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6 Days – Mr. Tiger and The Man

Let’s start today’s post off with a little music.

Less than a week to go until the historic Major League Baseball Opening Series between the Dodgers and D-backs at the Sydney Cricket Grounds in Australia, and No. 6 in this long countdown takes us back to the days of Steve Garvey at first for the Dodgers, Tony Oliva in right for the Twins, Willie Wilson in center for the Royals, Paul Blair in his heyday for the Orioles, Roy White at second for the Yankees, Rico Petrocelli at third for Boston, and J.T. Snow at first for the Angels and then the Giants.

But Al Kaline and Stan Musial stand alone. Continue reading

7 Days – Mickey Mantle

Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps Rookie Card

By the time Topps issued its 1952 Mickey Mantle Topps rookie card, the holy grail for many baseball card collectors, the legend of an American hero was well underway.

Mickey Mantle poses for a portrait at Yankee Stadium in 1960

Mickey Mantle poses for a portrait at Yankee Stadium in 1960

A 19-year-old “jewel from mine country” in Oklahoma already had arrived the previous year to elevated typewriter praise and mythical description — or in the words of his eventual biographer, Jane Leavy, “The World Opened Up” to him. Mantle, the “Commerce Comet,” had hit a 600-foot bomb in Southern California on a Yankees barnstorming trip in the spring of 1951, and he had gone on to crack the Opening Day lineup in a No. 6 jersey and then acquire No. 7 when called back up later in the season. He had helped the Yankees to the 1951 World Series title, their 14th championship.

Sky was the limit.

Now it was April 16, 1952. Joe DiMaggio was through as a Yankee legend (and perhaps we will see him later in this countdown), another passing of a torch. Opening Day at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. Mantle started in right and batted third in Casey Stengel’s order. In five plate appearances, Mantle was on base four times — a single in the fourth, a single in the sixth (he scored), intentional walk in the eighth, and a two-run double off Carl Scheib in the eighth to blow the game open in an 8-1 victory on the way to a repeat title.

Here are The Mick’s Opening Day stats: 23 for 63 (.365), 17 R, 14 RBI, 4 HR. The Yankees were 12-6 in those. Continue reading

8 Days – Bill, Yogi, Gary, Yaz, Joe, Pops & Cal

Bill DickeyLet’s start this star-studded jersey number with Bill Dickey, because he’s involved with the very origin of the No. 8 as we match it to the number of days until Major League Baseball’s Opening Series in Sydney.

In 1929, the Yankees and Indians both planned to regularly wear numbers on their backs in a season for the first time, not as an experiment. The Yankees were rained out on Opening Day, so the Indians were first, and Luke Sewell wore No. 8 on April 7 at home, representing his spot in the Cleveland batting order. The catcher typically batted second to last, before the pitcher.

The Yankees opened at home the next day, and Johnny Grabowski had the honor of breaking camp with the No. 8 jersey. They rode a pair of homers from No. 3 hitter Babe Ruth and No. 4 hitter Lou Gehrig in a 7-3 victory over the Red Sox, and Grabowski singled and walked. It was only a matter of days, though, before Dickey, a 22-year-old from Arkansas wearing No. 10, broke into the lineup as catcher and then began putting up numbers that generally kept him there.

Dickey hit so well, the shortstop became the Yankees’ regular No. 8 hitter in that season’s first half, and the man who wore No. 10 routinely batted in the 7 hole. For the record, Ruth often was switched to cleanup behind Gehrig during that season, so the whole notion of 1-8 lineup/jersey consistency was very loosely followed that first year of numbered jerseys for the Yankees. Continue reading

9 Days – Ted Williams

Ted Williams

And here we are in the single digits. The land of baseball immortals. If you are an active player to be mixed in for the remainder of our daily countdown to Major League Baseball’s Opening Series on March 22-23 in Sydney, Australia, you better be Hall-bound.

We begin the royal rollout at No. 9 with the best hitter in baseball history. Ted Williams began his book, “The Science of Hitting,” with these words: “Hitting a baseball — I’ve said it a thousand times — is the single most difficult thing to do in sport.” And he began his Red Sox career — one that would last from 1939-60, with long pauses for war service —  by ripping a double on Opening Day. Continue reading

10 Days – Adam Jones

Adam Jones

The Orioles have been an Opening Day force, winning 10 of their last 13 games on that occasion. Last year, it was Adam Jones who provided the key blow, scorching an 0-2, 98-mph two-seamer from Rays reliever Jake McGee to the wall in left center for a two-run double. That provided the tying and go-ahead runs in a 7-4 Baltimore victory at Tropicana Field. Watch:

Jones already had doubled in the first and singled in the third. He finished that game 3-for-5 with two runs scored, on his way to 100 runs for the season, so it was hardly “just one of 162.” Adams went on to his second consecutive (third overall) All-Star selection, finishing 2013 with 33 home runs, 108 RBIs, a .285 average and a second straight Gold Glove in center field. Continue reading

11 Days – Edgar Martinez

edgarEdgar Martinez may not be getting the Hall of Fame ballot love so far, but he is getting the Opening Day Countdown love.

We are 11 days away from the start of the 2014 Major League Baseball regular season in Sydney, Australia, and on this day we honor the player who wore that jersey number for his entire career with the Seattle Mariners.

Flash back to April 2, 2001. Playing at home against Oakland, Martinez reached base in all five plate appearances. He was 3-for-3 with two intentional walks, batting in the 3 hole. His RBI single in the seventh scored Ichiro Suzuki to cut the A’s lead to 4-3, the big hit in the game, and Jon Olerud would follow with the game-tying hit. Seattle would win, 5-4.

That was the first of 116 wins that season for the Mariners. No MLB team ever won more.

Who should be No. 10?

12 Days – Roberto Alomar

Roberto AlomarOn April 3, 1989, a promising and future Hall of Fame infielder named Roberto Alomar reached base four times for the Padres. It was his first Opening Day game. Playing at home against the Giants, Alomar walked on four pitches in the first inning and then scored; he had an RBI single the next inning; and he walked in the fourth and ninth innings.

Such Opening Days were fairly standard for a generation of fans. Alomar was a sign of the game’s return, first for the Padres and then the Blue Jays, among seven clubs he played for in his 17-year Major League career. He was an All-Star for 12 consecutive seasons, from 1990-2001.

Alomar’s final Opening Day game was April 6, 2004, batting second for Arizona at home against Colorado. Alomar walked twice, as he had in his first Opening Day appearance 15 years earlier. In 2011, he was inducted at Cooperstown. Times change, the players change, but Opening Day goes on as we approach Major League Baseball’s Opening Series on March 22 in Sydney, Australia. MLB Schedule | Tickets

Who should be No. 11?

13 Days – Omar Vizquel

Omar Vizquel

Omar Vizquel ToppsYou never know what the first day of a Major League Baseball season will bring.

On April 27, 1995 — a late start after the prolonged labor strife — the Indians opened their season at Texas. In the very first inning, Omar Vizquel was charged for two errors on one play. Will Clark reached first on Vizquel’s error at short, and Vizquel was charged for a second error on the throw, which allowed Jeff Frye to score. Just think, one inning into a season and one of the best shortstops in history already had two errors.

Well, things sort of turned around. The Indians won that game, 11-6, they won the American League pennant and reached their first World Series since 1954, and Vizquel won his third of an eventual 11 Gold Gloves. He finished the season with nine errors, so two of the nine came in the first moments of a season. Vizquel owns the highest all-time career fielding percentage (.985) among big league shortstops (minimum 1000 games) and ranks first in career games played as a shortstop (2,709), having played 24 seasons in the bigs. Funny how things work out.

Today as we countdown to 13 days until the MLB Opening Series on March 22 in Sydney, we remember the Venezuelan who played 24 seasons, mostly in the No. 13 for Cleveland. He opens this season on the Tigers’ coaching staff. Here’s a look back at his career, as you plan your own season. MLB Schedule | Tickets

Who should be No. 12?

14 Days – Ernie Banks, Jim Bunning, Larry Doby & Jim Rice

Ernie Banks

Exactly two weeks away from Major League Baseball’s Opening Series on March 22 in Sydney, Australia, we continue the countdown with a salute to every No. 14 in the Baseball Hall of Fame: Ernie Banks, Jim Bunning, Larry Doby and Jim Rice.

Banks made his Opening Day debut at St. Louis on April 13, 1954. He delivered a 2-run single off Hal White to add insurance in a 13-4 Cubs romp, and he spent his entire career with the Cubs as an Opening Day fixture. “Let’s play two!” became his calling card, and fans loved to watch him play.

Bunning made six Opening Day starts, one with the Phillies, four with the Tigers and one with the Pirates. The highlight was a 4-3 complete-game road victory over the White Sox in 1958.

Doby became the first black player in the American League when he appeared for Cleveland at home against the White Sox on July 5, 1947. That was less than two months after Jackie Robinson, our featured 42 Days player here, broke MLB’s barrier for Brooklyn. In 1948, Doby had his first chance to start on Opening Day, and in the process of that Bob Feller two-hit shutout at home against the St. Louis Browns, Doby, playing right field, threw Whitey Platt out at first. Doby helped Cleveland to that year’s World Series title, its last to date in franchise history.

Rice hit a three-run homer off Rick Wise of the Indians at Fenway Park on April 5, 1979. That’s all Dennis Eckersley would need it a 7-1 triumph. It is random, but it was typical in reminding you of Rice’s place among the game’s great sluggers.

Maybe Paul Konerko will join them in Cooperstown one day. That will remain to be seen, as the White Sox star prepares to retire after this season. Tickets are available to see his swan song in a ballpark near you. MLB Schedule | Tickets

Who should be No. 13?

15 Days – Tim Salmon

Tim Salmon

The number 15 in baseball is loaded with players who evoke special memories for many of us: George Foster of the Big Red Machine; Cecil Cooper on Harvey’s Wallbangers in Milwaukee; Carlos Beltran in his prime; Thurman Munson, Jerry Grote, Darrell Porter and Sandy Alomar Jr. all behind the plate in Fall Classics; Jimmy Edmonds diving toward the wall in center to catch a big fly in St. Louis; Tim Hudson for Oakland and then Atlanta; and Davey Lopes earning four straight All-Star selections as Tommy Lasorda’s 2B from 1978-81.

Tim SalmonThere’s a Hall of Famer in the list, Red Ruffing, winningest righty in Yankees history. And among today’s players, there’s a superstar in Boston named Dustin Pedroia, who has two rings and an MVP trophy. But 16 days away from Major League Baseball’s Opening Series on March 22-23 in Sydney, Australia, we are going to spread the love to Anaheim, where Tim Salmon was a fixture and fan favorite throughout his 14-year Major League career. . . . before the “other” fish guy came along.

Salmon had the unique distinction of spanning three iterations of Angels Baseball. They were the California Angels his first five years (1992-96), the Anaheim Angels for eight seasons (1997-2004), and then the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for his swan song in 2005. In addition to his role on the 2002 World Champion club, he was an Opening Day force, starting off with a pair of 2-for-3 Opening Day games to back Mark Langston wins. Salmon wound up batting .298 (14-for-47) with four homers on Opening Days, and maybe he saved the best for last.

The only Opening Day Salmon missed after his partial first season was 2005, due to injury. He came back in style on April 4, 2006, at Safeco Field. Leading off the top of the ninth against Mariners southpaw reliever Eddie Guardado, Salmon was sent up to pinch-hit for Adam Kennedy, giving Mike Scioscia a righty bat. On a 2-1 count, Salmon took him yard. It was his first career pinch-homer. He had been on the brink of retirement after missing almost 1 1/2 seasons due to problems with his left shoulder and left knee, making the team out of spring training. That was his first homer in almost two years.

Salmon would go on to play 75 more games that season, winding up with nine homers in 2006, and 299 for his career. Now a new generation of Angels prepare to open their regular season, March 31 at home against the Mariners. MLB Schedule | Tickets

Who should be No. 14?