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Monday, March 31, 2003
Updated: April 30, 11:06 AM ET
Most memorable opening day moments

Page 2 staff

Happy holiday. Take the day off. Soak in the sun. Opening Day is about the future, about possibilities, about multiplying times 162 and coming up with some outrageous projections. Looking back, it's also about one awful moment, a couple of truly historic ones, and a president's pitch that we're sure was a test for his proposed Strategic Defense Initiative.

1. John McSherry collapses and dies (1996)
Only seven pitches into the Opening Day game between the Expos and Reds in Cincy, home plate umpire John McSherry called time out. He then collapsed and died of a massive heart attack. The game was called, which disturbed Red owner Marge Schott much more than McSherry's death. "Snow this morning and now this," she said. "I don't believe it. I feel cheated. This isn't supposed to happen to us, not in Cincinnati. This is our history, our tradition, our team."

If it was up to us, April 15 would be a national holiday.
2. "I'm for Jackie" (1947)
April 15, 1947, Ebbets Field. Jackie Robinson trotted to first base in front of 25,623 fans there to witness the historic occasion, the first official major league game played by a black man. If we'd have been there, we'd have worn one of the "I'm for Jackie" buttons that so many other fans wore. Robinson went 0-for-3 against the Braves' Johnny Sain, but laid down a successful sacrifice bunt and scored what proved to be the winning run in a 5-3 Brooklyn victory. He also handled 11 chances at his new position without an error. Robinson made history that day, and if it was up to us, April 15 would be a national holiday.

3. Hank Aaron ties Babe (1974)
The Braves opened their season in Cincy with Hammerin' Hank on the verge of tying and breaking the Babe's all-time homer mark. Some said Aaron should sit out the series so he could tie and break the record at home in Atlanta. Henry said no go, and hit No. 714 off Jack Billingham in his second at-bat.

4. Rapid Rob tosses a no-no (1940)
On April 16, Feller, all of 22 years old but starting his fifth major league season, held the White Sox hitless in 47-degree weather at Comiskey Park as the Indians won the opener, 1-0. It was Feller's first no-hitter (he would add two more in his Hall of Fame career).

Babe Ruth
Ruth slammed the first home run in the ballpark's history.
5. Babe Ruth christens Yankee Stadium (1923)
If a Hollywood scriptwriter came up with the scene, you wouldn't believe it -- or you'd think it too mawkish and sentimental. But that's the way it was so often with the Babe. On the first Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, April 18, 1923, Ruth slammed the first home run in the ballpark's history, a blast into the rightfield bleachers. To make things even sweeter, it was a three-run blow off the Red Sox, the club that had dealt him to New York three years earlier. The Yankees won, 4-1.

6. Ron Blomberg walks in a run (1973)
Yankees vs. Red Sox at Fenway Park. The Yanks loaded the bases in the top of the first, and up came Ron Blomberg -- the first official plate appearance by a designated hitter in major league history. Blomberg walked to force in a run, collecting a ribbie off good old Luis Tiant.

7. Walter Johnson and Eddie Rommel go 15 rounds (1926)
April 13, 1926. On the mound for the Senators in D.C. was the great Walter Johnson, 38 years old, in one of his 14 opening day starts. On the mound for the opposing A's was knuckleballer Eddie Rommel. The two battled for 15 innings. Johnson allowed only six hits and struck out 12. Rommel gave up nine hits and walked five. In the bottom of the 15th, Joe Harris drove in Goose Goslin to give the Senators a 1-0 victory.

8. Frank Robinson homers in first game as manager (1975)
Robinson, the future Hall-of-Famer, debuted as player-manager of the Cleveland Indians on opening day, April 8, 1975, the first African-American manager in major league history. Batting second as Cleveland's DH, he took Doc Medich over the fence. He "got me 0-2, then threw a bastard slider that I barely fouled off," recalled Robinson. "I thought, 'This sonofabitch is trying to strike me out on three pitches on my day. He's trying to embarrass me.' "

Robinson's homer was the eighth he hit on Opening Day, a major league record.

Ronald Reagan
Apparently, Ronny was a gamer, but he couldn't handle the pressure of Opening Day '86.
9. Reagan throws a wild pitch (1986)
Legend has it that Ronald Reagan was an excellent athlete. But you wouldn't have known it if you'd witnessed his ceremonial first pitch to Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey at Baltimore. Throwing from about 30 feet away, Reagan went into a full windup and uncorked a toss that flew way to the left of Dempsey and 10 feet over the catcher's head. It was, perhaps, the worst first pitch in history. (FDR's 1940 toss, which nailed a Washington Post photographer, is also a contender.)

10. Rhodes hits three home runs (1994)
Unknown Cubs outfielder Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes shocked the denizens of Wrigley Field by hitting three straight home runs off Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden. He also singles, but in typical Cubs fashion, the Mets win 12-8.

Also Receiving Votes:

  • 1988: Toronto's George Bell hit three homers off Royals pitcher Bret Saberhagen.
  • 1986: Seattle's Jim Presley hits a game-tying two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth and then a grand slam in the 10th to beat California.
  • 1970: The A's opened their season at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum with gold-colored bases. Charles Finley rejoiced, but Bowie Kuhn says never again.
  • 1901: The Tigers trailed 13-4 in the bottom of the ninth in their first home game in Detroit, and scored 10 runs to beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 14-13, in the greatest Opening Day rally in major league history.