After a delayed, shortened MLB season because of the coronavirus pandemic, traditional Opening Day is back on April 1 and baseball fans couldn't be happier. Opening Day is something everyone typically looks forward to, but the start to the 2021 season probably takes on a little more significance considering all that has transpired over the past year-plus. So sit back and enjoy as it's time to once again hear those cherished words, "Play ball!"
Besides signaling the start of a new season and the opportunity to cheer on their favorite team and/or player, Opening Day also has been the catalyst for some of baseball’s most historic moments and impressive achievements.
The Day Baseball Changed Forever
On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson, 28, played first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first African American to play in MLB’s modern era in the process. By breaking the color barrier, Robinson forever changed America’s pastime and this also represented the start to his eventual Hall of Fame career. Even though he went hitless (0-for-3) in his first game, Robinson’s impact on the game is unmistakable, as evidenced by the fact his No. 42 has been retired permanently.
"The Judge" Holds Court in the Dugout and at the Plate
Similar to Jackie Robinson, Frank Robinson was a trailblazer in his own right. A Hall of Fame player with 586 career home runs, two MVP awards, and a Triple Crown, Robinson debuted as player-manager of the Cleveland Indians back on April 8, 1975, becoming the first African American manager in major league history.
Facing the New York Yankees at home, Robinson batted second as the team’s DH and gave the fans at Cleveland Stadium something to cheer about early when he homered off of Doc Medich in the bottom of the first. The Indians would go on to win 5-3, giving Robinson the first of the 1,065 wins he would amass in his 16 seasons as a manager. Robinson also was no stranger to going deep on Opening Day. His eight career Opening Day home runs are the most in history, a mark he shares with Ken Griffey Jr.
Presidential First Pitch
Twelve U.S. presidents have thrown out the ceremonial first pitch of the MLB season. The first to do so was William Howard Taft back on April 14, 1910. A noted baseball fan, Taft attended the Washington Senators’ opener at Griffith Stadium. While several other presidents, including Woodrow Wilson (pictured above in 1916), preceded Ronald Reagan in fulfilling this duty, he is the first Commander-in-Chief credited with throwing out the first pitch from the mound rather than the stands. Reagan did so in 1984 as part of an unscheduled appearance at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium.
Since Reagan, each of the sitting presidents has participated in at least one Opening Day, the most recent being Barack Obama’s appearance at the Washington Nationals’ season-opener in 2010 — the 100th anniversary of the presidential first pitch. Donald Trump has been offered the opportunity to continue this tradition, but has yet to accept an invitation.
The Bambino Christens His House
It was known as "The House That Ruth Built" and if there was ever any doubt as to why, just go back to what happened on April 18, 1923. On the first Opening Day in Yankee Stadium (the original, not the one that opened in 2009), Ruth fittingly produced the first home run — a three-run shot into the right-field bleachers. This blast helped the Yankees defeat the Red Sox, Ruth’s former team, and was the first of 259 home runs Ruth would hit at his house.
The Hammer Ties the Bambino
On April 4, 1974, Hank Aaron forever etched his name into the record books when he hit a three-run home run off of Cincinnati’s Jack Billingham in the top of the first inning at Riverfront Stadium. Besides staking his Atlanta Braves to an early 3-0 lead, it represented the 714th home run in Aaron’s career, tying Babe Ruth for the most in MLB history. Aaron finished his Hall of Fame career with 755 home runs, a mark that many still acknowledge as the all-time record.
Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller threw three no-hitters in his career, including one on April 16, 1940. Taking the mound for the Cleveland Indians against the Chicago White Sox at the original Comiskey Park, Feller made one run stand, holding the home team hitless while allowing five walks and striking out eight. This remains as the only no-hitter thrown on Opening Day.
Going the Distance
On April 13, 1926, the Washington Senators and Philadelphia A's opened their season by needing 15 innings to decide the winner. While on the surface that may not seem that impressive, consider that the two starting pitchers — Walter Johnson and Eddie Rommel — were on the mound for the entire game!
Johnson, the Hall of Famer who is considered one of the greatest pitchers of all-time, allowed just six hits and struck out 12 in his 15 innings of work for the Senators. Opposing him was the knuckleballer Rommel, who surrendered nine hits and walked five. The Senators broke through in the bottom of the 15th, giving Johnson a 1-0 win in a pitching matchup for the ages.
In fact, Johnson owned Opening Day in many ways, as the man known as "The Big Train" took the mound for 14 season-opening starts. In those starts, he went 9-5 with 12 complete games, including three that went to extra innings. Seven of his nine victories were shutouts, and he struck out more batters (82) than hits allowed (81) in 124 innings pitched.
Opening Day Power
Toronto's George Bell hit three home runs off of Kansas City starter Bret Saberhagen on April 4, 1988, to become the first player to do so in his team’s opener. Chicago Cubs outfielder Tuffy Rhodes was the next to accomplish this feat when he took New York Mets ace Dwight Gooden out of Wrigley Field three times exactly six years later. Rhodes’ power display was certainly unexpected, as he entered that game with just five home runs in four seasons and wound up with a total of 13 in 590 career at-bats.
The most recent to go yard three times on Opening Day was the Chicago White Sox' Matt Davidson, who hit a pair of solo shots and a three-run blast in the team's 14-7 victory over the Kansas City Royals to start the 2018 season. Davidson would hit six more home runs before the end of April (24 games), but managed just 11 more the rest of the way (99 games).
Pitchers also have gotten in on the act. In 2017, San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner wrote his name into the record book when he hit not one, but two home runs to open the season in Arizona, making him the first pitcher to accomplish this feat. Bumgarner, who is entering his 11th full-time season, is no slouch at the plate with 19 career home runs and he also has won two Silver Slugger Awards (2014, '15).
More records fell in 2019 when 48 home runs were hit on Opening Day. Leading the way in the long-ball assault were the Los Angeles Dodgers, who set an Opening Day record and tied the franchise single-game mark with eight home runs in a 12-5 win at home over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Giving Fans Their Money's Worth
Those in attendance at Progressive Field on April 5, 2012, got to see plenty of baseball action. The Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays battled for 16 innings, the longest Opening Day game in MLB history. Although the home team lost, 7-4, those that stuck around for the entire game basically got a two-for-one deal with their ticket.
Saving Their Best For Last
In 1901, the Detroit Tigers, playing their first-ever game, trailed the Milwaukee Brewers 13-4 headed into the bottom of the ninth. The home team mounted a monumental rally, tallying 10 runs to beat the Brewers, 14-13. Nearly 120 years later, it remains the greatest Opening Day rally in major league history.