You probably already know that on April 8, 1975, Frank Robinson, presently Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of baseball development, became baseball’s first black manager. It was a moment that another Robinson, Jackie, the first black MLB player, always wanted to see, but it came nearly three years after the latter’s passing. Frank Robinson was player-manager for the Indians that day in a 5-3 victory over the Yankees, in front of 56,715 at Municipal Stadium.But did you know this: Robinson homered in his first at-bat of that game, a solo shot off Doc Medich in the first. It was a 2-2 fastball low and away. He tipped his cap reaching the plate, saying later that was for his wife, who was seated with their son and daughter.
“Any home run is a thrill, but I’ve got to admit, this one was a bigger thrill,” Robinson said of what was then his 575th of 586 career homers. He would play one more season after that one.
Of course, there were many more memorable Opening Day moments for Robinson, having won Most Valuable Players awards in both leagues, first with Cincinnati and then with Baltimore. He calls it nearly impossible to choose one favorite hit out of his 2,943 career hits, but here is one story he told me. It happened for Cincinnati in 1956:
“My first one. My first hit in the big leagues. Double off the center-field wall against the St. Louis Cardinals, playing against Stan Musial. It was exciting for me. Opening Day. Never forget the first one. You always remember the first one. You always hope a lot more are going to come after that, but you’re not sure.”
I asked who was pitching, and he said, “Vinegar Bend Mizell. Told you, you’ll never forget it. He became a Congressman later.”
The Opening Day Countdown Down Under blog would be remiss without mentioning greats like Mike Schmidt, Lou Brock and Don Sutton here, and let’s not forget a moment at Arizona in 2001 when a batter and catcher were together in a Game 7 moment of history, both wearing No. 20, and their names were Luis Gonzalez and Jorge Posada. Frank White . . . Kevin Youkilis . . . the memories of seasons past are rich, and we prepare to welcome a new one starting March 22 in Sydney. MLB Schedule | Tickets
Who should be No. 19?
Ken Griffey Jr. made his Major League debut for the Mariners on April 3, 1989, doubling in his first at-bat against A’s right-hander Dave Stewart. That Opening Day game in Oakland already has been highlighted once during the countdown to Sydney, back when we featured Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley at No. 43, noting Eck’s first save on the way to his team’s World Series title that year.
So now we’re looking at how that game began — and how it literally all started for one of the greatest players in Major League history. Junior would become the baseball trading card of choice with his famous Upper Deck rookie card above, and ultimately a 13-time All-Star with 630 home runs. But what made us go with him on this day, where Willie Mays — arguably the best all-around player in history, right there with The Bambino at the top of Mount Baseball — made No. 24 iconic? What about Rickey Henderson? Tony Perez? Early Wynn? Or maybe Miguel Cabrera, for a modern megastar?
We honor Junior here because of what he did an incredible 20 years almost to the day since that MLB debut. Take another look at this MLB.com video and let all those years wash over you again. . . .
It was April 6, 2009, fifth inning at Minnesota, last Opening Day ever at the Metrodome, and a 2-2 pitch from lefty Francisco Liriano. Griffey — then 39 years old, returning to his original club after a long stint with Cincinnati and then the White Sox — lined it into the seats in right. It tied the great Frank Robinson (perhaps our No. 20 in four days?) for most Opening Day homers with eight (612th overall). Said Junior, who will be eligible for the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016: “It is quite an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as Frank.”
Opening Day Magic. Classic Griffey.
Now we look ahead to another Opening Day in the national pastime. The 2014 Mariners open the regular season March 31 on the road against the Angels, and then the two clubs meet again in Seattle’s home opener on April 8. MLB Schedule | Tickets
Who should be No. 23?