"An opener is not like any other game, there's that little extra excitement, a faster beating of the heart."
That's exactly what happened in 1940.
On April 16, 1940, 21-year old Bob Feller threw the first Opening Day no-hitter, shutting down the White Sox at old Comiskey Park, 1-0. It was all the more remarkable considering the temperature was a chilly 35 degrees at game time.
In 1990, on the 50th anniversary of his feat, Feller recalled the details of that game.
"I remember my last outing was an exhibition game in Cleveland on Saturday and I was hit hard. I had pitched very poorly, but on Opening Day I felt in good condition.
"The first couple of innings I was pretty wild. In the second inning, I loaded the bases. Someone in the bullpen was warming up and the manager (Ossie Vitt) was getting ready to walk out to the mound. But I managed to strike out the last hitter on a full count."
Other hurlers who took a run at no-hit Opening Day immortality include Lon Warneke, who went 8 1/3 hitless innings on April 17, 1934, for the Cubs, before Cincinnati's Adam Comorosky collected a hit. Hall of FamerRobin Roberts came close to matching Feller's feat on April 13, 1955, when he carried a no-hitter 8 1/3 innings before Giants' infielder Alvin Dark spoiled his bid with a single.
Roberts holds the major league record for most consecutive Opening Day starts for the same team (12), starting every Opening Day for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1950 to 1961. Upon his induction to the Hall of Fame in 1976, Roberts pegged the 1950 opener as one of the greatest Opening Day thrills of his career.
"I'd have to pick the 1950 opener when we beat the Dodgers, 9-1, as the most thrilling for me from a team standpoint," Roberts said. "We had finished well in 1949 and we had pennant hopes in 1950, so that first game made us all proud."
The major league attendance record for an Opening Day game is 74,420 at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium, on April 7, 1973. Gaylord Perry satisfied the huge home crowd with a 2-1 victory over Mickey Lolich and the Detroit Tigers.
Perry holds the record for starting Opening Day games for five different teams. Perry toed the rubber to start the season for the Giants, Indians, Rangers, Padres and Mariners.
Walter Johnson may have been the most successful pitcher on Opening Day in baseball history. Johnson started 14 season openers for the Washington Senators, hurling a record seven shutouts. His overall Opening Day mark was 9-5, and his 14 starts were a record until bested by Seaver.
Johnson's two most famous Opening Day performances occurred in 1910 and 1926. On April 14, 1910, "The Big Train" pitched a masterful one-hitter to defeat the A's, 3-0. The only hit occurred in the seventh inning when Senators' right fielder Doc Gessler tripped over a small child sitting on the edge of the warning track, allowing the ball to careen into the overflow crowd for a double. On April 13, 1926, Johnson made his 14th and final Opening Day start, battling 15 innings against Philadelphia's Eddie Rommel, before winning 1-0.
Jimmy Key holds the record for most wins on Opening Day without a loss, with seven. Other perfect Opening Day hurlers: Wes Ferrell at 6-0, and Warneke and Rip Sewell both with 5-0 ledgers.
As the game's first fully professional club, the Cincinnati Reds were awarded the right to begin every National League season at home, and also traditionally hosted the earliest openers. From 1876-1989, every Reds opener was scheduled at home, but twice, in 1877 and 1966, rain forced the team to play their first tilt on the road. Finally, in 1990, their streak ended when the Reds opened the season on the road in a scheduled game against the Houston Astros. The extraordinary tradition included parades, fireworks, and circus performances. In 2003, the Reds opened their new stadium, Great American Ballpark, but it wasn't the first time that fans in the "Queen City" had new digs for Opening Day. In 1902, Cincinnati christened a much-anticipated new grandstand, replacing the wooden seats that had been damaged in a fire two years earlier. The 3,000-seat iron and concrete grandstand earned the name the "Palace of the Fans," and boasted a blend of Roman and Greek architecture unseen in any ballpark previously. Included were two dozen higher-priced "fashion boxes" that held 15 or more fans. "Rooter's Row," a standing-room only section, was located beneath the grandstand and housed more than 500 fans, who became known for their raucous support of the home team. Despite the new grandstands, the Reds succumbed to the Chicago Cubs that day. Cincinnati was so protective of their traditional opener status that in 1988 the city council voted to turn back the clocks in Cincinnati on Opening Day, to ensure that the Reds played the "first" game of the season.
Hank Aaron began the 1974 season in Cincinnati with a home run in his first at-bat. It was his 714th home run and tied Babe Ruth's career total.
Opening Day became an even more special day in Washington D.C. starting on April 14, 1910, when President William Howard Taft attended the home opener at League Park in the nation's capital. In the Hall of Fame's collections are balls thrown by Taft, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson, and a glove used by Eisenhower at Opening Day in 1956. Truman was ambidextrous and threw out first pitches in 1950 with both his right and left hands. Taft and Woodrow Wilson brought the best luck to the Senators, posting 3-0 and 2-0 "records" in their Opening Day appearances, while Herbert Hoover was 1-3 and Lyndon Johnson 0-3.
Seattle pitcher Mike Parrott started and won the Mariners' 1980 opener, but never won another game all season, finishing with a 1-16 record.
In March of 1979, the owners of the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants announced that they would open the 1980 season against each other in Japan. The three game series was tentatively scheduled for March 28-30, 1980, in Tokyo. However, when National League owners met to approve the plan, a consensus could not be met and the idea was scrapped. Not until 1999 did the major leagues play regular season games outside the U.S. and Canada to open the season. That year, the Rockies and Padres played their opening series in Monterrey, Mexico. The following season, the Cubs and Mets opened in Tokyo, Japan, and in 2001, the Blue Jays and Rangers kicked off the campaign in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Games scheduled for Japan to start the 2003 season were cancelled by Major League Baseball in March. In 2004, the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays became the next to open the season in Japan with a series of games in Tokyo, followed in 2008 by the Boston Red Sox against the Oakland A's, and 2012 with the Oakland A's facing the Seattle Mariners. Most recently, the 2014 MLB season began with two games in Australia between the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks.
Joe Torre is the only player to hit two home runs on Opening Day in back-to-back seasons. On April 12, 1965, at Cincinnati, Torre went deep twice for the Milwaukee Braves, and the following season he duplicated the feat against Pittsburgh on the same date, April 12, in Atlanta.
The 1982 Atlanta Braves, managed by Torre, opened the season with 13 consecutive wins, a record tied by the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers. In 2009, Torre managed the Dodgers to 13 straight home wins from the start of the season, the most since 1886.
Sixto Lezcano belted three grand slams in his career, and two of them came in Opening Day action for the Milwaukee Brewers. In 1978 and 1980, Lezcano helped the Brewers to Opening Day victories with bases-loaded homers.
On April 6, 1982, Opening Day at the new Metrodome, Gary Gaetti nearly became the first player to hit three home runs in an opener. The rookie third baseman went deep in the fourth and seventh innings and in the second inning he tripled and was thrown out at home plate trying for an inside-the-park homer.
Only two batters have hit three homers in an opener. George Bell did so on April 4, 1988, when he hit all three of his home runs off Kansas City's Bret Saberhagen. The second player was Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes, who launched three homers off Dwight Gooden of the Mets on April 4, 1994, in Wrigley Field. After Rhodes third homer, Cubs' fans threw hats on the field, reminiscent of hockey fans homage to the hat trick. Tuffy's shots made little difference - the Cubs still lost the game.
On April 7, 1986, Boston's Dwight Evans hit Jack Morris' first pitch of the first game of the season into the seats at Tiger Stadium for the earliest possible home run in baseball history.
Nolan Ryan is the oldest pitcher to start an Opening Day game. In 1993 he was 46 years old when he toed the rubber for the Texas Rangers. Tommy John was 45 years old when he started and won the 1989 opener for the Yankees.
On April 5, 1974, fans used different tactics to disrupt Opening Day in Chicago's Comiskey Park when several fans "streaked" onto the field. Numerous fights broke out in the stands before order was restored.
"I never saw anything like it," said White Sox manager Chuck Tanner. "If it goes beyond Opening Day, the average fan couldn't take it." There were no more reports of naked fans rushing onto the field in Chicago that season.
On April 11, 1912, Washington Park in Brooklyn was the scene of another Opening Day riot. With the home team down 18-3 to the rival Giants, fans began climbing the fences and running onto the playing field. Eventually, so many spectators infiltrated the diamond and slowed play, that the game was called on account of darkness in the sixth inning.
The Philadelphia Phillies earned a reputation for unique promotions for their home openers in the 1970s. At various openers, fans were thrilled by "Parachute Man," who landed on the field prior to the first pitch; "Rocket Man," who was propelled by a rocket pack over the playing field; "Kite Man," who soared far above the stadium; "Cycle Man," who roared over the artificial surface on a high-speed motor bike; and the "Great Merrifield," an acrobat who performed stunts while suspended beneath a helicopter.
On Opening Day in 1977, the Astros took their "shot" at contending with the Phillies, when they introduced "The Human Cannonball," who was fired from a cannon at a reported 100 miles per hour into a nylon net.
Prior to the White Sox' opener on April 9, 1976, owner Bill Veeck, manager Paul Richards, and longtime Veeck associate Rudy Schaffer dressed in Revolutionary War costumes and marched from center field to home plate as a fife and drum corps. Years earlier with the Cubs, Veeck had implemented one of his more famous stunts on Opening Day, when he employed midgets as vendors in Wrigley Field. Veeck figured the midgets wouldn't block the view of the field as they sold their wares. It seemed like a good idea, however, Veeck didn't plan for the fact that the beverage trays were very heavy, and by the middle innings, according to then Cubs' broadcaster Jack Brickhouse, "The beer, soft drinks, and midgets were dropping all over the place."
The Dodgers played their first game in Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Opening Day in 1962. As fans poured in, team officials realized that the architects had forgotten to install drinking fountains.
Several years earlier, in 1913, a more embarrassing situation occurred upon the opening of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. Someone misplaced the keys to the bleachers, which resulted in thousands of fans milling about waiting to be seated.
Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn, a winner of 300 big league games, experienced his share of Opening Day anticipation over a 23-year career.
"An opener is not like any other game," he recalled in 1972. "there's that little extra excitement, a faster beating of the heart. You have that anxiety to get off to a good start, for yourself and for the team. You know that when you win the first one, you can't lose them all."
Written by Bill Francis and Dan Holmes