sports history

May 5, 1904 – Pitching against the Philadelphia Athletics at the Huntington Avenue Grounds, Cy Young of the Boston Americans throws the first perfect game in the modern era of baseball.

Boston Americans pitcher Cy Young pitching on field. Handwritten on back: “Cy Young. Boston Am. 1903." 

  • Courtesy of the Ernie Harwell Sports Collection, Detroit Public Library

January 31, 1919: Jackie Robinson Is Born

On this day in 1919, baseball great and civil rights icon Jackie Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia. Robinson smashed records and knocked down major social barriers on his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.  



Test your knowledge of Jackie Robinson and his contributions off the field with PBS Black Culture Connection’s Jackie Robinson quiz.

Photo Credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Cooperstown, NY.

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Happy Birthday Charles Albert “Chief” Bender! (May 5, 1884 – May 22, 1954)

1.  Portrait of Charles Bender, pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics. American Caramel (E90.1) series. Printed on front: “Chief Bender, p., Ph. Am.” Printed on back: “Base ball caramels. Base ball series, 100 subjects, mfg. by American Caramel Co., Phila., Pa.”

2.  Philadelphia Athletics pitcher Chief Bender pitching. Typed on label on mat front: “Charles Albert (Chief) Bender, Athletics, 1905-1914." 

  • Courtesy of the Ernie Harwell Sports Collection, Detroit Public Library
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Babe Ruth’s Major League Baseball Debut, 100 Years Ago

George Herman “Babe” Ruth made his major league debut with the Boston Red Sox one hundred years ago on July 11, 1914.  Originally signed as a pitcher, Ruth quickly established a reputation for hitting, breaking the single season home run record by 1919.  Ruth played with the Red Sox for 5 years until his contract was sold to the New York Yankees in 1919 (and triggering the now-reversed “Curse of the Bambino” and denying Boston another World Series title for 86 years).

Ruth is seen in this unidentified newsreel excerpt, circa 1919. Based on the clues in the title frame, our best guess is this was the September 8, 1919 Red Sox-Yankees game at the New York Polo Grounds, when Ruth hit his 26th home run of the season.  

(This footage is part of a documentary film collection donated to the National Archives by CBS in 1967)

In 1973, Elvis Presley gave Muhammad Ali the gift of a rhinestoned and bejeweled robe, with the words “The People’s Choice” emblazoned on the back.  Ali wore the robe in March 1974 before fighting Ken Norton.  He lost the fight, and considered the robe bad luck so he never wore it again.

Ali was quoted as saying “Elvis was my close personal friend…I don’t admire nobody, but Elvis Presley was the sweetest, most humble and nicest man you’d want to know.”  (via Elvis Presley Music)

April 10, 1947: Jackie Robinson Signs with the Brooklyn Dodgers

On this day in 1947, Baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson was signed to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first African American to play for Major League Baseball. He smashed records and knocked down major social barriers on his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.  

Test your knowledge of Jackie Robinson and his contributions off the field with PBS Black Culture Connection’s Jackie Robinson quiz.

Photo Credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Cooperstown, NY.

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James "Buster" Douglas knocks out Mike Tyson
1990.02.11 - World Heavyweight Championship

On this day, 21 years ago, journeyman James "Buster" Douglas
knocked out Mike Tyson in 10 rounds to become the undisputed
world heavyweight champion.

It is considered the greatest upset in boxing history, with some
going as far as calling it the greatest upset in sports history.

Lou Gehrig, the “Luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

In 1939, the Fourth of July coincided with Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium.  A day usually reserved for parades and fireworks was transformed into one of the most solemn, heart-wrenching, and inspiring moments in the history of sports. It was here, before 62,000 fans, that Gehrig proclaimed he was the “Luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

After a few games into the 1939 season, Gehrig’s performance had noticeably declined. On May 2, Gehrig took himself out of the lineup for the first time in 2,130 consecutive games. Unbeknownst to him, he would never play again.  

Soon after Gehrig’s streak came to an end, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurodegenerative disease he is synonymous with to this day.  After hearing the news, the Yankee clubhouse made arrangements to honor their longtime all-star.

On July 4, 1939, the Yankees played a double header against the Washington Senators. Between the two games, players, coaches, and other notable figures came out to shower Gehrig with gifts and kind words.  The Yankees also began a new baseball tradition as they retired Gehrig’s number 4 uniform.

Gehrig almost did not speak.  As the ceremony came to an end and the microphones were being hauled away, the “Iron Horse” decided to say a few words. As Gehrig fought away tears, he made one of the most iconic speeches of all time. 

It seems appropriate that Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day fell on Independence Day. In his famous Declaration, Thomas Jefferson ascribed that “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Despite his grim diagnosis and tragic decline, Gehrig embraced Jefferson’s unalienable rights. As he famously said, “I may have gotten a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”

Watch the newsreel on the National Archives YouTube Channel, and read more about Gehrig’s iconic speech via Media Matters » “An Awful Lot to Live For”: Lou Gehrig’s Final Season in the News

Universal News Volume 11, Release 786, Story #5, July 5, 1939

Isobel Stanley (pictured in white), daughter of the same Lord Stanley who created the Stanley Cup, was key in popularizing women’s hockey. In 1899, she participated in one of the first games of women’s hockey at Rideau Skating Rink. Her legacy lives on with the Lady Isobel Gathorne-Hardy Award, given to the active player whose values, leadership, and personal traits are representative of all female athletes.

August 16, 1948:  Babe Ruth Dies at 53

On this day in 1948, George Herman “Babe” Ruth passed away in New York City at the age of 53.  The legendary baseball player was known for his hitting brilliance and, in a 1999 ESPN poll, was voted the third-greatest U.S. athlete of the century.

Is your baseball memorabilia worth a fortune?  Watch this Antiques Roadshow appraisal of a shoe signed by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig to see how it fares.

Photo: 1920 portrait of Babe Ruth (Library of Congress).