On three straight Opening Days, from 1958-60, No. 21 was on the mound and at the plate, both on the way to the Hall of Fame. They were two baseball immortals: the winningest left-hander in Major League Baseball history (363-245) against the an all-around star who also would become the face of humanitarian greatness. Warren Spahn vs. Roberto Clemente, lefty vs. righty.
April 15, 1958: Opening Day at Milwaukee’s County Stadium, where the defending World Champion Braves were hosting the Pirates. In the top of the eighth inning, with the Braves protecting a 2-1 lead, Clemente, a 24-year-old rising talent from Puerto Rico, singled off Spahn, the reigning National League Cy Young winner, for his third hit of the day to drive in Bob Skinner. Spahn would go nine innings, and the game would go 14, finally won by the Pirates, 4-3.
April 10, 1959: This was technically Opening Day for Milwaukee, but not for Pittsburgh, which visited Cincinnati a day earlier and now was playing its home opener at Forbes Field. This one was vintage Spahn, a seven-hit shutout and an 8-0 rout. Clemente, now up to No. 2 in the order, was 2-for-4.
April 12, 1960: Now we’re back in Milwaukee, Spahn opening against Pittsburgh for the third year in a row, again tested by the rising talent from Puerto Rico, who will become an All-Star for the first time in this season, starting a 13-year streak in which he was selected 12 times. For the third year in a row, Clemente has a multi-hit game against Spahn. The Braves’ ace goes 7 1/3, gets the no-decision in this one, and it’s a 4-3 Milwaukee win.
From 1958-60, no one could have known the full significance of what they were seeing. In 1973, Spahn was inducted into the Hall of Fame. We only wish Clemente could have made it to another Opening Day that same year.
As you look ahead to the start of a new season now only three weeks away in Sydney, Australia, take a look back at the video footage of two greats in their glory, and more fully appreciate the tradition that is the national pastime. . . .
In 1978, Dave Parker won his second consecutive National League batting title with a .334 average, finishing with a league-best .979 OPS and 340 total bases. He was named Most Valuable Player and earned his second straight Gold Glove.
It all began that April 7 when Parker and the Pirates opened the season at Three Rivers Stadium in front of 39,028 fans, back in the days of the charming pillbox cap. Willie Stargell drove in the only run of the game, John Candelaria, pitched a shutout, and the Pirates were off. Parker doubled and drew the first of his NL-leading 23 intentional walks.
Something special was in the works in Pittsburgh. Those ’78 Pirates would finish 1 1/2 games behind Philadelphia in the National League East, but the next year was the most recent World Series title in Pittsburgh. The Cobra would play a key role that year as well, one of 19 seasons he spent in the Majors (ultimately winning a second ring with Oakland in ’89). He batted .310 for the ’79 champs, and here you can see what kind of cannon he possessed in right field, a reason many considered Parker the best player in the game at that time:
Will the 2014 Pirates take the next step and make a serious bid for their first World Series since that ’79 club? They will open the season March 31 at home against the Cubs — the same city and opponent as it was in ’78 when a big right fielder began establishing himself as one of a kind. These Pirates begin with a reigning NL MVP outfielder of their own in Andrew McCutchen, and after finally returning to the postseason last fall, Clint Hurdle’s Bucs are hoping to take the next step.
Who should be No. 38 in our countdown? Suggest away in the comments below as we keep marking the days on the way to the MLB Opening Series in Sydney, which paves the way for all the openers. See every team’s Spring Training preview on MLB.com, and establish your own routine now as a fan. MLB Schedule | Order Tickets