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?
So here’s the new definition of a “personal day”: It’s a day within our Opening Day Countdown Down Under when one particular number is personal to you. I’ve seen this from colleagues and readers along the way, and we’ll see it all the way through March 22, when Major League Baseball opens its season for the first time in Sydney, Australia. Today is my personal day.
Rod Carew was my idol as a boy in the Midwest, and I would do anything to watch him swing a bat. On April 11, 1967, Carew was a rookie second baseman as Minnesota opened its season at Baltimore. Batting sixth in the lineup — after Tony Oliva, Harmon Killebrew and Bobby Allison — Carew stepped up to the left side of the plate for his first MLB at-bat. It was the second inning, and Dave McNally was on the mound for the reigning world champs, having won the Game 4 clincher the previous fall.
Here is exactly what that Opening Day moment brought to baseball history: Crack, single, 2-for-4, Rookie of the Year, 18 All-Star selections in his first 18 seasons (1967-78 with the Twins, ’79-84 with the Angels), 3,053 career hits, seven batting titles, 1991 induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. As fate would have it, I was a Giants beat writer for the San Jose Mercury News at the time of that induction weekend, had checked his name as a new Baseball Writers’ Association of America voter (still am), and that was my first journey to Cooperstown, because the Giants were there to play the Twins in an exhibition.
Interviewing Carew for the first time, there at the Hall that weekend, hearing his speech and thinking back over his career, watching him in so many Midsummer Classics, was the perfect alignment of one fan’s cosmos.
His bat was often described more as a magic wand, and it was, waving it wherever he wanted the ball to go. When I visit the Hall’s Gallery these days for inspiration, that is the first plaque I touch. Then Babe.
You probably can relate to this personal day in your own way. Somewhere in the remaining 28 days till Sydney very well could be your boyhood hero, or perhaps your father’s, or maybe it is your own child’s idol on a roster today. Please share, reblog, use the comments below to state your own case as we decide which Opening Day moments to honor while celebrating the return of the National Pastime and a life tradition. Who should be No. 28? MLB Schedule | Tickets – Mark Newman, MLB.com
Mike Piazza hit 427 home runs, including a Major League-record 396 as a catcher. Looking back at his 16-year career, four of those longballs especially command our attention now on the Opening Day Countdown Down Under blog, which enthusiastically tips its cap to No. 31 legends like Greg Maddux, Fergie Jenkins and Dave Winfield, as well as returning Red Sox ace Jon Lester.
Piazza already had made it to six straight All-Star Games during his early years with the Dodgers, but he became an Opening Day tour de force in the second half of his career once he got to the Mets. When he swung, it felt like Opening Day, with electricity. He went deep four times in a span of seven years from 2000-06. Here’s the rundown:
2000, Cubs at Mets: They opened that season in Tokyo, and 55,000 fans at the dome there saw Piazza bash a two-run homer in the eighth inning off reliever Brian Williams. It was a 5-3 loss, but it got the ball rolling toward the Mets’ first National League pennant since their 1986 title. Who can forget Piazza vs. Roger Clemens that fall?
2001, Mets at Braves. Everyone remembers the homer Piazza hit in the first MLB game after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Some consider that their greatest baseball memory. But do you remember what happened when Piazza first swung a bat that same season? It was a two-run homer off future Hall of Famer (and Countdown Down Under veteran) Tom Glavine, and the difference in a 6-4 Mets win. By the way, that photo you see at the top of this post is Piazza rounding the bases after one of two homers he hit against the same Braves the following week at Shea Stadium in the Mets’ home opener.
2004, Mets at Braves. Another Opening Day homer at Atlanta, this time a solo shot in the third inning off Russ Ortiz in a 7-2 Mets win. That made it three Opening Day homers for the Mets in five years, worthy of club lore.
2006, Giants at Padres. Piazza returned to Southern California and wore No. 33 in his only San Diego season, as the Padres had retired Winfield’s No. 31 jersey in 2001. But Piazza made his customary splash. In his Padres debut, he slugged a solo homer off Jason Schmidt in the second inning at Petco Park, providing San Diego’s first run of the year. Here’s the familiar jog:
Opening Day is just one of 162, but it is more food for thought for Hall of Fame voters next winter.
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