The New York Yankees are a team etched throughout the Major League Baseball history books. Most recently, Domingo Germán pitched a perfect game against the Oakland Athletics, which pushed the Bronx Bombers into first place among all MLB teams in perfect games thrown. But a special anniversary is coming up on America’s Independence Day, and that’s the 40th year since Dave Righetti’s impressive no-hitter against the Yankees’ biggest rivals, the Boston Red Sox.
At the time, the lefty was one of the Yankees’ bright young stars. The San Jose native was acquired as part of a package that sent 1977 AL Cy Young Award winner Sparky Lyle to the Rangers, and it didn’t take him long for him to make a name for himself, coming up for a cup of coffee at age 20 late in 1979 before capturing the 1981 AL Rookie of the Year following another season in the minors. During that split-season of ‘81, Righetti posted a league-leading 174 ERA+ and 2.12 FIP in 15 starts, earning all but five first-place votes in a pennant-winning season.
Now 24 and well-established in the Yankees’ rotation in 1983 (even as various managers cycled through the Bronx), Righetti recalled the motivation for this outing in particular being the fact that the game was right before the All-Star break, and he wasn’t chosen for the team. But the various factors that come into play almost guaranteed that something special was going to happen.
“Any time it’s July 4th, you’re playing the Red Sox, and it’s George’s birthday, all those ingredients build up to something that could happen and be pretty special,” Righetti said in an interview years later.
The biggest external factor playing a part in the game on that day was the heat. It was 94 degrees in The Bronx, and people who were watching the game said that it was easy to see the sweat pouring from the forehead of Righetti. There was more time than normal waiting around between innings too, as the team had a few on-field promotions lined up. However, he was in such good shape that he was able to keep it up through nine innings, even in a tight 2-0 ballgame* against some of the league’s best hitters, like Wade Boggs.
*The Yankees only opened it up a little bit in the bottom of the eighth, when Steve Kemp lined a two-run single off Boston starter John Tudor to make it 4-0.
The future Hall of Famer Boggs was already a .354 hitter across hit first 179 career games at this point, and he was en route to winning his first of five batting titles and eight Silver Sluggers. The 25-year-old lefty was essentially the last hitter that Righetti faced in his outing on that absurdly hot day. In case anyone is unfamiliar with the kind of season Boggs was having up to that point and the one he finished with, his slash line for 1983 would up being .361/.444/.486 with a 150 OPS+. He would finish 12th in AL MVP voting, and considering that he finished second in both rWAR (7.8) and fWAR (7.7) to the winner, Cal Ripken Jr., the 12-time All-Star deserved a better fate in hindsight.
The craziest part about Boggs’ numbers, and something that announcers even on that day recognized, was the fact that the third baseman hardly ever struck out. Across 153 games during the 1983 season, the letter “K” was written by his name on the scorecard only 36 times. By strikeout rate, Boggs was the toughest player to fan in the American League at a minuscule 5.3 percent. But on that day, we would see one of those elusive K’s.
Boggs stepped up to the plate in the batter's box, and the at-bat began with a ball. Advantage: Boggs. Then, Righetti came back with a fastball on the outside edge of the plate for a called strike. The count was even at 1-1. Then, something happened that didn't happen very often: Boggs swung out of his shoes at a breaking ball on the outside of the plate.
After fouling away a ball upstairs, Boggs took a ball very close to the outside edge of the plate. It’s evident where Righetti was focused in this at-bat. The count was 2-2, and Righetti threw a breaking ball. Boggs swung, ending the game on a swinging strikeout.
In an article written by current YES analyst Jack Curry in the New York Times, Righetti said that he regrets not celebrating more, especially after watching other Yankees pitchers celebrate after their no-hitters.
‘’I wish I had just let it go and enjoyed myself more,’’ Righetti said in the article.
That day is etched in Yankees history, not only because it was a no-hitter, but one that happened on an American holiday against the Yankees' biggest rivals in the sport. The fact that that season was the last of Righetti’s years starting before being moved to the bullpen also plays a significant role. He later gained All-Star recognition twice as a dominant closer, and his 46 saves in ‘86 were a franchise record until a guy named Mo topped him in 2001. Righetti would also achieve a measure of fame as the Giants’ longtime pitching coach during their championship seasons in the early-2010s, but the no-no stands as his lasting memory.
As this July 4th comes around, it’s not only a special day to celebrate our independence, but for Yankees fans, they get to relive and celebrate the 40th anniversary of a truly fantastic moment.