Earlier this holiday week, the New York Yankees announced that, after three decades of calling every Yankees game on radio, John Sterling’s consecutive streak would end on the Fourth of July, which was his 81st birthday, ironically enough.
Ryan Ruocco replaced Sterling for this weekend’s series with the Rays at Tampa, starting on Thursday.
Ster-ling told reporters he was a little under the weather and agreed this weekend would be a good break for him, especially with the All-Star break coming after the Tampa series.
The Yankees have a 10-game homestand to begin the second half, and I’m sure Sterling – with all his crazy calls – will be back behind the microphone for it.
The news, especially coming during holiday week, brought back a special Fourth of July memory of my own, and it includes Sterling.
Back in 1985, while living in Montgomery, I drove over to Atlanta by myself to watch the Braves’ July 4 opening game of a four-game series with the big-time Mets. I was going as much for the fireworks show as the game itself, except rookie phenom Dwight Gooden was starting and I was intrigued to watch Darryl Strawberry’s Mets, who went on to famously win the 1986 World Series.
But back to July 4, 1985. If you want to read all the details of what became to be known as the “Rick Camp Game,” go online. I’m just going to give the highlights as I remember them, after all these years.
Well, there weren’t many highlights in the first two or three hours because it rained – hard. My seat was in right field. There was excitement in the air, especially early on, because it was the Fourth of July, everyone was looking forward to the game and especially the fireworks display.
But as the rain continued, the game was stopped several times, and the excitement cooled down. One of the best parts of the night (early on, that is) was some of the Mets running out and sliding on the soaked tarp covering the field.
I actually saw this on the TV while standing in line at the concession stand. Howard Johnson, if I recall, seemed to be having the most fun.
Finally, the game started (Braves’ officials weren’t going to refund tickets to their most attended game of a dreadful season). I slept in my seat for much of the game, and then from about the sixth inning on, I went back and forth whether to leave and go home or stick around for the fireworks.
Finally, sometime before the eighth inning, I decided to head toward the exits. I would watch the fireworks from my car seat.
The Mets led 7-4 entering the eighth, and as I walked toward the gate, I decided to grab a seat behind home plate. I’d never sat there before and this was a golden opportunity because hardly anyone was still in the place.
So I sat down and lo and behold, the Braves rallied. The big hit was a bases-clearing double by Dale Murphy. Maybe it was the angle, but I swore for years the double was to right-center. I watched a replay of the game sometime later, and the hit clearly was to left-center.
Be that as it may, the Braves took an 8-7 lead on Murphy’s hit. It was about 11 p.m. (my time) so I decided to watch Bruce Sutter close it out in the ninth.
It did not happen. Sutter blew the save.
The Mets took a two-run lead in the 13th, then the Braves tied it up when Terry Harper hit a two-run homer off the foul poul.
Suddenly, you could feel an energy in the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. As scoreless innning after scoreless inning passed, the few Braves fans still there were starting to realize they were watching something special. A camaraderie developed.
The inning after Harper’s home run, I yelled good-naturedly to a beer vendor in the stands, “Hey, do you take credit cards?”
Seemingly everyone behind home plate laughed. Of course, he didn’t. But about 10 minutes later, here comes a fan with a beer in his hand. He gave it to me, to much applause.
It was that kind of morning.
But we hadn’t seen anything yet.
The Mets took the lead in the top of 18th. Tom Gorman, who gave up Harper’s homer in the 13th, was still pitching. He retired the first two batters in the 18th and then got ready to face Rick Camp, who had something like a 0.60 lifetime batting average. The Braves were long out of position players and had like only three pitchers left, so Camp had to hit for himself.
Remember, there were so few people left in the stands, it was easy to hear the Braves’ radio broadcast straight from the booth. I clearly remember Sterling saying something funny to Ernie Johnson (Sr.) about Camp, his inability to hit and the situation, saying the place would come unglued if he hit a game-tying homer.
That’s not exactly what he said, but this is:
“Ernie, if he hits a home run to tie the game, this game will be certified as absolutely the nuttiest in the history of baseball.”
Famous last words. On an 0-2 pitch, Camp did hit a home run. The game was tied. Rick Camp’s name was written in history that night.
“Holy Cow, oh my goodness, I don’t believe it,” Sterling said, and he was the first person I turned to after the homer because of what he’d just said.
“I don’t believe it,” he continued. “Rick Camp! Rick Camp! This is the wackiest, wildest, most improbable game in history.”
Added Johnson: “Nobody can believe it,” and he meant Braves players as well.
I also remember the Mets’ left fielder (Danny Heep) putting his face in his glove in despair. Video of the home run and the aftermath shows center fielder Lenny Dykstra dropping to his knees.
It was 11-11, and we knew we’d seen something special.
But Camp had to stay in the game and the Mets jumped all over him in the top of the 19th, scoring four runs to take a 16-11 lead.
We’d come this far so most of the crowd stayed put, and the Braves put on a rally again, scoring twice to make it 16-13.
And then who came to the plate representing the tying run again? Rick Camp, of course.
This time, he struck out against Ron Darling, who finished the game but did not qualify for a save.
Fireworks started right after the game ended, which made news in Atlanta the next day. It was, after all, about 4 in the morning Eastern time.
I remember struggling to get home, making frequent rest stops. But I finally got there by about 9 a.m., and the news on the radio was about “a few hundred hardy fans in Atlanta.”
Made me sorta proud to be one of them.