That was a pretty spiritless performance by the Yankees on the Boss’ 76th birthday (aka the Fourth of July). Indians 19, Yanks 1 — in Cleveland, no less, site of George M. Steinbrenner III’s nativity. What could have been worse, gift-wise — except perhaps a singing telegram … delivered by Roseanne Barr?
We can only guess what was going through George’s mind as 10 straight Indians reached safety in the fifth inning — Grady Sizemore doubled and Ronnie Belliard homered and Jhonny Peralta homered and Travis Hafner doubled and Victor Martinez singled and Ben Broussard singled and Jason Michaels walked and Todd Hollandsworth singled and Aaron Boone singled and Sizemore, back for more, walked on his second go-round.
The Yankees owner may well have been thinking: I’m paying $194million for this?
Then again, he may have been thinking: Why couldn’t it have been like my 53rd birthday, when Dave Righetti threw a no-hitter against the Red Sox at the Stadium?
It’s hard to work up much sympathy for Steinbrenner. After all, when you own a team as turbocharged as the Yankees, every day is your birthday. Still, you could understand if George were feeling a little short-changed because, well, every other sports figure seems to have a swell time on his birthday.
Why, just this past weekend against Costa Rica, Germany’s Miroslav Klose scored two goals in a World Cup match on his birthday — a feat accomplished only once before. Earlier in the Cup, France’s Patrick Vieira put one in the net against Togo on his birthday. That’s how it often is for athletes on these occasions; they have a tendency to do something memorable, if not historic.
Anybody recall Shaquille O’Neal’s 61-point effort vs. the Clippers on March 6, 2000? That explosion — his NBA career scoring high — came on his 28th birthday. (It must have been his birthday because O’Neal, a renowned bricklayer, also made 13 free throws.)
Later that season, when then-Lakers teammate Glen Rice turned 33, Shaq told him before the game to “do something I did when it was my birthday … I shot it all the time.” Rice got hot in the third quarter, scoring 13 points in six minutes, to help L.A. beat Portland in the Western Conference finals.
The Big Guy obviously takes this birthday business seriously. His top scoring total this past season was 35 against the Bobcats on — believe it or not — March 6, birthday No. 34. Yup, when it comes to birthday performances, nobody can hold a candle to Shaq.
Not that other Birthday Boys haven’t done some wondrous things. Take Vince Coleman, the base-swiping outfielder of the 1980s and 1990s. Coleman hit just one grand slam as a major leaguer (and only 27 homers in all), but the slam was struck, naturally, on his birthday in 1995. Then there’s Roberto Duran. Duran spent his 32nd birthday in 1983 resuscitating his career — and winning the WBA junior middleweight title — by punching young Davey Moore into submission in the eighth round.
Let’s not overlook George Mullin, either. “Wabash” George, a five-time 20-game winner with the Tigers in the early 20th century, was near the end of the line when he no-hit the St. Louis Browns on Independence Day 1912 — his 32nd birthday. He also had three hits in that game, including a double, and knocked in two runs.
So it goes. Edwin Moses clocks a record 47.02 in the 400 hurdles on … his birthday in 1983. Dino Ciccarelli notches his first hat trick for the Capitals on … his birthday in 1991. And what shall we make of former NBA-er Andrew Lang? Lang was born June 28, drafted June 28 (as the 28th overall pick) and married June 28. That’s why he was partial to jersey number 28.
Athletes receive these birthday presents all the time. History will record that Rafael Nadal’s coming-out party as a Major Tennis Player was held on his 19th birthday, when he upset Roger Federer in the 2005 French Open semifinals. The year before, golfer Steve Flesch won the Colonial on his 37th birthday. And how’s this for strange: On his 24th birthday during the 2002 World Series, Angels pitcher John Lackey got not his first Series victory but his first big league hit, a single off the Giants’ Kirk Rueter.
What all this means is that Phil Mickelson’s best chance to win the U.S. Open — after four excruciating near misses — might be in 2013. The event returns to Merion that year, and the final round is scheduled for June 16 — Father’s Day but also Lefty’s 43rd birthday. You bring the noisemakers; I’ll bake the cake.