The Fourth of July holds a magical place in American history. Its obvious link with the Declaration of Independence aside, the date has also seen the near-simultaneous deaths of American founders and titans John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1826, the death of former President James Monroe in 1831, and Henry David Thoreau going to Walden in 1845, among other historically notable events.
The Yankees also have a rich relationship with the Fourth of July. In 1939 on Independence Day, Lou Gehrig delivered his famed address to the crowd at Yankee Stadium. In 1983, Dave Righetti threw a no-hitter on the anniversary of American independence. Many other lesser-known events in Yankee history also came on July Fourth. Accordingly, without further ado, here is the Good, the Bad, and the Interesting of the New York Yankees on the Fourth of July.
On July 4th, 1925, New York played a double-header against the Philadelphia Athletics. In the first game, Herb Pennock took the mound for the good guys. He held the A’s scoreless in the first inning, and just kept going… through the second, and the third, and the fourth, and so on. Unfortunately for him and the Yankees, Lefty Grove was dealing against the Bombers, and he matched Pennock in keeping the game scoreless.
The zeroes on the board continued into extra innings. Finally, in the bottom of the 15th inning, Bobby Veach singled to right field. Bob Meusel sacrifice bunted Veach to second. After Lou Gehrig struck out for the second out of the inning, Steve O’Neal singled to center field. Veach scored, and the Yankees won the first game of the twin bill 1-0. Pennock’s final line: 15 innings pitched, four hits allowed, five strikeouts, and a game score of 114.
Eighty-one years later, the Yankees played a much, much, much worse game on America’s (and late owner George Steinbrenner’s) birthday. Even now in the middle of an awful season, it is one of the most demoralizing Yankees games I have ever seen. On a Tuesday in Cleveland, in front of 29,000 fans, Cleveland destroyed the Yankees by a score of 19-1. New York went hitless with runners in scoring position – 0 for 9, and Jorge Posada allowed two passed balls and committed an error. And those might be considered the high points of the game.
Shawn Chacón started for New York and allowed seven runs (all earned) in his inning and a third. It was a sign of things to come. Ron Villone entered and staunched the bleeding through the fourth inning. But once Villone left the game… ye gods… the bullpen gave Yankees fans a terrible Independence Day gift. T.J. Beam, Mike Myers, and Scott Proctor combined to pitch the fifth through seventh innings. And they surrendered 12 runs in that time, all but one of them earned, and officially put the game to bed. Happy birthday, America... and Mr. Steinbrenner.
Many years earlier in 1932, the Yankees played a double-header in Washington against the Senators. Heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, the Yankees led 3-2. In Washington’s half of the inning, though, Carl Reynolds and Wes Kingdon led off with singles. Later in the inning, with Reynolds on third, future Hall of Famer Bill Dickey tried to pick the Washington runner off. Dickey’s throw hit Reynolds and rolled away.
Reynolds broke for home, as Joe Sewell retrieved the ball and fired it to the plate. Reynolds and the ball arrived virtually simultaneously, and in the inevitable collision, Dickey dropped the ball. Reynolds was called safe at the plate and tied the game. Dickey, who had been involved in a similar play the day before, apparently decided he had had enough. He jumped up and punched Reynolds in the face. The result for Reynolds was a double fracture of his jaw. Bill Dickey apparently threw a mean punch.
For his troubles, the Yankees backstop received a 30-game suspension… after the Yankees lost the first game of the doubleheader 5-3. The loss didn’t dent the Bronx Bombers’ season much, as they were still 50-22 after the defeat. The suspension was worse than the loss, but the game certainly represented an interesting moment in Yankees history.
In a letter to his wife on July 3rd, 1776, founder and future President John Adams opined on how Americans should celebrate their independence in a letter to his wife Abigail. “It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this Time forward forever more,” he wrote Abigail. Pretty well done… except he thought the magical date would be July 2nd.
Throughout the years, the Yankees have done their part to make the nation’s birthday memorable and to commemorate the Day of Deliverance. From Gehrig’s mythical speech and Righetti’s date with baseball immortality to lesser-known events like Herb Pennock’s 15-inning complete game shutout, the Yankees’ ignominious drubbing at the hands of the Cleveland baseball team, and Bill Dickey deciding to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, the Yankees have contributed to the history of the anniversary of American independence.
Happy Independence Day, my American friends and readers.