July 4: Ranking Baseball’s Best Independence Day Moments, From Nolan Ryan to Fireworks

Baseball on the Fourth of July is as natural on that day as the hot dogs and fireworks. There’s that extra something that makes the Mets’ bullpen blowing a game even more special on Independence Day.

Of all the incredible baseball moments which occurred on July 4, which are among the best? When considering the overall impact on the game of baseball, the best candidates rank as follows:

5. Tom Seaver almost throws a no-hitter

The New York Mets began playing in 1962 and didn’t record a no-hitter until Johan Santana blanked the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012. Seaver, arguably the greatest player in Mets history, nearly ended the drought much earlier.

In the first game of a doubleheader, Tom Terrific took the mound against the San Diego Padres on July 4, 1972. The Mets’ ace allowed no hits, four walks, and struck out 11 Padres batters over the first eight innings.

With one out in the ninth, Padres left fielder Leron Lee singled to center field. With the tying run at the plate, Seaver induced a double play and secured the one-hitter. The three-time Cy Young Award winner finally got his no-hitter on June 16, 1978, when he pitched for the Reds.

4. Nolan Ryan and Phil Niekro become Mr. 3,000

If you’ve never heard of Cesar Geronimo, he won four Gold Gloves as an outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds in the 1970s. But his name will forever appear in the history books for something beyond his defense.

Geronimo was in his final season with the Reds when Houston Astros pitcher Nolan Ryan struck him out on July 4, 1980. Fittingly, that served as the 3,000th strikeout of Ryan’s career, and he had 2,714 punchouts still to tally.

Four years later, Yankees pitcher Phil Niekro struck out the Texas Rangers’ Larry Parrish for his 3,000th career punchout.

3. The Braves, the Mets, and plenty of fireworks

Mets fans are not allowed to be happy, even on holidays. The Rick Camp Game, as it’s commonly known, is further proof that the Mets excel at giving their supporters pain and trauma.

The game in question began at 9:04 p.m. ET at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The game took over six hours and went 19 innings, going so long that the fireworks went off at 4 a.m. on July 5.

Camp, a veteran pitcher, took the plate with two outs and the Braves trailing 11-10 in the 18th inning. Who would have guessed that Camp would have drilled a game-tying home run to left field? Luckily for the tired fans in New York and in the stands, the Mets scored five runs in the top of the 19th and won 16-13.

2. Dave Righetti no-hits the Boston Red Sox

George Steinbrenner, the longtime Yankees owner who had a habit of speaking his mind, shared a birthday with the United States of America. The Boss didn’t receive many better gifts than the one Righetti provided him on July 4, 1983.

Facing the rival Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, Righetti allowed no hits and struck out nine in a 4-0 victory. He even struck out Wade Boggs twice in a year when the legendary third baseman, then in his second season, only struck out 36 times.

George Mullin and George Wise each threw no-hitters on July 4 for the Detroit Tigers and New York Giants, respectively, in the early 1900s. Mullin, born on July 4, 1880, no-hit the St. Louis Browns in 1912. Mullin accomplished the same feat four years earlier against the Philadelphia Phillies.

1. Lou Gehrig is the luckiest man

With all due respect to Righetti, you can’t go against Gehrig here. You can try, but you’re going to lose every time.

Gehrig opened the 1939 Yankees’ season as the starting first baseman on Thursday, April 20. Less than two months later, doctors at the Mayo Clinic diagnosed him with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, an incurable and progressive neurological disease. 

So what did Gehrig do? He took the podium at Yankee Stadium on July 4 on a day in his honor and addressed the fans in attendance. Sports Illustrated later transcribed what is rightfully referred to as “baseball’s Gettysburg Address.”

“Fans, for the past two weeks, you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans … I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”

Lou Gehrig

There’s no putting Righetti’s no-hitter over those words. Righetti accomplished an incredible feat for the box score, absolutely. Gehrig stared death in the face and instead shared his gratefulness and love for his fans and teammates.

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