Derek Jeter got his 3,317th hit, got plunked, and got his final season started. Nolan Ryan threw to Craig Biggio, and Scott Feldman threw like every Houston fan hopes he will again. Dexter Fowler got it all started for Houston with doubles in his first two ABs as an Astro, Jesus Guzman went deep, Jose Altuve pestered the visitors and they were happy in Texas. Now every team has played a regular season game and nobody is 0-0 in the Standings. We have all the firsts . . . . Continue reading
He wore No. 3 for only seven seasons, but boy did he wear it big.
Babe Ruth already had hit 470 of his 714 home runs by Opening Day in 1929, when the Yankees and Indians became the first Major League Baseball clubs to regularly wear jersey numbers on their backs. (Go back to our 8 Days post for more on that history.) Just as Opening Day is where you begin any regular season, it also is where you begin any discussion of The Bambino as a player, so we are going to focus on his annual beginnings as we tick down to a new MLB season in only three days at Sydney. Continue reading
Every day was Lou Gehrig’s domain.
Opening Day was his specialty.
The Iron Horse played in 2,130 consecutive games for the Yankees, and very possibly would have kept on going right up to World War II had he not been cut down by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Gehrig started every Opening Day from 1926-39, hitting safely and generally doing significant damage with the exception of 0-fers in his final two openers. Most importantly within his world at the time, the Bronx Bombers won seven of his first eight Opening Days, usually on their way to something big. Continue reading
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
Don Mattingly and Ryne Sandberg both became first-time All-Stars in 1984, playing on opposite teams that July at Candlestick Park. It began a five-year run in which each popular infielder was in the Midsummer Classic, including a classic 13-inning, 2-0 win by the NL in 1987 in Oakland, where both players started and batted second in their respective lineups. Those were their only meetings back in the day, because Mattingly and the Yankees trained in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., each spring while Sandberg and the Cubs headed for Mesa, Ariz., and there was neither Interleague Play nor a World Series for either man as an active player.
So here we are now, 23 days away from the Major League Baseball Opening Series on March 22 in Sydney, Australia, and we are going to bring both icons together in our own way. It makes sense for a few reasons. One, they are both now active MLB managers, Mattingly about to manage the Dodgers in that historic Sydney series against the D-backs, and Sandberg in his first spring as Phillies skipper after taking over for Charlie Manuel in the last 42 games (20-22) last season. They will manage against each other for the first time on April 21-24 at Dodger Stadium, neither with the club for whom he was famous as a player. Secondly, they were Opening Day fixtures, autograph-friendly and highly welcomed representations of a new beginning for Yankee and Cub fans when they took the field or appeared in box scores.
And for a third reason, and maybe most importantly, they would be together right now in the Hall of Fame if there were poetic justice. Sandberg got there matter-of-factly in 2005, and oh if Mattingly could only have given his speech right before his or right afterwards. Ryno’s run of consecutive All-Star Games lasted 10 years, double that of Donnie Baseball, whose time as a player was unfortunately cut short by back troubles. They were both Most Valuable Players of their leagues and they both won nine Gold Gloves, providing pop on the other side. They were basically one-club guys the whole way. The sad truth is that for Mattingly, it was just too short a run by the average Hall voter’s standards. But do they belong together in some kind of baseball immortality, if you were a fan of that era? The question is definitely yes.
So we’re doing our part here today, as we watch them prepare their NL clubs now, perhaps even to meet this October in a meaningful series. (And yes, they share a league with another No. 23 star-turned-manager, Arizona’s Kirk Gibson, making it almost a fraternity all their own.) For some perspective on just how much Mattingly and Sandberg meant to a generation of fans, long before they were managers, I thought I would ask my MLB.com colleague Gregg Klayman. Now our VP of Product Development here, Klayman is the guy who came up with such fan-favorite ideas as the annual All-Star Final Vote and MLB.com Beat the Streak. He grew up with both stars in a sense, his passion for the No. 23 only slightly divided.
“I love the fact that they’re both representing No. 23 in this countdown,” Klayman said. “When I was 12 years old and playing Strat-O-Matic baseball pretty much every single day of my life, they won co-MVPs of my league. They were both on my team that season. The problem was, they both wore 23, and we wrote their uniform numbers on the top of their cards, so one of them had to get 23. Since I was from New York, Mattingly got preference, got to wear 23, and I made Sandberg 19. I’m not really sure why I made him 19, but it was the closest number. I think Mike Schmidt had 20, Dwight Evans had 24, a lot of the numbers near there were taken. So I ended up giving him 19.
“I think they also represent the best at their position for the decade of definitely the ’80s. Sandberg’s career went a little deeper than Mattingly’s into the ’90s, too, but I think they represent a pretty good era of baseball, and it’s nice that they’re together.”
They are together now. Two class acts, inseparable in their impact back then, now teachers instead of students. Both 23 as we remember them, in home pinstripes, with Bleacher Bums or Bleacher Creatures behind them, harbingers of every spring. Tickets are now available to watch them back in uniform today. MLB Schedule | Tickets
Who should be No. 22?
Ron Guidry made seven Opening Day starts for the Yankees, matching Whitey Ford and Mel Stottlemyre for most in franchise history. Interestingly enough, the first six resulted in losses for the Bronx Bombers, surely to the chagrin of owner George Steinbrenner back then. Finally, in 1986, Louisiana Lightning got the W in his seventh such assignment, a matchup against reigning world champion Kansas City and opposite starter Bud Black. Butch Wynegar’s three-run homer in the second was all Guidry needed, Rod Scurry had a huge hold over 2 1/3 innings, and Dave Rightetti preserved a 4-2 victory with the save for a crowd of 55,602.
Guidry wasn’t at his best physically over five innings during Game 1 of that personal 9-12 season, but he battled, overcame a two-run homer by Hal McRae in the fourth, and told reporters after the game, “If I have to pull a pitching staff through and be a force on the pitching staff, then I have to pitch.”
Sometimes Opening Day wins are curiously and confoundingly hard to come by for longtime aces, witnessed by CC Sabathia’s present run of Yankee openers, which would total six if he starts it in 2014. Even in Guidry’s debut of that majestic 25-win season of 1978, he finished with an unsatisfying result, dueling Jon Matlack in Texas but taking a non-decision when Goose Gossage gave up a ninth-inning homer to Richie Zisk. But looking back at ’78 now, all you remember is the greatness.
There were the 18 strikeouts one June night against the Angels . . .
There was the 25th win, an unforgettable one-game playoff at rival Boston . . .
And so much more for No. 49. More memories are on the way for Yankees fans. The Bronx Bombers open the season April 1 at Houston and then host Baltimore April 7 in the home opener. MLB Schedule | Order Tickets