On three straight Opening Days, from 1958-60, No. 21 was on the mound and at the plate, both on the way to the Hall of Fame. They were two baseball immortals: the winningest left-hander in Major League Baseball history (363-245) against the an all-around star who also would become the face of humanitarian greatness. Warren Spahn vs. Roberto Clemente, lefty vs. righty.
April 15, 1958: Opening Day at Milwaukee’s County Stadium, where the defending World Champion Braves were hosting the Pirates. In the top of the eighth inning, with the Braves protecting a 2-1 lead, Clemente, a 24-year-old rising talent from Puerto Rico, singled off Spahn, the reigning National League Cy Young winner, for his third hit of the day to drive in Bob Skinner. Spahn would go nine innings, and the game would go 14, finally won by the Pirates, 4-3.
April 10, 1959: This was technically Opening Day for Milwaukee, but not for Pittsburgh, which visited Cincinnati a day earlier and now was playing its home opener at Forbes Field. This one was vintage Spahn, a seven-hit shutout and an 8-0 rout. Clemente, now up to No. 2 in the order, was 2-for-4.
April 12, 1960: Now we’re back in Milwaukee, Spahn opening against Pittsburgh for the third year in a row, again tested by the rising talent from Puerto Rico, who will become an All-Star for the first time in this season, starting a 13-year streak in which he was selected 12 times. For the third year in a row, Clemente has a multi-hit game against Spahn. The Braves’ ace goes 7 1/3, gets the no-decision in this one, and it’s a 4-3 Milwaukee win.
From 1958-60, no one could have known the full significance of what they were seeing. In 1973, Spahn was inducted into the Hall of Fame. We only wish Clemente could have made it to another Opening Day that same year.
As you look ahead to the start of a new season now only three weeks away in Sydney, Australia, take a look back at the video footage of two greats in their glory, and more fully appreciate the tradition that is the national pastime. . . .