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.)
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