There is a quote frequently attributed to poet Walt Whitman, who died in 1892 with the National League still in its infancy, about the so-called national pastime that speaks to the longevity of the connections made between baseball and the American character.
"I see great things in baseball. It's our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us."
Whether Whitman actually uttered these words (or some semblance of them) there have undoubtedly been many players and fans that subscribed to this feeling. It has been dubbed the "national pastime" and there are hours and hours of sepia-inflected documentaries eager to validate this claim. Baseball has also offered a few cathartic moments of repair, as Whitman suggested it would, with perhaps none being as powerful as Mike Piazza's mighty home run for the Mets in the first game played in New York after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2011. That baseball is the only major professional sport played in the U.S. on the fourth of July seems -- all apologies to the annual hot dog eating contest at Coney Island -- apropos given the game's cultural status.
Fittingly, one of the most poignant moments in the history of the sport occurred on an Independence Day at the ballpark. With Yankee Stadium adorned with red, white and blue bunting on July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig delivered his famed "Luckiest Man In The World" speech as he stepped away from the game due to his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, later widely known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
The local boy who made his way from Second Avenue in East Harlem to Yankees Stadium by way of Columbia University was the blue-collar complement to Babe Ruth. Together they formed arguably the most potent 1-2 punch ever to be penciled onto a lineup card.
While Gehrig's 4th of July moment strikes a somber tone, there are several other MLB independence Day performances that elicit more cheers than tears. From Hall of Fame hurler like Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan to characters like Jose Canseco, there has been no shortage of July 4th moments to remember for baseball fans.
(All captions via Nationalpastime.com.)
It's Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium and 'the Iron Horse's' uniform number 4 will be the first ever to be retired. After emcee Sid Mercer informs the sell-out crowd the man of the hour is too moved to speak, Gehrig changes his mind when Skipper Joe McCarthy encourages him, and delivers the keynote address in baseball history describing himself as "the luckiest man on the face of this earth".
Nolan Ryan fans Ceasar Geronimo to record his 3000th career strike out. In 1974, the Reds' outfielder was also Bob Gibson's 3000th victim.
Billy Wagner becomes the 20th pitcher baseball history to record 300 career saves. The Mets' southpaw, who has also played for the Astros and Phillies, significant save is his sixteenth of the season.
Devil Rays' Jose Canseco becomes the first player in major league history to hit 30 home runs with four different teams reaching the mark previously with the A's, Rangers and Blue Jays.
In front of a large holiday crowd gathered at Shea Stadium for a doubleheader against San Diego, Tom Seaver takes a no hitter into the ninth inning for the second time in his career. After getting Dave Roberts to ground out to second base, Leron Lee singles up the middle to spoil the no-hit bid of the 27 year-old Mets right-hander, who has to settle for his fourth one-hitter when he induces the next batter to hit into a game-ending double play.
In his first game after being sidelined a week with a fractured cheekbone, Ron Santo sets a franchise record hitting in his 28th consecutive game. The streak will come to an end the Cubs' third baseman is held hitless in the nightcap of the twin bill against Pittsburgh.
Bill Dickey punches and breaks Carl Reynolds's jaw after the Senator outfielder collides with him on a close play at home plate. The American League suspends the Yankee catcher for 30 days and fines him $1,000 for his one-punch fight.
In his 4,145th big league at-bat, Adam Dunn hits his 300th career home run in Washington's 5-3 win over Atlanta at Nationals Park. The 29-year-old left fielder is the fifth quickest player to reach the milestone only behind Babe Ruth (3,830), Mark McGwire (3,837), Ralph Kiner (3,883) and Harmon Killebrew (3,928).