Ozzie Smith left his mark on Opening Day as No. 1, and his No. 1 priority right now is making Opening Day a national holiday. The good news is, he and baseball fans just completed the first step in the process.
At exactly 8 p.m. ET today, the Budweiser MLB Opening Day Holiday Petition with Ozzie Smith campaign reached its goal of 100,000 signatures within 30 days. Fittingly enough it happened on this special Ozzie Day, meaning Budweiser and the Cardinals legend will be taking a big next step, soon requiring Administration response. Toasts could be in order. Continue reading
The 2014 Major League Baseball regular season begins on Saturday with the Opening Series in Sydney, Australia, and five days out we give a standing ovation in our hearts to Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Bench, George Brett, Hank Greenberg and Lou Boudreau. We remember all those times going to the ballpark to watch Nomar Garciaparra at Fenway and Jeff Bagwell in Houston. We think of Opening Days past and present for National Leaguers in uniform now: David Wright, Carlos Gonzalez and Freddie Freeman. Continue reading
Let’s start today’s post off with a little music.
Less than a week to go until the historic Major League Baseball Opening Series between the Dodgers and D-backs at the Sydney Cricket Grounds in Australia, and No. 6 in this long countdown takes us back to the days of Steve Garvey at first for the Dodgers, Tony Oliva in right for the Twins, Willie Wilson in center for the Royals, Paul Blair in his heyday for the Orioles, Roy White at second for the Yankees, Rico Petrocelli at third for Boston, and J.T. Snow at first for the Angels and then the Giants.
“Through baseball I built a name for myself,” Orlando Cepeda said 15 years ago in his Hall of Fame Induction speech, and he began building it right away. Ask Cepeda today for one hit that meant the most in his life, and he will tell you that it was his first one in the Majors, because it came in such remarkable circumstances: the Giants’ and Dodgers’ first game on the West Coast, his MLB debut.
It was April 15, 1958, and the New York Giants were now the San Francisco Giants opening their new world before 23,448 fans at Seals Stadium. The Brooklyn Dodgers were now the Los Angeles Dodgers, and on the mound for them was a blossoming star, Don Drysdale, one of many future Hall of Famers in the ballpark. Cepeda, a brute force from Puerto Rico known as the “Baby Bull,” started at first base and grounded out to third in the second inning. In the bottom of the fourth, Cepeda flied out to left.
Fortunately for the rookie, Drysdale was getting roughed up elsewhere. The righty was chased later that inning with the Giants ahead, 4-0, and charged with his fifth and sixth runs when Willie Mays singled to the right side. Then with one out in the fifth, Drysdale was out of the picture and Cepeda achieved a lasting moment against the pitcher who replaced him that game.
“My first big-league hit, Opening Day, I hit a home run of Don Bessent,” Cepeda said told MLB.com. “My first big-league hit? Incredible. I’ll never forget that. I’ll never forget that game. It was my biggest thrill, my first game in the big leagues.”
Cepeda wound up 1 for his first 17 in the Majors, so that is another reason he appreciates that first hit so much today. He recovered to be named National League Rookie of the Year that season and then was an All-Star the next six consecutive seasons. Cepeda was traded to the Cardinals for Ray Sadecki in May of 1966, and the next year batted .325 with 25 home runs and 111 RBIs in leading St. Louis to a world championship and earning NL MVP honors.
More Opening Day memories are waiting, starting with the MLB Opening Series in Sydney on March 22-23. Who should be No. 29 in our countdown? Suggest away in the comments below and make plans of your own this season. MLB Schedule | Tickets
April 12, 1965, was historic in Major League Baseball for one reason: It was the first National League game at the Astrodome, a Houston victory over the Phillies that ushered in a new era in sports architecture.
Perhaps you also could cite Bob Gibson‘s Opening Day start at Wrigley Field on that day, because it was the first such assignment in the Hall of Famer’s glorious career. Actually, though, it was not exactly how Gibson had imagined it. He was staked to a 5-0 lead by the Cardinals in the top of the first, then proceeded to exit after 3 1/3 innings, allowing five earned runs. The Cardinals and the Cubs would play to a 10-10 tie, in the days when there were no lights at the Friendly Confines.
So let’s just move on to the one Bob Gibson Opening Day appearance we really want to talk about: 1967. First of all, a small proviso: choosing Gibby at No. 45 was not an automatic nod, at least not East of the Arch. Pedro Martinez started every Opening Day for Boston from 1998-2004, and his debut after coming over from Montreal was a thing of beauty, going seven scoreless and whiffing 11 A’s. Tug McGraw wore it well in Philly, and we recall John Candelaria’s 1978 shutout for Pittsburgh. This whole Opening Day Countdown Down Under exercise is about to get tougher with each passing day, another reason I hope you will feel free to speak up with suggestions in the comments.
Now flash back to April 11, 1967. Gibson and fellow future Hall of Famer Juan Marichal of the Giants started in front of 38,117 at Busch Stadium. Gibson struck out 13 Giants, walked none and scattered five hits in a 6-0 shutout, and remember that a couple of Willies named Mays and McCovey were on the other side, combining to go 0-for-8 with four K’s.
It was the first in a perfect pair of 1967 bookends for the great right-hander. Gibson began the year with that dominating effort, and he ended it by being named World Series Most Valuable Player following his third complete-game victory (pictured at right) over Boston in the Fall Classic, a three-hitter in Game 7 for “El Birdos.” Here are videos below of Gibson homering to give himself a 3-0 lead in the clincher, and striking out George Scott for the clincher:
Gibson went to that year’s All-Star Game as a 10-game winner, missed a big chunk of the second half after taking a Roberto Clemente line drive off the right leg, and set the stage for his nonpareil 1968 season (1.12 ERA) to follow. Gibson made 10 Opening Day starts for the Cardinals from 1965-75, yielding only to lefty Curt Simmons for the ’66 honor, and in later years the spectacle of returning legends like Gibson in red sportcoats, introduced again amongst Clydesdales and bunting, became a traditional reason to go to a season debut at Busch:
The 2014 Cardinals follow up their National League pennant-winning season by opening at Cincinnati on March 31 and then starting the home schedule against the Reds on April 7. MLB Schedule | Order Tickets