, and a night filled with fireworks lighting the sky, remember these great moments from the Yankees’ scrapbook:

Happy Birthday to You…

On July 4, 1930, Rita and Henry George Steinbrenner II welcome a son, George Michael Steinbrenner III. 43 years later, “The Boss” bought the Yankees from CBS and created decades of great, bad, and crazy times. While at times he had a love/hate relationship with managers, players, and fans, but above all else, King George always wanted to win and win he did.

Under GMS, the Yankees added World Series championships to their legacy in 1977, 1978, 1996, 1998 – 2000, and 2009. They also won the AL pennant in 1976, 1981, 2001, and 2003.

The Boss became very sentimental in his final years and that 2009 championship meant as much to him as any of the previous ones. The managers and players he butted heads with speak reverentially about him. The younger fans that cut their teeth on the 1996 – 2001 teams laud him as the best team owner in sports.

Sadly, George passed in 2010 and didn’t get a chance to see the Baby Bombers that have captured the hearts and minds of the Yankees fans today, or to see how well his son Hal Steinbrenner has run things for nearly a decade.

It is High, It is Far, It is Birthday Cake

Eight years after the Steinbrenners welcomed their son into the world, Gladys and Carl H.T. Sloss had a baby boy of their own on July 4th. They named him John Sloss. Who, you say? The man of a million home runs calls, of course, John Sterling.

Sterling joined the Yankees broadcast in 1989 as their primary radio broadcaster. It’s been quite the ride ever since. He’s become a cult figure among Yankees fans with his “unique” home run calls for Yankees players and his repartee with fellow broadcaster Suzyn Waldman. And, of course, he’s also known for his game-ending calls when the Yankees emerge from the game victorious.

“It is high, it is far, it is gone…a Sterling silver performance worth its weight in gold! Sterling winnnnnnns!”

From Rags to Riches

In his third year in the big leagues, Dave Righetti, his teammates, and his manager Billy Martin were not happy that “Rags” had not been selected to the AL All-Star team. The Boston Red Sox would pay for that decision.

On a steamy Monday in 1983, Righetti took the mound against John Tudor and the Red Sox in the last game before the All-Star break.

Righetti walked Jim Rice in the first inning, one of four walks he issued on the day, but also struck out the side. One of his victims was Wade Boggs, who entered the game with a league-leading .361 batting average.

The game was scoreless until the 5th when Steve Kemp, Roy Smalley, and Andre Robertson strung together consecutive singles for a 1-0 lead. An inning later, Don Baylor, who was intentionally walked three times on the day, got a pitch to hit and blasted a solo home run.

Meanwhile, Righetti was setting down the Red Sox with relative ease. He did get some defensive help – Kemp made a leaping catch in right field over the wall in foul territory – but after the 1st inning, he retired 14 straight batters before Reid Nichols drew a walk in the 5th inning. That was quickly erased, however, when catcher Butch Wynegar threw him out trying to steal second base.

The Yankees tacked on two more runs on a Kemp single in the 8th for a 4-0 lead and then it came down to Righetti vs. the 8-9-1 hitters in the top of the 9th.

It didn’t start out well…Righetti walked Jeff Newman to start the frame – but then Righetti was perfect. Glenn Hoffman grounded into a force out for the first out and leadoff hitter Jerry Remy ground out to second base.  With Hoffman on second base, the Red Sox were down to their final out and had Boggs at the plate.

Righetti used his fastball to get two strikes on Boggs then threw his slider. Apparently, Boggs was still looking fastball, because he took a weak-kneed flail of a swing and came up only with air. Righetti had completed the first no-hitter by a Yankee since Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

Wynegar was the first to greet Righetti, giving his pitcher a bear hug in front of the mound. His teammates were quick to follow.

Righetti pitched the no-no with his best defensive infielder, Graig Nettles, on the bench. He was given the day off by Martin, who had veteran Bert Campaneris man the hot corner. After the game, Nettles and Righetti headed to Atlantic City to celebrate and to get some All-Star break R&R.

Is it still July 4th?

On Independence Day in 1925, future Hall of Fame inductees Herb Pennock of the Yankees and Lefty Grove of the Philadelphia A’s went head-to-head in an all-time classic.

The two left-handers matched zeroes for 14 innings. Pennock faced the minimum batters through six innings. Al Simmons had singled off of him in the 2nd inning but was thrown out trying to steal second base by catcher Benny Bengough.

The Yankees had 12 hits through 14 innings but couldn’t get any of the baserunners home. Then in the top of the 15th inning, the A’s looked like they were going to take the lead. Jimmy Dykes, who had two of the four A’s hits (they were 4-47 on the day) hit a ball to deep right field that fell in for extra bases.

Dykes rounded third base and headed home in an attempt for an inside-the-park home run. Right fielder Bobby Veach, who replaced Babe Ruth earlier in the game, threw to third baseman Joe Dugan, who then threw Dykes out at the plate.

Finally, in the bottom of the 15th, Veach led off with a single and was sacrificed to second base. Lou Gehrig struck out but Steve O’Neill lined a game-winning single to centerfield. It was 1925 so there was no Gatorade shower, no pie-ing, and no jumping up and down at home plate. But, a firm handshake and a pat on the back was well within order.

And then…the two teams had to play the second game of the scheduled doubleheader. I kid you not.

The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth

It’s impossible to watch or listen to Lou Gehrig‘s retirement/farewell speech in 1939 without feeling sad or getting teary-eyed. On what would later be recognized as the first official Yankees’ Old Timers Day, Gehrig stood beside his current and former teammates and a packed Yankee Stadium, and delivered one of the most courageous speeches of all-time.

Diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), the disease that would later bear his name, Gehrig had become a shell of his former self. The “Iron Horse” had set the record for most consecutive games played (2,130) but had grown weaker as the disease progressed. He would succumb to it less than two years later, on June 2, 1941.

But, on July 4, 1939, this is what Gehrig had to say:

“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 may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”

To learn more about the life and legacy of the Iron Horse, I invite you to read a column I wrote last year for Bronx Pinstripes, “Lou Gehrig’s legacy not defined by his disease“.

 

Some other notable Yankees’ July 4th performances:

1949: The Yankees swept a doubleheader against the Boston Red Sox.

1960: Mickey Mantle hit his 300th career home run off of Washington Senators pitcher Hal Woodeshick.

1984: Phil Niekro struck out the Texas Rangers’ Larry Parish for his 3,000 career strikeout.

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