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Guest commentary: Heroes of Opening Days Past

By Stan Carlberg

For more than a decade now, card collectors have associated the term “Opening Day” with the annual updated Topps release than the actual first day of the new baseball season. While the set typically mirrors Topps’ regular-issue set, along with some special inserts and autographs, it has nothing to do with the first pitch of the season. At some point, Topps should consider educating new collectors with some of the heroes of Opening Day’s past.

Opening Day has seen its share of heroics throughout the years. Being the first day of the 2010 season, I thought I’d recognize some players who have made their mark on what many consider baseball’s most exciting day.

Since most fans go to the ballpark to watch the longball, I thought I’d start with the players who have smacked the most home runs on Opening Day. As it turns out, the record is held by two of the greatest home run hitters of all time, Frank Robinson and Ken Griffey Jr. Both have blasted eight dingers apiece on the first day of the season, followed by a couple of notable sluggers named Willie Mays and Eddie Mathews, who smacked seven each. Can Griffey blast No. 9 in what may be his final Opening Day?

Another hitting great, Ted Williams, also liked to kick off the new season in style. In 14 Opening Day games, The Splendid Splinter hit .449 with three bombs and 14 RBIs.

On the mound, the tireless Tom Seaver worked the most Opening Days with 16 in Tom Terrific’s storied career. But it was another workhorse hurler by the name of Walter Johnson who had the most success. Working 14 season openers, The Big Train collected nine wins, seven of which were shutouts. The 1948 Swells Sport Thrills card No. 4 labels Johnson “Greatest Pitcher,” a title that certainly applies to his success on Opening Day.

As far as amazing accomplishments are concerned, nothing tops Bob Feller‘s performance on April 16, 1940. At the age of 21, he no-hit the Chicago White Sox 1-0. Seventy years later, the gem remains the only Opening Day no-hitter in baseball history.

When Topps ambitiously crowned Hank Aaron as baseball’s new home run king in the No. 1 card of its 1974 set, Hammerin’ Hank was still one shot away from tying Babe Ruth‘s career mark. Aaron Tied the Bambino’s historic 714 mark with a three-run blast in his first at bat of the season.

Despite all the Opening Day accomplishments and milestones, no single Opening Day had more impact on the game than April 15, 1947. On that day, Jackie Robinson made his Major League debut as the first baseman of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Swell commemorated the event with its No. 3 “Dramatic Debut” card in its 1948 Sport Thrills set, a card that even today is overlooked by collectors for such a groundbreaking event.

One Comment

And this year’s Opening Day was not without it’s own share of drama and great plays! Mark Buehrle’s between-the-legs glove flip off the kick save to first to get the out has to rank among the “Web Gems” of 2010 (already!), and my Diamondbacks’ Stephen Drew’s 4th inning, 2-run inside-the-park home run kicks off what will likely be a much-improved season for the boys in Sedona Red.

Then, of course, Albert Pujols’ 2 home runs, the 6+ inning no-hitter by Marcum, and a bunch of other nice moments make this Opening Day one to remember!

Posted April 5, 2010 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

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