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MARCUS STONE: A Fourth of July history lesson

Independence Day is, obviously, a day full of history for our country. The holiday commemorates the adaptation of the Declaration of Independence, officially freeing the 13 Colonies from British rule 237 years ago.


The 56 signatures on the Declaration will go down as the most important event to take place on the Fourth of July. That being said, a multitude of interesting and important events in the sports world call the day on the calendar home as well.


From iconic speeches, to births and deaths, July 4 is one of the more interesting dates on the sports calendar despite the limited amount of sports being in season.


What many still believe to be America’s greatest pastime, baseball had arguably its most touching moment on this day in 1939 when the New York Yankees retired Lou Gehrig’s No. 4 jersey – the first jersey in Major League Baseball to be retired.


Two weeks prior, the Yankee slugger had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – which would later become known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.


Gehrig addressed the crowd in a pregame presentation.


“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 the Earth.”


At the conclusion of the speech, Yankee faithful stood in applause for a solid two minutes before the game continued.


While not at the same magnitude, the Yankees’ longtime rival Boston Red Sox had an interesting Fourth in 1939 as well. Jim Taber hit two grand slams for the Sox in one game. Yes it is an interesting stat. No, it is not on the same level as Lou Gehrig.


Two MLB pitchers reached milestones on Independence Day as Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan and Phil Niekro each struck out their 3,000th batter.


Ryan was a member of the Houston Astros in 1980 when he K’d Cesar Geronimo of the Cincinnati Reds – oddly enough, the victim of Bob Gibson’s 3,000th strikeout six years prior.


Geronimo would not be Ryan’s last strikeout victim – by far – as the Ryan Express would go on to fan 5,714 batters in his career.


Niekro, a knuckleballer who pitched for 20 seasons, got his historic strikeout in 1984 against the New York Yankee’s Larry Parrish. He would total 3,342 punch-outs before retiring in 1987.


Also in 1984, Richard Petty won NASCAR’s Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway. It would be the King’s last trip to victory lane.


Next comes a head scratcher. In 1995 the Birmingham Barracudas played their first game in the CFL. That might not seem odd unless you know that CFL stands for Canadian Football League.


The CFL made a push in the mid 90’s into the US with other teams forming in Sacramento, Baltimore, Las Vegas, and Memphis.


Memphis and Birmingham did not last long, only playing the 1995 season. Who would’ve guessed teams from the South wouldn’t work in a Canadian sports league?


July 4 is the birthday for two great owners in American sports as the Oakland Raiders’ Al Davis was born in 1929 and the New York Yankees’ George Steinbrenner in 1930.


Davis held positions as owner, head coach, general manager, and was the commissioner of the AFL at different points in his career. He claims three Super Bowls and four AFC Championships.


Steinbrenner bought the Yankees in 1973 and oversaw the squad to seven World Series titles.


Of the events I have listed thus far, I was only alive for one - of which I have no memory. The final moment on my list I remember too well and will not go into great detail about.


Former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair was murdered in a downtown townhouse in 2009. I remember sitting on the couch at my parents’ house and seeing the news break, first on Twitter and then across both local and national news. I still get chills.


To this day when I think Tennessee Titans, I think Steve McNair.


Marcus Stone is sports editor at the Williamson Herald. He can be reached at

Posted on: 7/3/2013


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