Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Amazing Independence Days of Yankee Stadium

Yankee Stadium 1.0 saw seen plenty of incredible moments in its history. Perfect World Series games, overtime NFL championship games, heavyweight title fights,  rockers and clergy, and memorials to fallen heroes.

July 4 in particular has had it's share of special, touching, and reflective moments. None more so than in 1939 when the Yankees said goodbye to their captain, Lou Gehrig. The "Iron Man" had been forced into retirement after a diagnosis of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, later known simply as "Lou Gehrig Disease". He was honored by the team and dignitaries on the 4th and delivered one of the most memorable, emotional speeches of all time.
"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 somethin . 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.
A remarkable speech  from a remarkable, courageous man. Gehrig's words have been referenced many times over the years from a number of sources (e.g. Mickey Mantle on his retirement day) and were immortalized in the film "Pride of the Yankees with Gary Cooper.

It was also the first unofficial/official Old Timers Day in Yankees history.

On July 4, 1983, George Steinbrenner celebrated his 53rd birthday and watched as the Yankees and Boston Red Sox squared off in an Independence Day matinee at the Stadium. Who could have predicted what came next?

Dave Righetti, the Yankees 26-year old starting pitcher, put nine goose eggs up on the board in a 4-0 Yankees win. The really special part though was the goose egg under the hits column on the Yankee Stadium scoreboard.

No Yankees pitcher had thrown a no-hitter since Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Righetti might have taken the mound that day with a chip on his shoulder. Despite a 9-3, 3.53 record, Righetti was passed over for the AL All-Star team. If he was upset, Righetti took it out on the Red Sox.

Wade Boggs was still hitting .356 after the game, but "Rags" struck him out three times, including once in the 9th inning. Boggs flailed at the game's final pitch, but it landed in catcher Butch Wynegar's mitt for the 27th and final out of the day.  Graig Nettles, who rested while Bert Campaneris played 3rd base that day, and Righetti  celebrated the no-hitter and the All-Star break with a trip to Atlantic City.

Other Notable Yankees 4th of July Games

July 4,  1925 - future Hall of Fame members Herb Pennock of the Yankees and Lefty Grove of the Philadelphia Athletics dueled for 15 scoreless innings until the Yankees won 1-0. Pennock out pitched his fellow left-hander by throwing a perfect game through six innings and topped it by being perfect for the final 21 batters.

One year after Righetti's no-no, Phil Niekro struck out Texas' Larry Parrish for the 3,000th strikeout of his career.

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