Opening Day has seen its share of great performances over the years, and that trend is set to continue when the 2021 season gets underway on April 1, with all 30 teams in action.
Which aces will be dealing from Day 1? Which sluggers will start the new season with a homer (or multiple homers)? These are the questions that soon will have answers, and perhaps someone will even make history and crack this list of the top 10 Opening Day performances, which goes back to 1901 (the first year for which data is available).
These rankings consider both individual accomplishments and how much they contributed to the team.
1) Walter Johnson, SP, 1926 Senators
Stat line: 15 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 9 K
Result: Senators 1, Athletics 0
At this point, The Big Train already was approaching the end of his legendary, Hall of Fame career. He was 38 years old, had put more than 5,000 innings on his right arm and would pitch his final 18 games the next season. But some magic still remained. In the last of Johnson’s 14 Opening Day starts, he twirled one of his all-time record 110 shutouts -- in a game that didn’t end until Joe Harris’ walk-off hit in the 15th inning at Griffith Stadium. The performance holds Opening Day records for Game Score (111) and Win Probability Added (1.552).
2) Clayton Kershaw, SP, 2013 Dodgers
Stat line: 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K; HR at plate
Result: Dodgers 4, Giants 0
You know that old National League motto to "shut 'em out and hit one out"? It rang true for Kershaw on this afternoon at Dodger Stadium against the rival Giants. Beginning a season that would produce the lefty’s second NL Cy Young Award, he carried a shutout through seven innings but got no support. So Kershaw took matters into his own hands, swatting the first home run of his career, clearing the center-field wall off reliever George Kontos. The Dodgers scored three more times in the inning, and Kershaw completed the shutout, needing just 94 pitches to do so. He became the first hurler in 60 years to throw a shutout and hit a homer on Opening Day.
3) Raul Mondesi, RF, 1999 Dodgers
Stat line: 4-for-5, 2 HR, BB, 6 RBIs
Result: Dodgers 8, D-backs 6
No position player has contributed more toward a season-opening victory than Mondesi, who posted a 1.056 WPA on Opening Day 1999. In his final year in Los Angeles before a trade to Toronto, Mondesi began the game 2-for-3, including a single and a walk off Randy Johnson. However, the Dodgers trailed, 6-3, entering the bottom of the ninth and were down to their last out when Mondesi came to the plate against reliever Gregg Olson. Mondesi cut loose on a 3-0 pitch and launched a game-tying three-run homer. Two innings later, with two outs and a runner on base, he went deep again for the walk-off.
4) Jim Presley, 3B, 1986 Mariners
Stat line: 3-for-4, 2 HR, HBP, 6 RBIs
Result: Mariners 8, Angels 4
Presley reached base in two of his first three plate appearances, but it was his work over the final two innings at the Kingdome that made his Opening Day notable and jump-started his lone All-Star season. With the Mariners down to their final three outs, Presley launched a game-tying two-run homer to send the game to extra innings. Then, with two outs and the bases loaded in the 10th, Presley went deep again. He remains one of three players with a walk-off grand slam on Opening Day, along with Milwaukee’s Sixto Lezcano (1980) and Oakland's Matt Olson (2020).
5) Bob Feller, SP, 1940 Indians
Stat line: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 8 K
Result: Indians 1, White Sox 0
Feller is the only pitcher to record a no-hitter in an MLB season opener. Already a four-year veteran and two-time All-Star in 1940, Feller was still just 21 years old when he took the mound at Comiskey Park. As brilliant as he was on the mound, "Rapid Robert" could be wild as well, and indeed, he walked five in this one. Two came with two outs in the second inning to load the bases following an error, but Feller recovered for an inning-ending strikeout. His teammates gave him a run in the fourth inning, and Feller made it hold up in the first of his three career no-nos.
6) Kirk Gibson, RF, 1986 Tigers
Stat line: 4-for-4, 2 HR, 5 RBIs
Result: Tigers 6, Red Sox 5
Two seasons after this, Gibson would hit one of the most famous home runs in baseball history to help the Dodgers win the World Series. His performance on this early-April afternoon at Tiger Stadium isn't nearly so legendary, but it was fantastic nonetheless. After singling in his first two at-bats and driving in a run, Gibson mashed a go-ahead two-run homer off Boston’s Bruce Hurst in the fifth inning. After the Red Sox moved back in front, Gibson launched another two-run shot in the seventh against Sammy Stewart to give the Tigers the lead for good.
7) Pete Rose, LF, 1974 Reds
Stat line: 3-for-5, 2 2B, BB, 3 R, RBI
Result: Reds 7, Braves 6
No one lived for Opening Day quite like Rose, whose 31 hits in those games is the all-time record. And Rose never got off to a better start than he did in 1974, reaching base four times in a back-and-forth affair. His leadoff walk sparked a three-run eighth inning that cut the Reds' deficit to one, and his RBI double off Phil Niekro in the ninth plated George Foster to tie the score. Rose then took over the game in a way only Rose could. With two outs in the bottom of the 11th, he smacked an opposite-field double off Braves reliever Buzz Capra. A few pitches later, Rose scored the game-winning run all the way from second base on a wild pitch -- the ultimate hustle play from Charlie Hustle.
8) Dmitri Young, DH, 2005 Tigers
Stat line: 4-for-4, 3 HR, HBP, 5 RBIs
Result: Tigers 11, Royals 2
Just four players have swatted three home runs on Opening Day: George Bell (1988 Blue Jays), Tuffy Rhodes ('94 Cubs), Matt Davidson (2018 White Sox) and Young. Young is the only one to do so while also recording four hits and five RBIs. It was a dominant performance, with Young smacking a solo shot in the second inning and a two-run shot in the third off Kansas City starter Jose Lima, then adding an exclamation point with another two-run blast in the eighth against reliever Mike MacDougal.
9) Bob Gibson, SP, 1967 Cardinals
Stat line: 9 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 13 K
Game result: Cardinals 6, Giants 0
This season began a run of Gibson starting on Opening Day for nine straight years. He made the most of the assignment, outdueling fellow Hall of Famer Juan Marichal while becoming one of eight pitchers to strike out at least 13 in a season opener. (Cleveland's Shane Bieber joined that exclusive list in 2020, when he racked up 14 K's in six innings against the Royals). Gibson was ready from the first pitch, striking out each of the first five batters he faced, including Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. He is still one of only two pitchers to strike out at least a dozen in an Opening Day shutout, setting up a season that ended with the righty earning World Series MVP honors.
10) Gee Walker, RF, 1937 Tigers
Stat line: 4-for-4, 2B, 3B, HR, 2 R
Result: Tigers 4, Indians 3
Walker helped the Tigers win the World Series in 1935, then hit .353 with 55 doubles in '36. On Opening Day the next year at Detroit's Navin Field, he batted fifth behind three Hall of Famers (Mickey Cochrane, Charlie Gehringer and Hank Greenberg) and in front of another (Goose Goslin). But this was Walker's day. Not only did he hit for the only Opening Day cycle in MLB history, but he did so in the minimum four plate appearances. Walker knocked out his list in reverse order, with a go-ahead solo homer in the second inning, a leadoff triple and game-tying run scored in the fourth, a double in the fifth and a single in the seventh.