As American as baseball and apple pie
By Samantha Carr
The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. – Terence Mann
As demonstrated in this iconic quote from the film Field of Dreams, our National Pastime has reflected and often shaped American culture. It is woven into the very fabric that makes up America. Baseball has a connection and an undeniable relevance to this country, which can be seen simply by looking back at the history of baseball on Independence Day.
Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. – Lou Gehrig
Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig stood in front of a crowd at Yankee Stadium and uttered these now famous words seventy years ago Saturday. The speech took place on Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, about a month after he learned of his terminal diagnosis. Less than two years later, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – a disease that would one day bear his name – would claim the life of the Iron Horse, who played 2,130 consecutive games for the New York Yankees.
The July 4, 1939, ceremony was held between games of a doubleheader against the Washington Senators in front of fans, dignitaries and former teammates. The Yankees retired his uniform No. 4 – making Gehrig the first player ever afforded that honor. The crowd stood and applauded for two straight minutes following Gehrig’s speech.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum houses numerous artifacts in its collection from both Gehrig’s career and that special day in 1939 – including a 21 ˝ inch silver trophy given to Gehrig by his 1939 Yankee teammates. But the connection between July 4 and baseball spans much more than one special day.
The Museum’s collection also contains a glove used by future Hall of Famer Rube Waddell in a 1905 pitching matchup with fellow Hall of Famer Cy Young; and a ball and Yankees cap from Dave Righetti’s no-hitter in 1983.
For almost 100 years, future Hall of Famers have recorded historic performances on July 4. In 1925, the New York Yankees beat the Philadelphia A’s in a classic pitching duel between two future Hall of Famers. Herb Pennock of the Yankees retired the final 21 batters he faced to beat Lefty Grove.
Baseball is forever tied to our nation’s history, and as we fire up the grills and make some of our own baseball memories on July 4, it is clear that those ties will not soon be broken.
Happy 4th of July!
You can find the history of any day in baseball on our Web site.
For more on Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech, check out the Induction issue of the Hall of Fame’s Members magazine Memories and Dreams. To become a Member, please click here.
Samantha Carr is the media relations coordinator at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.