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Going Fourth

July 05, 2004
July 05, 2004

Table of Contents
July 5, 2004

Baseball

Going Fourth

On the nation's 228th birthday, the only King George that rings a
bell anymore is George ("Winning is second to breathing")
Steinbrenner, who was born on the Fourth of July and among
quintessentially American sports owners is second to none,
including Al ("Just win, baby") Davis, who was also born on the
Fourth of July.

This is an article from the July 5, 2004 issue Original Layout

Morganna, the Kissing Bandit, was born on the Fourth of July, and
she got to first base in more ballparks than anyone but Barry
Bonds--or maybe Clay Dalrymple, who walked six times for the
Phillies on the Fourth of July in 1967. Few things are more
American than a blonde baseball groupie with a 60-24-39 figure,
and it's a pity that Stephen Foster (born on the Fourth of July,
1826) wrote Oh! Susanna and not, as he might have a century
later, Oh! Morganna.

Consider this column--of small Fourth of July confections,
pluckable at random--a kind of Whitman's Sampler that samples
Whitman. "The United States themselves are essentially the
greatest poem," Walt Whitman wrote in his preface to Leaves of
Grass (first published on the Fourth of July in 1885), and not
even John McEnroe would contest that point.

When McEnroe celebrated Independence Day, 1981, by winning his
first singles title at Wimbledon--in front of British royalty--he
was accosted on Centre Court by NBC broadcaster Bud Collins, who
exclaimed, memorably, "Stuck a feather in his cap and called it
McEnroe-ni!"

In fact, Yankee Doodle Dandy was written by a British physician,
Richard Shuckburgh, and was used to ridicule colonial soldiers in
1775, which would give way, soon enough, to 1776: Jeff Blauser of
the Braves hit the 1,776th Fourth of July home run in major
league history on Independence Day, 1992. This is significant for
one reason: We live in a nation so abundant in leisure that
someone had time to calculate that statistic.

The former British Empire has nothing on Cesar Geronimo, whose
Roman-Apache name calls to mind two empires in decline. And
indeed, the ex-big leaguer was doubly victimized--first as Bob
Gibson's 3,000th strikeout victim and later (on the Fourth of
July, 1980) as Nolan Ryan's 3,000th. As of that Independence Day,
only four pitchers in history had struck out 3,000, two of them
reaching the milestone against the Reds outfielder, making him
equal parts Caesar ("Et tu, Gibby?") and Geronimo (the word you
scream when jumping out of an airplane).

George Washington made his historic crossing of the Delaware on
Christmas night, but it was the Fourth of July that really
rendered the river a national treasure. On Independence Day,
1928, Lena Blackburne was hired to manage the White Sox, who
would finish 46 games out of first place in his first (and only)
full season as skipper. Spurred to seek other sources of income,
Blackburne discovered--in a still-secret tributary of the
Delaware River--a magical mud that removes the shine from
brand-new baseballs without discoloring them. The filth has been
applied for nearly half a century to every major league baseball
and is sold, at $45 for 32 ounces, as Lena Blackburne Baseball
Rubbing Mud.

The mud was on the baseball that Tim McCarver hit for a grand
slam on the Fourth of July, 1976, the nation's Bicentennial.
Adrenalized by his historic salami, McCarver passed teammate
Garry Maddox on the base paths, negating the feat.

Between George Washington and Tim McCarver came George Washington
Carver, a child of slaves and the Edison of Tuskegee, a school
that opened on the Fourth of July, 1881, and advanced the cause
of another American ballpark staple: the peanut.

And we're forever grateful, for Independence Day "ought to be
celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns,
bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent
to the other," wrote the second U.S. president, John Adams, who
died on the Fourth of July in 1826, hours after the third
president, Thomas Jefferson, expired, 50 years to the day after
both adopted the Declaration of Independence.

The "games, sports ... and illuminations" that Adams imagined
survive. The Mets-Braves game that began on the Fourth of July,
1985, ended just before 4 a.m. on the Fifth after 19 innings, two
epic rain delays and countless shelled pitchers and peanuts.
But--thank goodness--the fireworks over Atlanta-Fulton County
Stadium promptly followed at 4:01 a.m. They were thought, by many
REM-sleeping Atlantans, to be actual bombs bursting in air.

The American Revolution was about renouncing monarchy. But a
president did defer to a King on the Fourth of July in 1984, when
Ronald Reagan watched Richard Petty win his 200th career race--by
inches--at the Firecracker 400. It was the most laps run on the
Fourth of July since Kansas City's Manny Jimenez (who had no home
runs in 1963) hit three on July 4, 1964.

But the Fourth of July forever belongs to the Yankees. The word
is still sometimes used as an anti-American pejorative, which is
ironic, when you consider that the team is managed by a Tory.
(O.K., a Torre.) Dave Righetti threw a no-hitter for the Yanks on
Steinbrenner's birthday in 1983. But the proudest Fourth at the
Stadium came in 1939, when Lou Gehrig, terminally ill, pronounced
himself "the luckiest man on the face of the Earth." On that day
his number became the first ever retired in baseball. Naturally,
it was 4.

COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY
It's cause for celebration that Jeff Blauser hit the 1,776th
Fourth of July home run on Independence Day, 1992.