After more than 50 days of an Opening Day Countdown Down Under, we’ve put up some new decorations on this blog for the regular season and we introduce you to Grand Openings — part of the overall MLB.com coverage of Major League Baseball’s 2014 season-openers. It all starts with the historic MLB Opening Series happening now in Sydney, Australia, so let’s look at some of the first firsts:
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.
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
Clayton Kershaw is now likely to make a fourth consecutive Opening Day start for the Dodgers on March 22, three days after his 26th birthday, against Arizona in the first game of Major League Baseball’s Opening Series in Sydney, Australia. That became highly probable when Zack Greinke left his exhibition start after four pitches Thursday with a mild right calf strain.
If it becomes official, then all Kershaw has to do is maintain his pace and he could be known one day as the greatest Opening Day pitcher.
In his three Opening Day starts over the last three years, the left-hander has thrown 19 scoreless innings and the Dodgers are 3-0. That included seven innings (9 strikeouts) in a 2-1 home win over the Giants in 2011, on the way to a 21-5 record, 2.28 ERA and his first National League Cy Young Award, and then three innings (flu-ridden) in a 5-3 win at San Diego in 2012, on the way to 14-9/2.53 and Cy runnerup.
And that brings us to what happened last April 1 at Dodger Stadium against the rival and reigning World Champion Giants, a 4-0 shutout on the way to another Cy and even clubbing his first homer for the only scoring that mattered. We’d prefer to just let Vin Scully do the talking now as we recall that Opening Day and the two curtain calls, so please watch, relive it and share:
Stay tuned to dodgers.com as we wait for the eventual naming of the Dodgers’ rotation order, and we will continue to count down each day here until that Sydney opener, as we have done ever since we started 51 days out with Ichiro Suzuki. MLB Schedule | Tickets
Who should be No. 21?
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?
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