In honor of his election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame this summer, the Opening Day Countdown Down Under blog is recognizing Frank Thomas as we reach 35 days until Major League Baseball’s Opening Series March 22 at Sydney. There are three things in particular we wanted to share about the Big Hurt on the first day of a season:
1. Amazingly, he played in 14 consecutive Opening Day games from 1991-2004 and every one of them was on the road. Major League Baseball typically scheduled the White Sox in a more favorable climate for early spring, meaning White Sox fans always had to follow Thomas in an opener via broadcast unless they traveled with the club. He did not play in the 2005 opener when the club finally opened at home en route to a title.
2. Thomas hit safely in each Opening Day appearance during that White Sox run except 1993, when he was 0 for 3 but walked twice and scored once in a 10-5 win at Minnesota. He was 19 for 46 (.413) with two homers, 13 runs and seven RBIs on Opening Day with the White Sox.
3. Now for the real reason we chose Thomas over Phil Niekro or Justin Verlander for today’s post. He homered off Randy Johnson on Opening Day — not once, but twice. Ten years apart with two different teams. The first one was on the first pitch Thomas saw in 1996 at Seattle. The second was a decade later in his first at-bat for Oakland, with Big Unit pitching for the Yankees. Thanks to the MLB.com video crew for unearthing this footage, so you can see them for yourself:
Who should follow Thomas at 34 Days in our countdown? Keep coming back as we add a new Opening Day moment each midnight ET on the way to Sydney and plan for your season at the ballpark. MLB Schedule | Tickets
“Where can you start?” Tom Seaver asked at the beginning of his 1992 Hall of Fame Induction speech, and we will of course start on Opening Day. He holds the all-time record with 16 Opening Day starts, going 6-0 with five no-decisions for the Mets, 0-1 with two no-decisions for the Reds and 1-1 for the White Sox. In 1983, Seaver returned to his original club in Queens and that day tied Walter Johnson’s record of 14 such assignments, another affirmation of Tom Terrific’s place in history.
If there is one Seaver Opening Day memory, you probably would get a wide range of answers from fans of that generation who still tell the stories today. Seaver was Opening Day. For the Opening Day Countdown Down Under, we are going to honor No. 41 on 41 days till Sydney by remembering a three-year stretch from 1973-75 that always featured future Hall of Famers Steve Carlton vs. Seaver — a Lefty vs. Righty tradition of Cy Young aces.
In ’73, when Carlton was coming off a Cy season, Seaver got the better, throwing 7 2/3 scoreless innings and backed by two Cleon Jones homers in a 3-0 Mets win, en route to an eventual National League pennant for the Amazins and the Cy for Seaver. In ’74, what would have been a three-year winning streak for Seaver vs. the Phillies on Opening Day was ruined at Philadelphia when Tug McGraw blew the save and Mike Schmidt hit a two-run walk-off shot. Then came the rubber game of the match in ’75, another Cy season for Seaver.
It was a classic duel, both starters going the distance. Carlton gave up four hits — including a solo homer by Dave Kingman in his Mets debut — and struck out six. Seaver scattered six hits and struck out nine. Each had given up a single run entering the bottom of the ninth. Carlton gave up a leadoff single to Felix Millan and then walked John Milner. That brought up cleanup man Joe Torre, who also was making his first Mets appearance after being acquired from St. Louis in a trade for Tommy Moore and Ray Sadecki. Torre’s walk-off single made him an instant New York favorite (and a portent for future popularity in the Big Apple), and helped further Seaver’s reputation as the guy who usually got it started the right way in a baseball season.
During that stretch from 1968-77, Seaver started every Opening Day for the Mets. It is how life always began back then, and new traditions are established by generations along the way. The 2014 Mets open the season March 31 at Citi Field against Washington. MLB Schedule | Order Tickets