Opening Day may be a symbol of baseball's annual rebirth. But it is also real. Great events, important events, memorable events, maybe even strange events, all occur on Opening Days.Here is a list of 10 memorable Opening Day moments. Yours may very well differ, but that's baseball in a democracy.1.
Opening Day may be a symbol of baseball's annual rebirth. But it is also real. Great events, important events, memorable events, maybe even strange events, all occur on Opening Days.
Here is a list of 10 memorable Opening Day moments. Yours may very well differ, but that's baseball in a democracy.
1. April 15, 1947, Ebbets Field, Brooklyn
Jackie Robinson broke baseball's racial barrier in an event that signaled a leap forward, not only for the sport, but for all of American society.
The Dodgers beat the Boston Braves, 5-3. Robinson, playing first base and batting second in Brooklyn's order, went 0-for-3, but reached on an error on a successful sacrifice bunt and scored in the Dodgers' winning rally in the seventh. A crowd of 26,623 was on hand, but all of America was watching.
2. April 16, 1940, Comiskey Park, Chicago
Bob Feller threw the first and only Opening Day no-hitter in baseball history. His Cleveland Indians defeated the White Sox, 1-0, on a blustery day in the Windy City, with the South Side attendance reported at only 14,000.
Eddie Smith pitched a beauty for the White Sox, giving up one run over eight innings. But "Rapid Robert" was better, striking out eight, even though he said in later years that of his three no-hitters, this was the day he had the worst stuff. Feller was just 21 when he threw this Opening Day gem, but he went on to win 27 games in 1940.
3. April 4, 1974, Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati
Henry Aaron tied Babe Ruth's record with the 714th home run of his career in his first at-bat of the season. "Hammerin' Hank" hit a three-run shot off Reds starter Jack Billingham in the first inning.
Throughout his pursuit of Ruth's record, Aaron had been subjected to death threats and racist hate mail. At this point, however, one of Atlanta's concerns was that he would hit the record-breaking home run in Cincinnati before the Braves came home. But Aaron hit No. 715 on April 8 before the home crowd in Atlanta.
4. April 14, 1910, Griffith Stadium, Washington
A sport doesn't become the national pastime in a vacuum. Baseball was tied inextricably to the nation's political life when President William Howard Taft first threw out the ceremonial first pitch as the Washington Senators hosted the Philadelphia Athletics.
This began what eventually became a presidential imperative to throw out the first pitch. Taft was a big fan, in more ways than one, and was reported to require two seats. The Senators had lost 110 games in 1909, but here, perhaps inspired by the presidential presence, Walter "Big Train" Johnson's shutout led the Senators to a 3-0 victory. The top form of presidential first-pitch throwing was probably achieved in 1950 by President Harry S. Truman, who delivered pitches both left-handed and right-handed.
5. April 8, 1975, Municipal Stadium, Cleveland
Frank Robinson made his debut as baseball's first African-American manager, and he made it as memorable as possible. Robinson, who would turn 40 during the season, homered in his first at-bat as player/manager, and his Indians went on to defeat the Yankees, 5-3.
"Of all the pennants, World Series, awards and All-Star Games I've been in, this is the greatest thrill," Robinson said.
6. April 4, 1988, Royals Stadium, Kansas City
George Bell of the Blue Jays became the first hitter to belt three home runs on Opening Day.
Bell had been infuriated that spring by the Jays' decision to move him from the outfield to being a full-time DH. In a hitter-friendly park, he took it out on two-time Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen with the three homers.
7. April 4, 1994, Wrigley Field, Chicago
Tuffy Rhodes hit three home runs for the Cubs off the legendary Dwight Gooden of the Mets. Traditional explanation? The wind was blowing out in gusts. Complete explanation? Yes, it was a hitter-friendly day, but Gooden's career was no longer at its peak, and Rhodes, a relative unknown, actually had considerable power.
But almost all of that power was demonstrated in Japan. Rhodes' 1994 season went downhill after April. The season itself ended in a strike, and after 1995, Rhodes went to Japan, where he set a record for foreign-born players with 474 home runs.
8. April 4, 2005, Comerica Park, Detroit
Dmitri Young became the third Major Leaguer to hit three home runs on Opening Day. In a victory over the Kansas City Royals, Young defied the generous dimensions of Comerica and went 4-for-4 with a career-high five RBIs.
9. April 5, 2010, Turner Field, Atlanta
On the first swing of his first big league at-bat, Jason Heyward crushed a 414-foot, three-run homer, heralding the splendid career to come. The home run came against Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs, making it, for 2016 terms, retroactively ironic.
10. April 7, 1970, County Stadium, Milwaukee
This is on the list for personal and regional reasons, but baseball often comes down to exactly those elements. After Wisconsin baseball fans had their hearts broken by the departure of the Braves, there was a five-year drought before the Brewers arrived in the form of the bankrupt Seattle Pilots.
On a few days' notice, a crowd of 36,107 gathered in sincere celebration of baseball's return. The game itself was not a cause for celebration. The Brewers lost to Andy Messersmith and the California Angels, 12-0.
Bud Selig, later to become Commissioner of Baseball, had led the struggle to bring baseball back to Milwaukee, and it was a struggle. Walking down a ramp at game's end, Selig recalls that he was approached by a man who said to him, "You wanted a team in the worst way, and that's exactly what you got."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com.