July 2008

Whats in a Plaque?

If asked, how would you capture the essence of a Hall of Fame baseball life?  If told you had a limit of 50 words to immortalize and stamp Stan Musial’s career, for example, what would you say?  What numbers would you select?  What achievements or moments would you focus upon?  Some time over the past six months, these questions have been pondered and answered for the 2008 Hall of Fame Class:  Goose Gossage, Dick Williams, Billy Southworth, Bowie Kuhn, Walter O’Malley, and Barney Dreyfuss.  The question can be difficult, for there are myriad ingredients that mix and blend into a legendary career or place in baseball history.  Some players become securely attached to a singular number:  Hank Aaron and 755; Lou Gehrig and 2130; Ted Williams and .406; Cy Young and 511.  Others rest their foundation on a singular moment:  Bill Mazeroski’s bottom of the ninth home run in game seven of the 1960 World Series that enabled the Pirates to vanquish the mighty Yankees; Christy Mathewson’s three shutouts in the 1905 World Series; Carl Hubbell’s five straight strikeouts of five future Hall of Famers in the 1934 All-Star Game, Carlton Fisk’s arm-directed pleading for his ball to stay fair in the 1975 World Series.  Others don’t have a unique moment or number to serve as the beacon:  Don Sutton employed an amazing consistency and remarkable durability on his way to 324 wins:  20 straight seasons of 200 innings pitched, Sutton reached double-digits in wins in 21 of his 23 years; Eddie Murray would churn out home runs and RBI like clockwork, each year looking amazingly like the one previous, no particular season leaping to the forefront:  yet, when all was said and done, Murray placed himself alongside Hank Aaron and Willie Mays as only the third player in history to accumulate 3000 hits and 500 home runs.  Still, any exercise in which we try to extract the heart and soul of a Hall of Fame career cannot rest solely on any one of these elements alone.  Lou Gehrig’s true story lies beyond the 2130 straight games; Hank Aaron’s puzzle contains countless pieces, Christy Mathewson’s extraordinary time in the Majors begins before and continues long after his 1905 World Series performance, and to truly understand what Don Sutton or Eddie Murray meant to the game, particular moments can be placed under the microscope for examination and celebration.  

The greatness lies in the stories and memories that surround the special ballplayers – those dictionary definitions and encyclopedia images that seek to add breadth to the statistical foundations.  In those stories and images, we can gain perspective and add context, and a ballplayer can leap from the page and take on thickening dimension.  A story from Dock Ellis on what is was like to watch Bill Mazeroski receive a throw from Gene Alley and turn the pivot on a double play transforms Maz from a Goliath-slaying David into something fuller and more appreciable.  Ted Williams’ magical run and attainment of a .400 batting average expands in the mythology when we look into the final day of the season, when he played in a doubleheader in Philadelphia and collected six hits in eight at-bats to speed by .400 and park at .406.  Carl Hubbell’s mastery of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin on July 10, 1934 retains a degree of the mystical  until we seek to learn about his screwball and we hear the story of Lou Gehrig muttering to Foxx after the Iron Horse struck out, “You might as well cut away.  It won’t get any higher.  That guy won’t give you anything to hit.”

Of course, a Hall of Fame plaque cannot meander through these trails – in its outline of the ballplayer’s career, the words must draw out the core and proclaim the essential.  For the plaques at the National Baseball Hall of Fame serve as abstracts:  sketches that introduce, bow, and then (hoping we will follow) turn to begin the journey toward deeper understanding and appreciation.  The plaques and their words are invitations to the millions of people who pass by every year: inducements to seek other sources of stories and images that bring our baseball heroes to life.  

Later this week, I will be traveling to Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame Induction Weekend.  For two days, I will have the privilege of sitting down with some of the Hall of Famers and listening to their stories.  No matter what tales are told, what memories are awakened, or what moments are recalled, the game’s history will be brought back to life.    I will sit there with a widening smile, and with each phrase, sentence, and storyline, the plaques in my mind will expand and take on a more discernible texture and a deeper substance.  But there are other sources available for those of you who aren’t so lucky.  Five books sit in my library at home:  they are smudged with fingerprints, roughed at the edges, and their dust jackets are holding on for dear life, but the contents remain vibrant and clear.  These five books – oral Histories compiled and edited by Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig –  bring the game’s history to life.  I heartily recommend any and all of them to anyone who has ever looked at a Hall of Fame plaque and wondered about the stories that are not mentioned.

The Glory Of Their Times: The Story Of The Early Days Of Baseball Told By The Men Who Played It, by Lawrence Ritter

The October Heroes : Great World Series Games Remembered by the Men Who Played Them, by Donald Honig

Baseball When the Grass Was Real : Baseball from the Twenties to the Forties Told by the Men Who Played It, by Donald Honig

Baseball Between the Lines : Baseball in the Forties and Fifties As Told by the Men Who Played It, by Donald Honig

The Man in the Dugout : Fifteen Big League Managers Speak Their Minds, by Donald Honig

Thanks to baseball-reference.com for information that helped with this piece, and acknowledgement to Ray Robinson’s Iron Horse: Lou Gehrig in His Time for the quote by Gehrig.

BobbyBobbyBobbyBobby…


Ted Williams once said, “They invented the All-Star game for Willie Mays.”  More than any sentence, any statistic, or any phrase etched on his plaque in Cooperstown, this statement outlines the substance of Mays and captures his essence so perfectly as to render all of the numbers accrued over the 22-year career as mere accessories to the historical storyline.  More than the Polo Grounds, Seals Stadium, Candlestick Park or Shea Stadium, I think of the All-Star game as the truest and most definitive home for The Say Hey Kid.  Willie Mays manned the biggest and most eye-catching booth in a traveling carnival known as the Midsummer Classic on 24 separate occasions, and hit, ran and slid his way beyond the imaginations of the thousands of fans who saw his star take center stage and command the brightest spotlight among a troupe of iconic ballplayers.  The All-Star game indeed was made for talents like Willie Mays, for on one special day each summer, this baseball genius found a singular home for the expression of the exceptional, the magical, and the everlasting.  In ballparks, stadiums, and fields, the Giants’ centerfielder settled into whatever city was lucky enough to host his abilities, and left behind an encyclopedia of images, memories, oohs, and aahs which comprised a collective experience known as watching Willie Mays.

The Midsummer Classic, like Opening Day or the postseason, offers a concise and impressionable tablet onto which baseball etches its storyline.  Once a year, the game’s best challenge each other and measure themselves against their peers – the results can often carry on in our memories and mythologies in a manner that sometimes subtly and sometimes directly encapsulates the past and present.  Pedro Martinez’ performance in the 1999 All-Star game, in which he struck out Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire in succession to begin the game lies beside Carl Hubbell’s mastery in the 1934 Midsummer Classic, when he struck out five future Hall of Famers – Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin – in a row.   Just this past week, Josh Hamilton capped a fairytale first half with his jaw-dropping display in the Home Run Derby.  With home plate in Yankee Stadium his stage, with 50,000 fans on their feet chanting his name, Hamilton rocketed and moon-shot ball after ball into the upper deck, into the black seats in center, and even flirted with that Holy Grail of home run hitting – knocking one completely out of the stadium.  Hamilton’s turn under the spotlight made me think back to the All-Star game in 1941, when another left-handed batter with prodigious talents symbolized an iconic season with a single swing of the bat.  That year in Detroit, Ted Williams won the game with a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth.  For Williams, whose two-for-four-day was not a part of his .406 batting average in 1941, that home run always stood at the apex of his accomplishments on the ballfield.  

Reggie Jackson hitting the transformer in the 1971 game and Bo Jackson going way beyond yard off Rick Reuschel in 1989.  Curt Schilling daring Alex Rodriguez to try and hit three fastballs in 2002 and Ted Williams swatting Rip Sewell’s eephus pitch into the stands in 1946.  A 1-0 game in the year of the pitcher in 1968 (in which the only run was scored by Willie Mays, who led off the game with a single), and a 13-8 slugfest at Coors Field in 1998.  Hank Blalock’s two-run home run against a previously untouchable Eric Gagne in 2003 (it was Gagne’s only blown save the entire year).  Babe Ruth hitting the first home run in All-Star history in 1933.   The 1934 game in which 17 of the 18 starters eventually were inducted into the Hall of Fame (Wally Berger is the only outsider).  Terry Steinbach – hitting .217 in the first half of the season – winning the MVP in the 1988 game with a two-run home run that accounted for all the AL scoring in their victory.  Each moment stands alone in our All-Star scrapbook, while also claiming a place as an important block in the ever-expanding timeline of baseball.  The All-Star game serves as a microscope, into which we peer, examine, and celebrate the nuances and elements that separate good from the great.

As a space in which to shape, witness, and impact an amazing tableau of achievement, Yankee Stadium has stood atop the baseball mountain for the better part of nine decades.  Yankee Stadium is the Grand Canyon, Mt. Rushmore, and Washington Monument rolled into one.  People come to its gates to sit atop the baseball world – always cognizant of what has played out on the field in the past; and always hoping to witness one more iconic moment.  Few have ever walked away disappointed.
The iconic and the grand  – Babe Ruth christening the Stadium with a home run on April 18, 1923, Lou Gehrig’s speech on July 4, 1939, the perfect games twirled by Don Larsen, David Wells, and David Cone, two ninth-inning, game-tying home runs on two consecutive World Series nights in 2001, Roger Maris’ 61st home run in 1961, Mickey Mantle Day in 1969, All-Star games in 1939, 1960, 1977 and 2007 – have permanently lifted the ballpark to a singular position in the national pastime.  But the intimate has also thickened the space with ghosts, constricting the vastness of Yankee Stadium to a deeply personal set of diary pages.  We all have our own moments at the Stadium:  the small gestures,  accomplishments, connections and performances that have melded and contrasted to construct innumerable homes that we each call our own.  These are the elements that give life to any ballpark, for the ghosts have no animation without our memories or stories.  The ballpark holds onto each and every one of our recollections – protecting, burnishing, storing safely until we sit down in a seat, look out to the field, and say, “I remember when.”

On September 26, 1981, in the bottom of the ninth inning of an Orioles-Yankees game on a Saturday afternoon in the Bronx, a pinch-hitter walked to the plate.  The Yankees, trailing 4-3, had the tying run on second and the winning run on first with one out.  The pinch-hitter on this early fall afternoon strode to the plate, heard the volley of cheers cascading down from the nearly 31,000 fans in the seats, and took his place in the left-handed side of the batter’s box.  The pinch-hitter had been in this spot many times before, and was accustomed to being the epicenter of great expectations and hopes.  16 years earlier, the pinch-hitter had made his debut for the New York Yankees against the Washington Senators.  On that day, he was a 19-year-old shortstop from Oklahoma whose hometown, powerful left-handed swing and original position on the diamond necessitated comparisons to a baseball legend, Mickey Mantle.  Although the 19-year-old never did match the career of Mantle, he carved out a memorable and long-lasting entry of his own.  For a time, when the Yankees were suffering their worst World Series drought since their first pennant in 1921, Bobby Murcer gave fans a reason to hand a ticket over, walk through a turnstile, and take a seat at Yankee Stadium:  three consecutive Top-10 MVP finishes from 1971-1973, five straight All-Star berths from 1971-1975, a Gold Glove in 1972, a few positions atop the leaderboards in various categories, the most runs driven in and scored in the AL from 1971-1974.  Bobby Murcer also provided a link – he had not only been compared to Mickey Mantle, Murcer had played with him, and had eventually taken Mantle’s spot in centerfield.  And so the legacy continued – from DiMaggio to Mantle to Murcer.  And if that connection was interrupted by a trade to San Francisco after the 1974 season (Murcer was traded for Bobby Bonds, who had come to the big leagues saddled with comparisons to that other centerfielding legend, Willie Mays), the separation and eventual return in 1979 only reaffirmed
how much Bobby Murcer meant – as both ballplayer and symbol – to the franchise and to the fans who had grown up with tales of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and Mickey Mantle.

On September 26, 1981, with the crispness of autumn issuing a soft reminder of what was to come, I sat and watched pinch-hitter Bobby Murcer walk to the plate.  Whatever chants Murcer was hearing were drowned out by a singular voice to my right.  For above my right shoulder, my mother stood, hands clasped in front of her, smiling, intoning “BobbyBobbyBobbyBobby……(pause)……. BobbyBobbyBobbyBobby…… (pause)……. BobbyBobbyBobbyBobby.”  And then, somewhere in the moment between a pause and the intake of more air, Bobby Murcer swung and hit a ball into seats in right field to win the game.

As I watched Brooks Robinson, Ernie Banks, Bob Feller, Willie Mays, and all of the other Hall of Famers standing at their positions before this year’s All-Star game at Yankee Stadium, I thought about Bobby Murcer for a moment.  Once upon a time, scouts, fans and writers saw this lefty from Oklahoma and felt enough excitement and hope to compare him to Mickey Mantle.  Other comparisons to Mantle had been heard the night before the All-Star game, when Josh Hamilton stood into the left-handed batter’s box during the Home Run Derby and launched majestic home runs to very part of Yankee Stadium.  And then when four Yankee legends – Reggie Jackson, Yogi Berra, Goose Gossage, and Whitey Ford – took their baseballs from George Steinbrenner and made their graceful and deeply personal gestures of a hug or a kiss on the cheek, I again thought of Bobby Murcer and all the deeply personal images I have witnessed at the Stadium.  Don Mattingly walking from third to first after the last out in the bottom of the third inning on September 23, 1995, when the fans rose as one and gave him a standing ovation for everything that he had represented; a chant – in order to express all of those same sentiments – for Paul O’Neill in Game Five of the 2001 World Series; Tom Seaver retiring Don Baylor on August 4, 1985 to record the final out in his 300th win; Bernie Williams crushing Randy Myers’ flat slider in the bottom of the 11th inning in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS; sitting with a friend down the left field line and watching Andy Pettitte beat the Orioles in a prelude to his wonderful 2003 playoff run; taking my own personal walk through Monument Park to gaze at the plaques.  And of course, listening to my mother chanting BobbyBobbyBobbyBobby and watching a connection to the past introduce himself to a new generation.

We never know when a moment will arrive and hand us another tile for our ever expanding mosaic.  Sometimes – like waiting anxiously for the moment when Mariano Rivera was going to enter this year’s All-Star game – we anticipate and hope and sweat out the proceeding moments.  Sometimes – like Josh Hamilton’s awe-inspiring performance in the Home Run Derby – we consider but hold our hopes in check.  Sometimes – like the pregame ceremony before the All-Star game – we are content to sit back and absorb.  Sometimes – like Fernando Valenzuela striking out five straight batters in the 1986 All-Star game – the moment instantly connects to a different era and moment and seamlessly bridges generations and decades.  And sometimes – like a pinch-hit home run by Bobby Murcer in 1981 – a moment lies beneath the surface, waiting for the proper amount of time and context to reveal its hidden meaning and importance.  But always, our ballparks welcome us, patiently offering us the chance to witness and connect to the game and the men who assemble the shapes and memories that we know as baseball.   

Thanks to baseball-reference.com and retrosheet.org for information that helped with this piece.

A Day to Remember

Once, July 4 meant doubleheaders. On America’s birthday, Major League ballparks would host thousands of fans paying once to sit down and watch their favorite players and teams play nine, rest, and then trot out for a second ballgame. Although that particular tradition belongs to another era and lives only in the memories of an older generation, the Fourth of July still commands a unique and vibrant niche in the game. It serves as a resting place along baseball’s seasonal journey – an offer to sit down for a moment, take stock of what we’ve seen, ponder what may come, project accomplishments (are there any sweeter words to the baseball optimist than “he’s on a pace for…), look forward to the Midsummer Classic, and prepare ourselves for the revving up of pennant races. And although July 4 no longer issues an opportunity to “play two”, it can still serve as the stage for some of the finest, most absurd, and most spine-tingling moments in the game’s history.

To a certain baseball population, July 4 will always connect to memories of a lanky left-hander battling extreme heat and an historic rivalry to toss a no-hitter in the Bronx. On July 4, 1983 Dave Righetti struck out Wade Boggs in the first and ninth innings (Boggs struck out only 36 times that entire season), bookending a most extraordinary performance on a day when the temperature reached 94 degrees.

To others, July 4 might induce vague memories of another left-handed pitcher not performing quite as well as Righetti. On July 4, 1956 in the first game of a doubleheader between the hometown White Sox and the visiting Kansas City Athletics, Tommy Lasorda made his penultimate appearance on the mound in the Majors, throwing five-and-two-thirds innings in relief of Jack McMahan (who had been lifted after allowing three runs in only one third of an inning).

In 1985, Dwight Gooden rose and grabbed a spot as the unquestioned ringleader in a festival that came to town every fifth day. When Dwight Gooden pitched, we watched. We watched with the anticipation of witnessing something heroic and unprecedented. We watched with the incredulity of youngsters at a magic show. We watched and we clapped and we stood, amazed by the virtuosity of a 20-year-old who had established himself as the best pitcher in the world. And even when he didn’t have his stuff, Dwight Gooden still stood securely at baseball’s epicenter. On July 4, 1985, Doctor K started for the Mets and through 49 pitches, two-and-a-third innings, and buckets of rain, allowed two hits, four walks, and a run to the Atlanta Braves. After a 41-minute rain delay, the game resumed without Gooden, who turned into a spectator for the remainder of a 19-inning affair that witnessed both teams score two runs in the 13th inning, Keith Hernandez hitting for the cycle, a home run in the eighteenth inning by pitcher Rick Camp (who had entered the game with a career batting average of .060) to tie the game at 11, and a conclusion in the 19th in which the Mets scored five in the top half (off of Camp) and then just barely held on to win 16-13. At 4:01 am on July 5, the planned fireworks show began.

Finally, to virtually anyone who has had the opportunity to grow up with and around the game, the Fourth of July directs a somber, yet celebratory finger in the direction of July 4, 1939. On that particular Independence Day, in between a doubleheader with the Washington Senators, in front of thousands of fans in Yankee Stadium, Lou Gehrig issued his farewell to baseball. Overwhelmed by the attention, uncomfortable with the words extolling his character and illustrious playing career, with only two years left to live, Lou Gehrig stepped up to a microphone at home plate and proclaimed, “[T]oday, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.” These words came at the beginning of the speech that is broadly acknowledged as baseball’s Gettysburg Address and hold the essence of a man who crafted a exceptional career through a singular style and grace. The poignancy of the moment and the humility of the man shall always reverberate, for such sharp exposure to unrelenting strength is rare, and the image of Gehrig’s undeniable fortitude stands even brighter with the knowledge of how a disease ravaged his body and turned a man who once looked like a Greek statue come to life into shell of unresponding and atrophied muscles. But Gehrig’s speech offered another conclusion, for when he uttered his final words into the microphone at home plate on July 4, 1939 an era – one that had witnessed three of the greatest first basemen in the history of the game share the same league and spotlight – came to an end.

From 1933 (Hank Greenberg’s first full season) through 1938 (Gehrig’s last full season), three first basemen dominated the offensive landscape in the American League. Over those six seasons, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Hank Greenberg finished 1-2-3 in their league in home runs, RBI, and OPS. On the career OPS list, they rank third (Gehrig at 1.0798), sixth (Foxx with a mark of 1.0376), and seventh (Greenberg at 1.0169). From 1933 through 1940, one of them started for the American League in the All-Star game at first base. The competition was so fierce at the position that in the first All-Star game in 1933, Jimmie Foxx – despite winning the Triple Crown and MVP that season – didn’t even play: he was reduced to a nine-inning spectator as Gehrig manned first base for the duration. The following year, Foxx did get to play in the game…at third base. Once again, Gehrig had first all to himself. But Foxx had it better than Greenberg. In 1935 – a year in which he amassed the seventh-highest RBI total in American League history, won the AL MVP and helped lead the Tigers to its first-ever World Series title – Greenberg didn’t even make the All-Star team. It seems almost unfathomable, until we remember Foxx and Gehrig. Hank Greenberg, Jimmie Foxx, and Lou Gehrig are three of the greatest players ever at their position. They are three of the greatest players to ever walk on the field at any position. Their stat lines in the Macmillan baseball encyclopedia are littered with bold highlights, indicating league-leading totals. Their power numbers – produced during an earlier live-ball era – remain astonishing even today. Before Roger Maris, Foxx and Greenberg each challenged Babe Ruth’s magical record of 60 home runs: Foxx hit 58 in 1932 and Greenberg matched that total in 1938. Gehrig holds the highest single-season RBI total in American League history, with 184 in 1931. In 1937, Greenberg fell one short of matching Gehrig and produced the second-highest total in league history. Foxx hit more than 30 home runs in 12 straight seasons: the second-longest streak in baseball history. Gehrig and Foxx drove in more than 100 runs in 13 straight seasons – the longest streaks in baseball history. Each won two league MVP’s (Foxx won three). Gehrig (.921 RBI/game) and Greenberg (.915 RBI/game) have the second and third-highest RBI to game ratios in history. These three men hit for power, hit for average, and drove in runs at prodigious rates. And for a six-year period between 1933-1938, they were all doing it in the American League: it remains one of the greatest concentrations of talent for a specific time and place in baseball history.

Although Greenberg, Gehrig and Foxx stand at the apex, they were not the first representation of a trio of first basemen dominating their game in the same era. The ABC first basemen – Cap Anson, Dan Brouthers, and Roger Connor – staked their own claim on the game during its infancy. Anson made his debut in 1871 for the Rockford Forest Citys in the National Association and when America was celebrating its 100th birthday in 1876, Anson was playing for the Chicago White Stockings during the National League’s debut season. Anson was the first player in baseball history to amass 3000 hits, and when he retired after the 1897 season, he left as the career leader in games, runs, hits, total bases, doub
les, and RBI. Brouthers – at six feet, two inches and over 200 pounds – was a giant among men in the game’s early years. He led the NL in slugging percentage in six straight seasons from 1881-1886, led the league in OPS on eight occasions, won five batting titles, and finished his 19-year career with a .342 batting average – still the ninth-highest all-time. Roger Connor became the all-time leading home run hitter in 1895 – it was a post he would own until 1921, when a pitcher turned outfielder named Babe Ruth continued his gargantuan quest to claim all of baseball’s home run records for himself. Connor, who also retired as the game’s all-time leader in triples, played first for the National League team in New York during the 1880’s when they were known as the Gothams. Connor’s stature and power stood out on the team that became known as the Giants when in 1885, manager Jim Mutrie looked at his assembled talent on the field and exclaimed, “My big fellows, my Giants.” Like Foxx, Greenberg, and Gehrig after them, the ABC first baseman were immense figures- both in stature and accomplishment. By the sheer force of their numbers, through the broadness of their bodies, these men dominated the game and the baseball consciousness in ways that still echo today.

Today, we are being treated to amazing concentrations of talent at other positions. In the NL East in 2007, a quintet of shortstops introduced themselves as the newest definition of a natural progression that began in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Jimmy Rollins won the NL MVP, banged-out the most extra base hits for a shortstop in NL history, and became just the fourth player ever to collect 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 home runs, and 20 stolen bases in a season. And just maybe, it was not the best offensive season in the division. Hanley Ramirez powered the ball all over the playing field on his way to the second-most extra-base hits by a shortstop in NL history, batted .332, slugged .562, stole 51 bases, collected 212 hits, and scored 125 runs. Ramirez did all of this at the age of 23 in his second full season in the Majors, causing us to struggle to suppress our giddiness over what we may witness in the future. Jose Reyes stole 78 bases in 2007, the highest total by an NL’er in 15 years and the best effort by a shortstop since Maury Wills completed the 1965 season with 94 thefts. Edgar Renteria finished the season batting .332, which tied him with Ramirez for the fourth-highest average in the league. And when Renteria missed a considerable amount of time with various injuries, a rookie named Yunel Escobar stepped smoothly into Renteria’s role and then hit .326. All of this took place during the course of a single season in one division, a decade after the holy trinity of shortstops built upon the ground laid by Cal Ripken, Jr., Alan Trammell, and Robin Yount. In the late 1990’s, Nomar Garciaparra, Alex Rodriguez, and Derek Jeter jumped atop the baseball landscape with a vibrant ability to play the game. Nomar won a couple of batting titles, flirted with .400, and instigated talk of the next Red Sox icon to play at Fenway. Rodriguez won a batting title at the age of 21, went 40-40 at the age of 23, and emerged as perhaps the most feared right-handed hitter in the game. Jeter – the man who would be named the Yankees captain in 2003 – collected hit after hit and ring after ring, and affected a humility, class, and grace on the field which fell directly in line with the man who was instrumental in developing the signature style and impression of the New York Yankees, Lou Gehrig.

Ballgames are just as much a part of the Fourth of July as parades to celebrate the birth of our country, barbeques in the elongating shadows of late afternoon, and fireworks to conclude the day’s celebrations. Any time Major League ballgames are played, we have the opportunity to reflect on what has led us to a point. The pace of the game allows for the conversations to build and wander and the numbers entice us into conversations about the here, there, and now. The game not only instigates these musings, it benefits from them. For when we remember, we instill life, and when life is renewed, we are reintroduced to themes and ideas that have perhaps lain dormant for decades. And although July 4 doubleheaders have been relegated to the dusty shelves of memory, they too have a place, for the images of those days and sensibilities will take us on a journey from 1876 to the present, and will perhaps allow us to recall Dave Righetti, learn about Dan Brouthers, and celebrate the lives and times of Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, and Lou Gehrig.

Thanks to baseball-reference.com for information that helped with this piece.