The Major League Baseball season is in full swing as the end of April is approaching. This season’s opening day saw some great performances and some miserable disappointments. The first day of baseball brings the new season. For many fans that brings the hope of endless possibilities. Teams that are projected to shine can collapse. Teams that are projected to flounder can rise to the top. Opening day is one of the best days on baseballs calendar. Most fans treat it as a national holiday. It’s a big day for a lot of fans and even more expectations.
Many players have lived up to these expectations. They have taken the freedom of the new season and ran away with it. They’ve felt the pressure of the expectations and risen in spite of it. Some players have defined moments in history with their opening day performances.
Here are the top 10 MLB opening day performances throughout the history of this great day.
10. Hank Aaron – 1974
The beginning of the 1974 season brought on the hopes, expectations and for some the dread of the fall of Babe Ruth’s record. Hank Aaron had finished the 1973 season only one home run away from tying the Babe’s legendary record. It was going to happen. 1974 was going to bring on the waiting game. It turns out that fans didn’t have to wait very long.
While standing at the plate for the first time of the season Hank Aaron didn’t disappoint. He hit a three run home run. It was not only opening day, but it was a historic moment for all of baseball and one of the most significant and memorable at bats of Aaron’s career.
The rest of his day was not as productive. It didn’t matter though, as the news would be the same no matter what. History remembers that day for the one home run that he hit.
9. Don Baylor – 1973
One of the great accomplishments that a hitter would love to put on his resume is hitting for the cycle. Hitting for the cycle is when a player hits a single, double, triple and a home run in the same game. It’s not an easy feat to accomplish. In fact, no one has ever accomplished this in an opening day performance. One player came close.
Don Baylor recently had an opening day performance that made headlines. While catching a ceremonial first pitch he broke his leg. The 64 year old is now the hitting coach for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. That’s not the opening day that he wants to be remembered for.
He would much rather be remembered for his opening day in 1973. In their opening game against the Brewers, Baylor hit a home run, triple and two doubles. If he would have stopped short on one of his doubles he would have hit for the historic cycle on opening day. However it was still a great opening day performance.
8. Bob Veale – 1965
Many times when fans think of great baseball performances, their minds rush to the home runs and the cheers. The first thought isn’t always to pitching. Pitching is extremely important and the pitcher is the one who get credited with the win or loss.
In 1965, the Pittsburgh Pirates opened up against the San Francisco Giants. The Giants were putting out top players like Willie Mays and Willie McCovey and they also had future Hall of Famer Juan Marichal on the mound. The Pirates had Bob Veale on the mound facing this intimidating line-up.
On that day, Veale brought his A game. He ended up pitching a complete game that went into the tenth inning. He threw all shutout innings and ten strikeouts. He only allowed three hits and one walk. That’s an extremely impressive feat on it’s own, but it’s even more impressive considering the team he was facing.
7. Bob Gibson – 1967
Another stellar pitching performance on opening day came in 1967 from Bob Gibson of the St Louis Cardinals. Like Bob Veale in 1965, Gibson was facing a monster San Francisco Giants team. He had his work cut out for him and he did not fail to deliver.
Gibson pitched a nine inning shutout game and finished with 13 strikeouts. That was the beginning of a 13 win season for Gibson and he finished that season with a win in game 7 of the 1967 World Series and led St. Louis to one of many championships.
This opening day performance was the beginning to one of the most memorable seasons of Bob Gibson’s career.
6. Craig Biggio – 2001
Craig Biggio is one of the most underrated and forgotten hitters in baseball. The fans in Houston can attest to that. Biggio is one of the few modern stars who played his entire 20 year career for one team. He played for the Houston Astros. With 291 career home runs and a career batting average of .281, he was a consistent producer all through his career.
Biggio had a great start to his 2001 season with a spectacular opening day. He accomplished an opening day feat that has never been repeated. Biggio made five appearances at the plate that resulted in five hits, allowing him to score three times. There are no other players who have started opening day batting 1.000 with five or more plate appearances. More importantly, he contributed to the Houston’s 11-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.
5. Camilo Pascual – 1960
Camilo Pascual is not a name that many baseball fans are familiar with, but he was a workhorse of a pitcher. He pitched a total of 18 years and had a total of 132 complete games.
In 1960, he showed his stamina and strength from day one. On opening day, Pascual pitched one of his many complete games. What was more staggering was that over those nine innings, he struck out a total of 15 batters. That is one of the best pitching performances in opening day history.
4. George Bell – 1988
Fans love offense and they love power. On opening day of 1988, the Toronto Blue Jays got the type of performance that fans love from George Bell. George Bell was a power hitter for the Blue Jays. During the 1987 season, he had hit 47 home runs and 134 RBI on his way to being named AL MVP. That was the best season of his career. Fans watched Bell’s performance with high expectations carried over from the previous season.
Bell lived up to the hype on opening day. Bell became the first player in MLB history to hit three home runs in an opening day game. Bell had three hits in four at bats and was responsible for four out of the five runs the Blue Jays had in their win over the Royals.
3. Walter Johnson – 1926
Many of the baseball fans today love the nostalgia and the history of the game. The truth is, many fans don’t know a lot of the history. Because much of history gets forgotten, players like Walter Johnson get left out of discussions about great performances. Walter Johnson was arguably the best pitcher of his era and he has two opening day performances that could be considered for this list.
In 1919, Johnson opened up for the Washington Senators, the only team he ever played for. He pitched a complete 13 inning game. On top of the long performance, he pitched a shutout over those 13 innings and won the game and that’s not even the best he’s done.
On opening day in 1926, Johnson and the Senators took on Eddie Rommel and the Philadelphia Athletics. Rommel and Johnson were two greats of their day. The game went to 15 innings. Johnson pitched all 15 innings never allowing a single run. Now that’s incredible stamina.
2. Dmitri Young – 2005
Dmitri Young played for several teams over his 13 year career. He was a consistent hitter with a career batting average of .292. He could hit for power and in 2005, he proved it.
On opening day, he led the Detroit Tigers in their 11-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals. Young became the second player to hit three home runs in a game. Unlike George Bell, Young went four for four. Young hit three home runs and was hit by a pitch. He also had 5 RBI that day. He had the best offensive opening day performance in MLB history.
1. Bob Feller – 1940
For any pitcher in baseball, there are two accomplishments that they spend their careers dreaming about. One is the perfect game. The other is a no hitter. No MLB pitcher has pitched a perfect game on opening day. There is one, and only one, pitcher who accomplished a no hitter on opening day.
In 1940, Bob Feller accomplished something that to this day no other pitcher ever has. On April 16, 1940, Feller led the Cleveland Indians to 1-0 win over the Chicago White Sox. Feller threw nine hitless innings, while striking out eight batters. He etched out a win for the Indians and permanent place for his name in the history books.
Feller would complete two more no hitters in his career. He would also went to eight All-Star games. He accomplished these feats even though he took three years off to serve in the military. For this opening day performance and much more, he eventually became a member of the Hall of Fame.
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