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?
Today we tip our caps to Billy Williams, Wade Boggs, Boog Powell, Gates Brown, Roy Face, Joe Rudi, Amos Otis and others who have thrilled us over the years in No. 26 jerseys. And we replay what happened on Opening Day last April 1 in Atlanta, where Phillies second baseman Chase Utley not only scorched his 200th career homer over the wall in center but also tripled and added a two-run single. “That was classic chase,” teammate Ryan Howard said after the opener.
Utley, an All-Star each year from 2006-10, served notice that he was back, and indeed he was healthy enough to play his most games (139) since 2009, finishing strong with a .349 September and winding up with 18 homers and 69 RBIs.
We’re 26 days away from Major League Baseball’s Opening Series in Sydney, Australia, and the countdown will go on each day right here. Utley and the Phillies open their 2014 regular season March 31 at Texas and they open their home schedule April 7 against Milwaukee. MLB Schedule | Tickets
Who should be No. 25?
Gaylord Perry? Jim Kaat? Jered Weaver? Jerry Koosman? There are so many choices for this day in the Opening Day Countdown Down Under as we mark the time left until Major League Baseball begins its regular season on March 22 in Sydney, Australia. But when you hold the Major League record for consecutive Opening Day starts for the same team at 12, this is your place.
Robin Roberts started for the Phillies on April 18, 1950, in front of 29,074 fans at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. Facing the defending National League champs from Brooklyn, the right-hander from Springfield, Ill., didn’t let a Dodger past first base until the seventh inning, and by then the Phillies had an 8-0 lead. Roberts went on to the first of 21 complete games that season, and that was just the beginning. He also went on to his first of six straight 20-win seasons, his first of seven straight All-Star selections, and led that group of young Phillies known affectionately as the “Whiz Kids” to their first World Series in 35 years, ultimately swept by the Yankees that fall.
Roberts also beat the Dodgers the next Opening Day, so little wonder then that the Phillies kept a good thing going. The greatest righty in Phillies history would start every Opening Day after that through the 1961 season (5-6 with one no-decision in those outings), so a generation of fans knew it was officially Baseball Season when No. 36 made his first appearance. Roberts dominated on the hill with two pitches, fastball and curve, and a smooth and efficient motion with a penchant for finishing what he started. He passed away in May 2010 at the age of 83 as a beloved Hall of Famer, and he left a legacy that included Opening Day personification.
Don Newcombe was the Dodgers’ opposing pitcher that day in 1950 at Shibe, and he said it was “a pleasure to pitch” and always braced for a “battle” against Roberts for so many games in their careers. Watch:
Here is a video look back at Roberts’ career:
The 2014 Phillies open the regular season March 31 at Texas and then host Milwaukee on April 7 in the home opener at Citizens Bank Park. Who should follow Roberts at 35 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
Curt Schilling started seven Opening Days, five with the Phillies and then two more later to end his career with Boston. He was at his absolute best in consecutive road openers for the Phillies from 1997-98 — not coincidentally his first two All-Star seasons — combining in those two season debuts for 16 shutout innings, four hits and 20 strikeouts. Let’s take a closer look at both:
April 1, 1997: That Phillies club opened with a 3-0 victory over the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine, Schilling’s greatest Opening Day effort. The only ball hit by Los Angeles in the air out of the infield was a lineout to left by Todd Zeile in the fifth inning. The two hits were grounders that got through. Ricky Bottalico closed it, 1-2-3. The 11 strikeouts by Schilling sent him well on his way to a season total of 319, and you can watch two videos here as he reached 300 for the first time and then set the National League record for most strikeouts by a right-hander in a season:
March 31, 1998: You’ll never forget this one if you were a fan of either the Phillies or the Mets that season. Schilling again went eight scoreless, this time striking out nine, locked in a duel with Bobby Jones (6 IP) and the Mets’ bullpen. This time, Schilling was long gone when the game was decided. It was still 0-0 in the bottom of the 14th when Alberto Castillo delivered a pinch-single to right off Bottalico to score Brian McRae.
Later that season, Schilling reached 300 strikeouts for the second year in a row, and you can watch that one as well as he throws gas by Kevin Orie of the Marlins:
Schilling made his final Opening Day start in 2007 at the age of 40, taking the loss opposite Gil Meche at Kansas City, but he would end the year in a style, getting the W in his finale. It happened to be Game 2 at Fenway Park during the Red Sox’ sweep of Colorado for a world championship on the way out.
The Countdown crew sends our best wishes to the Schilling family as he takes that same Opening Day bulldog mentality into his current fight against cancer that he made public last week. “I’ll embrace this fight, just like the rest of them,” Schilling said, “with resolute faith and head on.” He underwent surgery on Monday, according to his daughter Gabby, who tweeted that it “went really well” and that he is in recovery.