RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And on these fair shores, Americans are celebrating the Fourth of July. Commentator Frank Deford is waving the flag and looking forward to a big day this weekend.
FRANK DEFORD: And a happy seventh of July to you and yours. Yes, sorry to be patriotically sacrilegious. But for the first time in 231 years the preeminent day in the first week in July in the United States is not July 4th. That's because this Saturday is the seventh day in the seventh month of the seventh year of this millennium. Now, I don't remember any such fuss last year on June 6th or the year before on May 5th, but of course seven is a magical, lucky number in many cultures dating back to when God got the job done in just that many days.
Most prominently, of course, roll a seven in craps and you're a winner. Three sevens on a slot machine is always a big payoff. Seven is just so ubiquitous - the seven seas, the Seven Sisters, the Seven Wonders of the World, the seven ages of man.
Personally, I think a lot of it simply has to do with the fact that seven is the only single digit with two syllables. It just stands better, the five-year itch and Snow White and the eight dwarfs simply don't have the same ring to them, do they? In sports, there are two most prominent sevens. Every year since 1922, the World Series has been best of seven.
This is fine in baseball where teams play series all year long and different pitchers pitch different games, but it's a curse in basketball and hockey where it's just the same two teams going at it again and again, and then again.
The NBA and the NHL would have it more appropriate and more dramatic if they played championships at, say, two out of three. But as sports owners know only too well, two of the seven deadly sins are avarice and gluttony.
The seventh-inning stretch is, so far as I know, the only institutionalized good luck event in sports. Some reports persist with the legend that the seventh-inning stretch was created by President William Howard Taft on opening day in 1910 later in that same game after he threw out the first presidential first pitch.
But better history tells us that, in 1882, Brother Jasper Brennan, the baseball coach at Manhattan College, who was also the prefect of discipline there, ordered all the students to stand up before their team batted in the seventh one hot and muggy June day. The custom took hold and soon spread.
Curiously, seven does not appear to be the most popular uniform number for stars. The most famous players to wear number seven are Pete Maravich in the NBA, John Elway in the NFL, Mickey Mantle in Major League Baseball, and Howie Morenz, the so-called Babe Ruth of hockey. Satchel Paige, the old star of the Negro Leagues, is the most prominent athlete ever born on a July 7th. He'd be a 101 on Saturday. But one day in 1982, he looked back and saw something gaining on him, and old Satch is up there now in seventh heaven.
MONTAGNE: Frank Deford's new novel is "The Entitled: A Story of Baseball, Celebrity and Scandal." He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
YDSTIE: And I'm John Ydstie.
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