Today is the Fourth of July, the 132th anniversary of the singing of the Declaration of Independence (though it was actually ratified on July 2 - but that's neither here or there at this point) - and the 13th anniversary of when President Whitmore, The Fresh Prince and the nebbishy reporter from The Big Chill saved us from those Rasta-looking aliens. But July 4 is also a key date on the baseball calendar, for tradition holds that the teams in first place on America Gives Britain The Finger Day will go on to win their respective divisions. And this "fact" holds particular meaning to us Chicago Cubs fans this year, for as play begins today, the North Siders, despite some recent bumps in the road, are in fact leading their division by two-and-a-half games over second-place St. Louis - whom the Cubs are playing tonight.
Now, it's important to note that the July 4 rule, like many a chuck of baseball lore, is bunk. Last year, for example, the three National League teams in first place on Independence Day - the Mets in the East, Milwaukee in the Central and San Diego in the West - didn't even make the playoffs. Meanwhile, three of the teams who were still around in October, including the eventual NL champion Colorado Rockies and my Cubs - were stagnating around the .500 on July 4. And these aren't even the most egregious examples. The biggest may have been in 1914, when the Boston Braves were in last place on the important date, 15 games behind the New York Baseball Giants in the eight-team National League. Not only did they go on a major winning streak to take the pennant, the Braves then went on to sweep the heavily favored Philadelphia A's in the World Series. Hope, perhaps, for the Seattle Mariners and all the teams in the N.L. West? Well, maybe not. But in a year when Tampa Bay is cleaning the clocks of both the Yankees and Red Sox, anything is possible.
So what does July 4 ultimately mean to baseball fans? In truth, nothing more than an excuse to down some hot dogs and watch a game. But for the nervous Cubs fans, we'll take any glimmer of hope and prophecy we can get. Though sweeping the Cardinals this weekend would definitely help.