(Daniel Barber) Independence Day—or the Fourth of July—is a day all Americans celebrate and commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence by our forefathers that took place on July 4, 1776, and our nation's break from the rule of Great Britain.
It's a day to reflect and rejoice about the freedoms we all share, and which numerous men and women throughout our country's history have fought and died for. Those brave souls gave their lives in order for us to enjoy that freedom, and we honor them by making sure we live our lives to the fullest; working hard to make America live up to the ideals it was founded upon.
For as Adlai Stevenson once said, "America is much more than a geographical fact. It is a political and moral fact '" the first community in which men set out in principle to institutionalize freedom, responsible government, and human equality."
Yet, while there is always work to be done to assure America lives up to those ideals, the Fourth of July has traditionally been a time to set aside that work and have some fun. While there are certainly somber ceremonies and speeches attached to the day, it's also a time for parades and picnics, concerts and carnivals, fairs and family reunions; and of course, barbecues and baseball.
There are many other sports that have traditionally been played and that have taken place on Independence Day.
For instance, until recently, NASCAR's race now known as the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona Beach, Fla., (originally known as the Firecracker 400) was traditionally run on the Fourth of July.
Fireball Roberts won the first such race in 1959, and took home the checkered flag two more times as well. Richard Petty also won it three times; the most memorable being in 1984 when he won his 200th and final career race in front of a crowd in Florida that included then-President Ronald Reagan.
There've been some famous boxing matches held on Independence day as well, including what was billed as the "Fight of the Century" when it took place—the battle between Jack Johnson and James Jeffries for the Heavyweight Championship of the World. That match was fought in front of 22,000 people in Reno, Nev., and attracted more public attention around the globe than any fight since.
Then, of course, there's also The Championships, Wimbledon, which have numerous times had its title games played on the Fourth of July.
Such champions as Pete Sampras, Martina Navratilova, John McEnroe, Stefi Graf, John Newcombe, Billy Jean King, Stefan Edberg, Maureen Connelly, and Jack Kramer have lifted the title trophy over their heads on a day Britain would like to forget in many respects, as it's the day their former colonies declared themselves independent.
Yet, the sport most closely associated to the United States' independence is, what's commonly known as America's pastime, the game of baseball.
One of the oldest organized team sports, baseball has enjoyed a long a storied history, and has provided some of the greatest and most memorable sports moments on the Fourth of July, some of them not just memorable as sports moments, but as great moments in American history.
Following are five of those moments:
1. Lou Gehrig Gives Emotional Farewell Address in 1939
Can there be any greater moment than Lou Gehrig's emotional farewell speech on July 4, 1939, at Yankee Stadium?
To many, "The Iron Horse" as he was known to his fans because of his durability—which was legendary as he had played in a then-record 2,330 consecutive games from 1923 to 1939—was arguably the best baseball player in the history of the game, even surpassing Babe Ruth in the view of some.
With a .340 lifetime average to go along with 2,721 hits, 493 home runs, and 1,995 RBIs, it's not hard to see why. After all, this seven-time All-Star, two-time AL MVP, and six-time World Series champion had his career cut short after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which eventually became known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
His graceful speech announcing his retirement after being diagnosed had everyone in America tearing up, and is still considered one of the greatest speeches ever given.
2. New York Yankees Pitcher Dave Righetti Throws No-No in 1983
Righetti would mow down all comers as he hurled a no-hitter in a 4-0 Yankees win over the Red Sox, and for that, and that alone, New York fans will always adore him.
3. Houston Astros' Nolan Ryan Records Historic 3,000th Strikeout in 1980
July 4, 1980, would also be known for a brawl that would take place in a game between the Mets and Expos after Montreal pitcher Bill Gullickson hit New York's Mike Jorgensen, but the day really belonged to Houston Astros Hall-of-Fame fireballer Nolan Ryan, who became (at the time) just the fourth player in baseball history to record 3,000 strikeouts.
He would do it by fanning Cesar Geronimo of the Cincinnati Reds to join such baseball luminaries as Walter Johnson, Bob Gibson, and Gaylord Perry in the exclusive club. Of note, Geronimo was also fanned by Gibson for his 3,000th strikeout.
4. Philadelphia Phillies' Tim McCarver Has Grand Slam Negated in 1976
This is probably a moment Phillies catcher Tim McCarver wishes everyone would forget, but it's definitely memorable. On July 4, 1976, the bicentennial of America, McCarver blasted what would have been a grand slam for Philadelphia in the first game of a doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
However, the shot was negated and he was called out by the umpires as he passed Gary Maddox on the bases. The only thing that prevented McCarver from becoming an even bigger laughingstock than he is for this historic flub, was the fact the Phillies won the game 10-5.
5. New York Yankees' Phil Niekro Notches 3,000 Strikeouts in 1984
While not nearly as memorable as Nolan Ryan getting his 3,000th strikeout, Niekro notching 3,000 is definitely a memorable moment, and worthy of being on this list ahead of any others. After all, while Ryan was the fourth man to enter the exclusive club that now numbers 16, Niekro was the ninth, as he fanned the Texas Rangers' Larry Parrish on July 4, 1984.
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Tom Browning nearly recorded his second perfect game in 1989. Albert Pujols(notes)blasted the 300th home run of his career (see video). The Boston Red Sox set a MLB record with eight homers in 9-6 victory over Blue Jays in 1977.