The 10 Most Memorable Sports Moments That Occurred on Independence Day

Shane Darrow@@Pilsbury_BroBoyAnalyst IIJuly 3, 2012

The 10 Most Memorable Sports Moments That Occurred on Independence Day

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    July 4 is special in many different ways. Many of us use it as a day off from work to drink an ice cold beer or two, cook out and enjoy some good food and, most importantly, sit back and enjoy spending time with our families.

    Add onto that the night's culmination, the fireworks, and you have yourselves a nice little Wednesday planned for 2012.

    The wide world of sports, however, rarely sleeps, and many great moments have happened on America's Independence Day. So let's crack open another beer and go over the 10 greatest sports moments that occurred on the Fourth of July.

10. 2007: Joey Chestnut Upsets Takeru Kobayashi

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    In perhaps one of the biggest upsets in sports-you-don't-follow history, Joey Chestnut brought the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest Championship Belt back to America for the first time in seven years back in 2007. 

    He upset Takeru Kobayashi, who had won the contest a record six times in a row and was once again the heavy favorite, by seemingly coming out of nowhere to gobble up a world record 66 hot dogs in 12 minutes.

    Chestnut has now won the contest five years in a row, and the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest has become one of the great Fourth of July traditions.

9. 2004: All-Star Game Selections Make History

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    The players for the 2004 MLB All-Star Game where selected on July 4, and it would be the first time in Major League Baseball history that three players with over 500 career home runs started the game.

    Those players were Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa, who all played for the National League.

    Although the National League was heavily favored after the selections, the American League would go on to win the game 9-4.

8. 1999: Jose Canseco Shows His Consistency

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    Considering that Jose Canseco has not shied away from controversy during and after his professional baseball career, many people forget that he was a great baseball player and, most of all, a great hitter.

    Back on July 4, 1999, as a member of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Canseco became the first player in Major League history to hit 30 home runs with four different teams (the A's, Rangers and Blue Jays are the others).

    This record would later be taken with a grain of salt, after Canseco admitted in 2005 to using anabolic steroids in his tell-all book "Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big."

    It's honestly very sad where Canseco's reputation is now, but it is hard to argue against the fact that he did it to himself.

    Side Note: If you don't follow him on Twitter, I highly suggest that you do (@JoseCanseco).

7. 1976: Tim McCarver's Grand Slam Single

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    Back in 1976, on America's bicentennial, Tim McCarver of the Philadelphia Phillies performed one of the biggest blunders in Major League history in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    After hitting a grand slam, Tim McCarver ran passed Gary Maddox along the basepath and committed the first-ever Grand Slam Single.

    The Phillies would go on to win the game 10-5, but McCarver, who would later go on to be a famous, yet heavily criticized, broadcaster, will always be remembered for that play.

    The event was honored in two books: "The Baseball Hall of Shame 3" and "Tim McCarver's Grand Sob."

6. 1993: Pete Sampras Begins His Wimbledon Dominance

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    Back in 1993, a 22-year-old out of Los Angeles, California was ready to make a name for himself on the biggest stage that professional tennis has to offer—Wimbledon.

    In April 1993, Sampras gained the No. 1 ranking amongst heavy criticism because he had yet to win a Grand Slam title. But on July 4, Sampras silenced his critics by winning his first Wimbledon title against former world No. 1 Jim Courier in the final.

    He also won the Wimbledon title in 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

    Pete Sampras, who accumulated 14 Grand Slam Titles during a 15-year tour career, is commonly recognized as one of the greatest tennis players the world has ever seen.

5. 1980 and 1984: Nolan Ryan and Phil Niekro Join the 3000 Strikeout Club

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    Considering that both of these guys reached the same milestone on America's Independence day, albeit four years apart, I had to place them on the same slide.

    In 1980, Nolan Ryan became the fourth pitcher to ever reach 3000 Ks, and four years later Phil Niekro would become the ninth pitcher ever to reach the same mark. As of now, there are only 16 pitchers in the history of the Major Leagues to throw for 3000 strikeouts in their careers. 

    Membership into the 3000 strikeout club almost always means eventual entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

    Nolan Ryan holds the Major League record for career strikeouts with 5,714.

    Fun Fact: César Gerónimo is the only player who was struck out by two different pitchers for their 3000th strikeout. First by Bob Gibson in 1974, and then by Nolan Ryan in 1980. 

4. 1983: Dave Righetti Throws No-Hitter

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    The only no-hitter to ever be thrown on the Fourth of July was by Dave Righetti of the New York Yankees in 1983 against the Boston Red Sox.

    It was the first no-no thrown by a New York Yankee since Don Larsen, who threw a perfect game in 1956.

3. 1984: Richard Petty Gets 200th Career Win, His Last

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    Back in 1984, the Firecracker 400 (which is now known as the Coke Zero 400) in Daytona, Florida was quite a spectacle—it was the last Winston Cup race that The King would ever win. The win would also mark the 200th career victory for Petty.

    To stress how important he was to racing, The King won seven NASCAR championships and won a record 27 races (10 of which he won consecutively) during the 1967 season alone.

    Petty is not only statistically the greatest driver that the sport has ever seen, but also still one of the most respected figures in motorsports.

2. 1910: The Fight of the Century

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    Jack Johnson was one of the most influential African American athletes throughout the early 1900s. At the height of the Jim Crow era, he became the first African American to win the World Heavyweight Boxing title in 1908.

    Fast forward to July 4, 1910, which was when former undefeated heavyweight champion Jim Jeffries came out of retirement with the sole purpose of defeating African American boxer Jack Johnson.

    Jeffries hadn't fought in six years and had to lose over 100 pounds to get into peak physical condition. He was offered around $120,000 to face Johnson.

    Johnson went on to win the fight in the 15th round and silenced the critics. Sadly, riots ensued later on that night, but Johnson's victory marked him as one of the first African American athletes to pave the way for racial equality in the world of sports.

1. 1939: Lou Gehrig's Inspirational Speech

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    Perhaps the most moving speech in sports history, Lou Gehrig announced his retirement on July 4, 1939. The speech has always resonated with people and is included in many inspirational reels.

    The nation watched as a man not only left the game he loved, but was slowly fading away due to ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (commonly referred to in the US and Canada as Lou Gehrig's disease).

    After the speech, the crowd stood and applauded for almost two minutes while Gehrig wiped away tears with a handkerchief. Babe Ruth came over and gave him a hug as the crowd continued to applaud and cheer: "We love you, Lou."

    The next day, The New York Times account called it "one of the most touching scenes ever witnessed on a ball field."

    Lou Gehrig passed away less than two years later at the tender age of 37.

    Here is the full transcript of his speech:

    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. I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

    Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky.

    When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift — that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies — that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter — that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body — it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed — that's the finest I know.

    So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.