Today would have been Opening Day of the 2020 MLB Season. If I say much more about that I might get too upset to think clearly through writing this article, so instead of moping about the present, let’s reflect on the past.
Opening Day has an almost mythical quality to it, where the nation’s most sacred and beloved pastime finally comes to life after a long hibernation. When there’s an amazing performance right out of the gate, it makes the game that much more memorable for the players involved and the baseball fan base.
So although we’ll have to wait for those magical moments to occur this time around, we can still bask in the nostalgia of some of baseball’s greatest Opening Day performers. Let us know on Twitter if we missed any that you think should be a part of the list!
The following performances occurred on that team’s first game of the season. Positions are listed in accordance with where that player was fielding in that game, though they may have been better known at another position in the field.
All stats retrieved from Baseball Reference.
Carlton Fisk (1973): 4-5, 1 2B, 2 HR, 4 Runs, 6 RBI
Fisk had a couple memorable Opening Day performances in his Hall of Fame career, including when he hit a home run in his first game as a member of the Chicago White Sox against his old team, the Boston Red Sox.
But even that wasn’t as special as when Fisk was still the backstop for the Red Sox in a game against the rival New York Yankees. Pudge propelled the offense in this 15-5 route, taking both Mel Stottlemyer and Lindy McDaniel deep and driving in more runs than any catcher has on Opening Day.
Ivan Rodriguez (2000): 2-4, 2 HR, 2 Runs, 5 RBI
Opening Day is a good day for baseball’s famous “Pudges”, as the other Hall of Fame Pudge ripped two long balls off of Mike Sirotka. His teammate and current Giants manager Gabe Kapler also indulged in some of the fun, hitting an additional pair of home runs off of the poor White Sox starter.
Albert Pujols (2010): 4-5, 2 HR, 4 Runs, 3 RBI
Pujols has hit two home runs on Opening Day not once but twice in his career, with the other performance coming in 2006 against the Phillies in a 13-5 win. He went on to club 49 HR and hit for a .331 average that season but was runner-up to Ryan Howard -- an opponent in that game -- at the end of the season. In 2010, Pujols delivered another incredibly strong performance with two more dingers against Joey Votto and the Reds. He led the league with 42 that season, but lost in the MVP race again, capturing second place.
To who, you ask? Joey Votto, of course.
Willie Stargell (1975): 4-4, 2 HR, 2 Runs, 3 RBI
Stargell was no stranger to home runs -- he hit 475 over the course of his career -- but he only hit 22 in 1975 after seasons of 48, 33, 44 and 25 preceded his 1975 year.
Billy Herman (1936): 5-5, 3 2B, 1 HR, 4 Runs, 3 RBI
Herman may be best remembered for his defense, leading all second basemen in putouts seven times, in assists three times and, ironically, in errors four times. However, his bat was equally as impressive some seasons, like in 1935 when he led all of baseball with 227 hits and 57 doubles. This strong start to his 1936 campaign set the tone for what would be his third of eight consecutive All Star seasons.
Jeff Kent (1998): 5-7, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 Runs, 5 RBI
With his eyes set on the Hall of Fame now -- he took home a 27.5% share in the 2020 voting -- Kent can use this display of offense to bolster his case. The Astros may have remembered this performance when they opted to sign him for a couple of years in 2003, a stint in which he picked up a 2004 All Star nod.
Mike Schmidt (1974): 1-4, 1 HR, 1 Run, 2 RBI
It’s not the prettiest stat line, but it sure was a memorable game. The Phillies and the Mets storied rivalry picked up right away to start the 1974 season, a game that the Mets led 4-3 heading into the ninth inning. Tug McGraw -- the same Tug McGraw that helped secure the 1980 World Series for the Phillies -- was on the mound to close out the game for the Mets. But McGraw found a way to help the Phillies once again, as he allowed a one-out walk off home run to Schmidt in the bottom of the ninth.
Richie Hebner (1974/1979): 3-5, 1 2B, 2 HR, 3 Runs, 3 RBI | 4-5, 2 2B, 1 HR, 2 Runs, 4 RBI
If Hebner played throughout his whole career like he did on Opening Day, he’d be a surefire Hall of Famer. These two games are two of the best Opening Day performances by any third basemen in MLB history.
Javy Baez (2019): 2-5, 2 HR, 2 Runs, 4 RBI
One of baseball’s brightest young stars went into the 2019 season with sky-high expectations after a breakout 2018 campaign in which he led the league with 111 RBI and hit 34 home runs. Though the 2019 season as a whole was a tad underwhelming for Baez, he still managed to pick up another All-Star appearance and was dominant in the first game of the year.
Edgar Renteria (2007): 2-5, 2 HR, 2 Runs, 3 RBI
Atlanta picked up a three-game sweep right out of the gate against the Phillies in 2007, but couldn’t have done so without the late-game heroics of their shortstop. Renteria took Ryan Madson deep in the 10th inning to put the Braves up two, ultimately winning the game, just two innings after he tied up the contest with a solo blast off of Brett Myers.
Bryce Harper (2013): 2-4, 2 HR, 2 Runs, 2 RBI
In a game with very little offense -- the final score was 2-0, with a combined eight hits between the Nationals and the Marlins -- Harper delivered in a big way, providing the only source of scoring for either team.
Don Baylor (1973): 4-4, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 2 Runs, 3 RBI
An Opening Day cycle? Too boring, at least for Don Baylor, who took it a notch higher with two doubles, a triple and a dinger as part of the Orioles’ 10-0 demolition of the Brewers.
Billy Williams (1971): 2-4, 1 HR, 1 RBI
There are better stat lines at the position -- take, for instance, either of Barry Bonds’ nine total base displays on either 1989 or 2002 Opening Day, or Babe Ruth’s two HR performance in 1932 -- but none of those possess the same heroics as Williams’ Opening Day in 1971. Bob Gibson had been pitching an absolutely stellar contest against Fergie Jenkins, as the two Hall of Famers kept their opponents to just one run apiece through nine innings. But when the 10th inning came around, fellow Hall of Famer Billy Williams took Gibson deep and ended the contest in what was an epic continuation of the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry.
Tuffy Rhodes (1994): 4-4, 3 HR, 3 Runs, 3 RBI
Who? Tuffy Rhodes, the guy who hit 13 home runs in his entire big league career? Of course, Tuffy Rhodes!
Rhodes took Doc Gooden deep not once, not twice, but three times in one of baseball’s greatest anomalies.
Corey Patterson (2003): 4-6, 2 HR, 2 Runs, 7 RBI
Patterson’s greatest attribute wasn’t his power, but it sure was on display to start the 2003 season in the Cubs’ 15-2 trouncing of the Mets.
Willie Mays (1964): 2-4, 2 HR, 2 Runs, 3 RBI
Juan Marichal and Warren Spahn took the hill in an incredible contest. Mays got the best of Spahn, hitting a two-run bomb in the third and delivering again in the eighth with a solo shot that officially was the dagger in the matchup.
Raul Mondesi (1999): 4-5, 2 HR, 2 Runs, 6 RBI
If the stat line isn’t enough for you, you should also know that Mondesi’s first home run tied the game in the ninth, driving in three runs to send it to extras, and his second ended the game in walk off fashion in the 11th.
Gee Walker (1937): 4-4, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 2 Runs, 1 RBI
Don Baylor didn’t officially hit for an Opening Day cycle, but Gee Walker did, stealing the show in a lineup that included Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Goose Goslin and Mickey Cochrane.
Xavier Nady (2008): 4-7, 1 2B, 2 HR, 4 Runs, 4 RBI
If an offensive slugfest is your favorite type of game, you would have loved the Pirates-Braves 12-11 matchup in 2008. Nady drove in four, including a three-run HR in the top of the 12th that was just enough to get the Pirates the win, as the Braves were only able to score twice in the bottom half of that same inning.
Pete Alexander (1925): 9 IP, 1 W, 0 ER, 5 K, 3-3, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 Runs, 2 RBI
Hall of Famer Pete Alexander had many fine outings, but perhaps none was better than this all-out display of pitching wizardry and unexpected offensive dominance. This game is one of the best all-around displays we’ve ever witnessed in MLB history.
Madison Bumgarner (2017): 7 IP, 3 ER, 11 K, 2-2, 2 HR, 2 Runs, 2 RBI
Look at that stat line and consider this: the Giants lost this game. How painful must that have been for MadBum? How much more could he have done?
Bob Feller (1940): 9 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 8 K
The first and only Opening Day no-hitter came courtesy of Hall of Fame hurler Bob Feller, who twirled nine innings and walked five batters, pitching well enough to keep any of them from scoring.
Bob Gibson (1967): 9 IP, 0 ER, 13 K
Gibson’s 1968 season was by far his best, but a solid precursor was his 1967 debut. The lineup he faced was nothing to brush off either, as the heart of the order was formed by Jesus Alou, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Jim Ray Hart, a fearsome foursome that led the Giants to a 91-71 season in 1967.