Finally, after six weeks of poring over nearly meaningless statistics and scrutinizing non-roster invitees' upside, we can get down to some real baseball. It's that magical day when everyone is in first place (ESPN's "Opening Night" game notwithstanding...), and even Royals, Orioles and Nationals fans are optimistic about their team's chances.
It's Opening Day -- which in my book should be a mandatory paid vacation and/or federal holiday.
As is my wont, I wondered who -- over the course of years and years of baseball being played on the first Monday in April -- has had the best beginning to their season.
On Opening Day in 1940, Bob Feller famously tossed the first and only no-hitter to begin a season. In the retrosheet era (1957-present), the highest game score by a pitcher on Opening Day was the 95 posted by the Giants' Bob Veale against the Pirates in 1965. Veale threw a 10-inning shutout, striking out ten while allowing only three hits and a walk.
The all-time Opening Day starts leader, Robin Roberts, also holds the record for most pitches thrown in Game One of the season. In 12 innings, he threw 190 pitches in a forgettable seven run outing. Since 1957, only nine other times has an Opening Day starter thrown 130 or more. Randy Johnson has done it three times, with the most recent coming in 2002 for Arizona. Jack Morris, in his first start after the most famous World Series complete game shutout of all time, threw 144 pitches over nine innings as he moved from one World Series champ (Minnesota) to another (Toronto).
Opening Day pitchers tend to be the staff ace, so it's no surprise that no less than 40 pitchers have struck out at least 10 batters in the first start of the season. The leader is Washington's Camilo Pascual, who K'd 15 Red Sox on April 18, 1960. Randy Johnson and Don Drysdale are tied for second with 14, with Drysdale's 1960 performance matched twice by the Big Unit, in 1993 and 1996.
Greg Maddux and Jimmy Key share the record for most consecutive wins by their team on Opening Day. The Cubs and Braves won seven Opening Day games from 1992-2000 with Maddux on the mound, while the Blue Jays, Yankees and Orioles won all seven games that Key started for them. On the flip side, Phil Niekro had horrible luck as the Opening Day man, as the Braves and Yankees lost all seven Opening Day starts they gave him between 1972 and 1985.
It's not all pitching brilliance on the first day of the season, though. There have been quite a few hitting displays put on against supposed "aces".
Most of you will recall Opening Day 2005, when Detroit's Dmitri Young mashed three homers to begin the year. He tied the MLB record held by the mercurial George Bell (1988) and Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes (1994). Just last year, Albert Pujols and Chris Shelton came one homer away by hitting two dingers apiece on April 4.
Todd Hundley and Gary Carter share more than the distinction of being notable Mets catchers. They each hit a home run on Opening Day for four straight years. Carter did it from 1977-1980, when he was with Montreal, while Hundley accomplished in New York from 1994-1997. Mike Piazza, sadly, could only manage two years in a row, in 2000 and 2001.
Since 1957, only four players have collected 5 hits on Opening Day, and only one has gone 5-for-5. Oddly enough, all were second-sackers. In 1959, Nellie Fox went 5-for-7. In 1998, Jeff Kent also went 5-for-7. In 2001, Craig Biggio went a perfect 5-for-5. Most recently, in 2005, Aaron Miles smacked three doubles on his way to a 5-for-6 afternoon.
In the retrosheet era, no one has had an Opening Day cycle, but Don Baylor came closest. In 1974, Baylor hit two doubles, a triple and a home run for the Orioles. As usual, the triple kept most of the candidates from recording the cycle. Interestingly, no one has hit more than one triple on Opening day for at least 50 years.
Of course, any self respecting list of single-game tallies wouldn't be complete without including the worst days at the plate. There have been 19 Golden Sombreros (4 Ks) bestowed on unlucky hitters since 1957, with one upgraded Platinum Sombrero (5 Ks). In 1996, Ron Karkovice struck out five times for the White Sox on his way to 93 strikouts in 355 at-bats for a .220 average. Most recently, Prince Fielder donned the Golden Sombrero last April 4, striking out four times against the Pirates. He went down to Oliver Perez three times before being granted his shameful headgear by Matt Capps. Mercifully, there are no two-time recipients of the uncoveted Opening Day sombrero.
Ted Williams famously had at least one hit in every Opening Day he played in. Since 1957, the record for most Opening Days in a row with at least one base-knock is 14, shared by Davey Concepcion (1974-1988) and Will Clark (1986-2000). Frank Thomas (12), Bobby Abreu (10) and Omar Vizquel (10) all have active streaks within striking distance.
Now that you all have some more trivia to amaze your friends with, get out there and watch some games. Enjoy this, the Baseball Holiday.