What are the best opening day performances? You could make good arguments for many performances. There is Bob Feller and his no-hitter to start the Indians 1940 season and Walter Johnson and his 13-inning shutout to start his 1919 campaign. You also have Hank Aaron and his 714th homer to begin his 21st season and Mo Vaughn and his 1998 walk-off grand slam to start Boston’s season.
All great performances in their own right. But the 10-year-old in me wants to see loud towering home runs. Below are the three greatest opening day performances in Major League history.
April 4, 1988 George Bell and his Toronto Blue Jays were starting their season against the Kansas City Royals. Bell was coming off his MVP season of 1987 when he hit 47 homers and drove in 134 runs. The Royals starter was Bret Saberhagen who finished the ’87 season with 18 wins and a 3.36 ERA. Neither one could have predicted what was in store. Bell lead off the second inning with a solo homer. In the fourth inning Bell came to the plate with one out and one on and blasted a two run shot. In the sixth Saberhagen got the reigning MVP to fly out to left. When Bell came to the plate in the eighth Saberhagen was still on the mound. Bell took Saberhagen yard for the third time becoming the first player to ever hit three homers on opening day.
Six seasons later the Cubs and Mets were opening their seasons at Wrigley. The Mets were sending former Rookie of the Year and Cy Young winner Dwight Gooden to the hill. The baseball god’s had a plan for Tuffy Rhodes. Who you ask? Well, that’s kind of the point. Rhodes had won the center field spot and was the Cubs leadoff hitter. In the bottom of the first on a full count Rhodes deposited a Gooden pitch in the left field bleachers. Rhodes’ next at bat was with two outs and the bases empty in the bottom of the third. Gooden threw Rhodes a fastball on a 3-1 count and the next thing you know you’re hearing Harry Caray say, “It might be, it could be, it is. Holy Cow!” In Rhodes’ third at bat he did what only one other player in the history of the game had done. He took Gooden deep for the third time during opening day. No one will ever remember, except maybe Cubs fans that they lost. While Rhodes only hit 5 more homers over the remainder of this career no one can take from him the day he took the once unhitable Doc Gooden out of Wrigley three times in front of the home crowd on opening day.
On Monday April 4, 2005 Dmitri Young became the third and most recent player to homer three times on opening day. In front of a record-setting Comerica Park crowd of 44,105 Young started his day with a solo shot in the bottom of the second off of Jose Lima to put Detroit up 1-0. His two run shot in the third, again off Lima, gave the Tigers a 5-0 lead. He hit another two run homer in the eighth off of Mike MacDougal to complete the trifecta. Young was also hit by a pitch and had a single.
Opening day for fans is about hope and excitement. What’s more exciting than watching a player hit three homers in one game. Hitting four?