It’s the Fourth of July—time to celebrate the achievements of our great nation and its heroes!
Baseball shares an unshakable bond with America’s birthday. Our national pastime’s history is every bit entwined with that of our nation. Truth be told, there are few things as American as baseball. In this blog, we look at the deep connection between baseball and the Fourth of July.
Baseball was born at a time when the United States was still a new country trying to distance itself from its colonial past. The people had cricket—a very British game—and rounders. Both are played using a bat and a ball on an open field. But the American people needed a sport that captured the spirit of America—strong, patriotic, energetic, and full of passion. Enter Union General Abner Doubleday.
General Doubleday is generally credited with having invented baseball in 1839 in Cooperstown, New York, despite the apprehensions of some sports historians. Some believe it was athlete-turned-businessman Albert G. Spalding who cemented General Doubleday’s reputation as the inventor of baseball. Whatever the truth, baseball had already become an organized sport by the 1850s.
Surveyor and sports enthusiast Alexander Joy Cartwright founded the Knickerbocker Baseball Club in 1845 with a team of amateurs in New York and established a standard set of rules for the sport. The first game to use Cartwright’s rules was played on June 19, 1846, between the New York Nine and the Knickerbockers, with the former walloping the latter 23-1. By the 1850s and 1860s, several baseball clubs began popping up in different cities.
New York Metropolitans (1858-87), New York Mutuals (1858-75), Brooklyn Eckfords (1856-72), Brooklyn Atlantics (1855-75), Morrisania Union (1855-70), and a host of other clubs began dominating the early baseball scene. The Atlantics won championships in 1861, 1864, and 1865, becoming a dominant force during the Civil War era.
The clubs back then knew that summer’s biggest holiday—the Fourth of July—was the best time to pull crowds to the stadiums. The Brooklyn Union reported on July 3, 1867:
“The number of baseball matches advertised for the Fourth of July can be counted by the hundred. Dozens of clubs will make out-of-town visits. In fact, it would take a column to give announcements of all the proposed trips.”
Five years earlier, in May 1862, the Star-Spangled Banner had already been performed at the inauguration of the Union Baseball And Cricket Grounds in Brooklyn, New York, starting a tradition that exists till today. By the end of the Civil War, baseball had forged its reputation as a patriotic symbol of America.
July 4 has witnessed quite a fireworks on the diamond, the first and literal one after the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 1909 doubleheader at Forbes Field. Lou “The Iron Horse” Gehrig gave his heart-melting “Luckiest Man” speech on July 4, 1939, bidding fans goodbye due to ALS. The same day, Red Sox’s Jim Tabor hit two dingers in the same game, becoming one of only thirteen players to achieve the feat in the sport’s history. Four decades down the line, Dave Righetti tossed a no-hitter for the Yankees on July 4, 1983.
Nolan Ryan struck out his 3000th victim on July 4, 1980. Phil Niekro repeated the feat exactly four years later. The New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves battled it out through 19 innings in a game that began on July 4, 1985 and ended in the wee hours of the following day with a Mets victory. There are stories galore for July 4 matchups!
This year’s July 4 schedule looks loaded with 26 major league teams slated to go head-to-head. Hot dogs, cold beer, anthems, pyrotechnic displays, and scoreboards lighting up with the count of strikes and slams: our great nation’s birthday and national pastime will be celebrated in full glory.
What’s your plan for the Fourth of July?