The Butler’s Greeting: First Batters Up On Opening Day

When the door opened for formal guests at British estates like Downton Abbey, the first face seen would be the butler’s.  On Opening Day, the first face in the batter’s box for a team’s new season is the visiting team’s starting leadoff batter.  A Butler has performed that duty in his team’s first game of a season more times than anyone else, going back at least to 1919:

Most “First Batter of the Game” Appearances by a Hitter on His Team’s Opening Day (1919-2011):
Brett Butler 10
Tim Raines and Kenny Lofton 9
Lloyd Waner and Delino DeShields 8
Rickey Henderson, Ray Durham and Johnny Damon 7

More on Butler and Opening Day greetings after the jump.

Butler was quite successful in his ten first-batter-of-the-season appearances, especially considering that in an Opening Day first-plate-appearance the hitter is not just playing on the road, probably in front of a large, hostile crowd, he is also most likely facing the other team’s best starting pitcher.

Brett Butler’s 10 Opening Day Appearances as First Batter of the Game:
In 1982, Butler faced Juan Eichelberger and grounded out.
In 1983, he faced Mario Soto, doubled and subsequently scored.
In 1984, facing Charlie Hough, he grounded out.
In 1985, Jack Morris struck him out.
In 1986, he got a walk from Mike Flanagan and subsequently scored
In 1988, he faced Fernando Valenzuela and flied out.
In 1989, he doubled off of Eric Show, and subsequently scored.
In 1990, facing Tom Glavine, he fouled out.
In 1991, he singled off of John Smoltz, and subsequently scored.
In 1995, he faced Bill Swift, singled, but was subsequently erased on a double-play grounder.

These ten PAs came with five different teams. The basic stats for these 10 PAs: .444 BA/.500 OBP/.667 SLG/1.167 OPS, and four runs scored. As his team’s greeter at the door of new seasons, this itinerant Butler was pretty good at his job in beijing.

Rickey Henderson was the starting leadoff hitter for his team on Opening Day in 19 different seasons, far more than Butler, who played that role twelve times in total. But 12 of Rickey’s leadoff Opening Days were for the home team, so he wasn’t the first batter of the game in any of those outings. Brett Butler, in contrast was on the road for ten of his twelve Opening Days as leadoff hitter, making him the king of first-face-of the-season plate appearances.

27 thoughts on “The Butler’s Greeting: First Batters Up On Opening Day

  1. 1
    vivaeljason says:

    I can’t be the only person who wants to see Billy Butler go from cleanup to lead off now, can I?

  2. 2
    Doug says:

    Since 1950, these are the times a HR has been hit in the first PA of an opening day game.

    1977-04-07 – Gary Thomasson SFG off Don Sutton LAD
    1978-04-06 – Terry Puhl HOU off Tom Seaver CIN
    1982-04-05 – Bump Wills CHC off Mario Soto CIN
    1983-04-05 – Lee Lacy PIT off Bob Forsch STL
    1986-04-07 – Dwight Evans BOS off Jack Morris DET
    1986-04-08 – Bobby Grich CAL off Mike Moore SEA
    1987-04-06 – Oddibe McDowell TEX off Mike Boddicker BAL
    1988-04-08 – Julio Franco CLE off Charlie Hough TEX
    1994-04-03 – Ray Lankford STL off Jose Rijo CIN
    1999-04-05 – Juan Encarnacion DET off Rick Helling TEX (FIRST PITCH)
    2000-04-03 – Gerald Williams TBD off Brad Radke MIN (FIRST PITCH)
    2002-04-01 – Jacque Jones MIN off Jeff Suppan KCR
    2003-03-31 – Ray Durham SFG off Brian Lawrence SDP
    2004-04-06 – Kazuo Matsui NYM off Russ Ortiz ATL (FIRST PITCH)
    2005-04-05 – Cesar Izturis LAD off Jason Schmidt SFG
    2007-04-02 – Grady Sizemore CLE off Jose Contreras CHW
    2009-04-06 – Alfonso Soriano CHC off Roy Oswalt HOU
    2011-03-31 – Rickie Weeks MIL off Edinson Volquez CIN (Carlos Gomez followed Weeks with a 2nd HR)

    Is anyone else amazed that this never happened from 1950 to 1976?

    • 3
      bluejaysstatsgeek says:

      Yes. I’m amazed!

      (BTW, isn’t it Edinson Volquez, not Edwin?)

    • 4
      bluejaysstatsgeek says:

      As most probably already know, Matsui’s first day, first batter lead-off home rum was the first pitch he ever faced in MLB. (Of course, that was after 9 seasons in NPB.)

    • 8

      Evans and Lankford did it in the first official plate appearance in all of MLB in their respective seasons. There may be more, but those two I know for sure…

      • 10
        bstar says:

        Perhaps you meant someone else other than Dewey Evans, or possibly Doug’s date is wrong. Evans didn’t debut in ’86.

      • 11
        Doug says:

        The date is right. Here’s the box.

        Evil means (I think) that the Lankford and Evans games were the first games of those opening days. That is, their start times preceded all other opening day games of that season.

        • 13
          bstar says:

          I get it now. Apologies to both.

        • 22

          Sorry for the confusion, yes that’s what I meant. The game in 1994 Lankford homered in was, I believe, the first ever Sunday night opener played before the traditional Opening Day (Which has since become an ESPN tradition). It was played in Cincinnati, and I recall it was one of the millions of things Marge Schott threw a hissy fit about during her tenure as Reds owner because it compromised the integrity of the Reds’ traditional Opening Day game…

      • 24
        Lawrence Azrin says:

        Not only was Dwight Evans’ HR hit on the first official plate appearance in all of MLB, it was hit on THE VERY FIRST PITCH of the 1986 MLB season. I remember it well, it was a high arcing shot into the LF stands of Tiger Stadium.

        Despite four solo HR, the Red Sox ended up losing to the Tigers 5-4. I heard that the rest of the season turned out a little better…

    • 25
      John Autin says:

      The gap from 1950-76 may be statistically unlikely, but I’m sure it also reflects the type of hitter who was traditionally used in a leadoff role.

      Here’s a capsule view of the per-team average HRs from the leadoff spot:
      – 1950, 9.4
      – 1960, 9.6
      – 1976, 6.7
      – 1980, 6.7
      – 1990, 10.0
      – 2000, 14.1
      – 2011, 14.3

      Also, don’t forget that by 1977, the number of MLB teams had increased by 62% from the pre-expansion days.

  3. 5
    bstar says:

    This is from, so I don’t know how reliable it is, but from the time period 1959-2007, here are the all-time leaders in bunt hits:

    1. Brett Butler 226 out of 442 attempts (.511)
    2. Kenny Lofton 175/297 (.589)
    3. Otis Nixon 158/344 (.459)
    4. Rod Carew 151/190 (.795)
    5. Maury Wills 149/307 (.485)

    Butler tried it more often, but this pretty much cements my belief that Rod Carew was the best bunter of all-time.(or, rather, of my lifetime)

    • 6
      Hartvig says:

      For some reason I had it in my mind that Terry Puhl used to bunt a great deal but I found an article on Baseball Prospectus (where I think got their info) entitled Schrodinger’s Bat and he is no where to be found among the career or single season leaders.

      I found it very interesting that of all the players that have bunted at least 50 times in their careers since 1959 only 2 have been successful less than 30% of the time and a great many (like Carew) were astonishingly successful. I’m no fan of the sacrifice bunt in all but a handful of situations but it’s also possible that bunting for a base hit is an underused strategy.

      Now I have to go do something to get the image of Miguel Cabrera playing third base out of my head or I’ll be having nightmares…

      • 7
        bstar says:

        Hehe. Miggy does look surprisingly active this spring, for whatever that’s worth. Hartvig, here’s a good article on bunt hits with no one on, and the authors’ list of top 10 all-time.

        Here is the top 10:
        first last Hit % Hits
        Brett Butler 48.83 188
        Otis Nixon 41.08 145
        Juan Pierre 36.41 130
        Maury Wills 46.27 124
        Kenny Lofton 53.71 123
        Rod Carew 72.22 91
        Matty Alou 73.17 90
        Vince Coleman 46.84 89
        Mickey Mantle 54.05 80
        Omar Vizquel 56.12 75

        I never knew Mantle was that good of a surprise bunter.

        • 14
          Thomas Court says:

          I read somewhere that Mantle used to bunt to break himself out of a slump.

          I also read that when he was temporarily demoted early in his career, that he bunted for a hit. His minor league manager told him, “They didn’t send you down here to #$%^$ing bunt!!!”

          • 23
            Richard Chester says:

            As a long-time Yankee fan I can tell you that there were occasions when Mantle did bunt to break a slump. It was usually a drag bunt.

        • 18
          kds says:

          Numbers from #7 differ greatly from those in #5.

          The .500 + BA’s when bunting for a hit show how important the game theory aspect is. If they play in you usually don’t bunt and they are out of position when you hit away. When they play back you can bunt for a very high average. So, the defense must find a compromise that isn’t best against either offensive choice. And the batter has to mix it up enough to keep the defense from finding better positioning than the half way compromise.

          • 19
            bstar says:

            The numbers in 7 are for bunting with no one on base. The numbers in 5, I assume, are for all bunts.

      • 9
        bstar says:

        I asked the author about Mike Schmidt, because I remember him laying down the occasional surprise bunt, but he only had 18 bunt hits. I will inquire about if he has data on Puhl, though it might be a day or two before he gets back to me.

        • 16
          Hartvig says:

          Thanks. That’s actually been really bugging me because if it wasn’t him that I was thinking of then I have absolutely no idea who it could have been.

          While Mantle wasn’t mentioned in the Schrodinger’s Bat article (I assume because the cut off date was 1959) there was one name that some may find surprising: Steve Garvey. He was actually successful in .827 of his bunting-for-a-hit attempts (62 hits in 75 attempts) which was the best for that time frame. I know that in James’ Historical Baseball Abstract he talked about how Garvey actually bunted so many times per month as part of his “system” for hitting.

          • 17
            bstar says:

            Yes, I believe the article above listed Garvey’s prowess as well. I remember Carew saying he bunted because he believed it added 8 or 10 points to his average every year. Considering all those cue shots of his that went right past the third baseman playing in looking for the bunt and his unbelievable success rate while bunting, it may have helped him more than that.

          • 20
            bstar says:

            Hartvig, here’s your response from JDanger at Fangraphs:

            I queried Puhl, this is what I got:

            year Hpct Hits Attempts

            1977 NULL 0 0
            1978 0.818 9 11
            1979 0.500 3 6
            1980 1.000 2 2
            1981 0.500 1 2
            1982 NULL 0 0
            1983 NULL 0 0
            1984 1.000 1 1
            1985 0.500 1 2
            1986 NULL 0 0
            1987 NULL 0 0
            1988 1.000 1 1
            1989 0.222 2 9
            1990 1.000 1 1
            1991 NULL 0 0

            His 1978 year is fairly impressive, an 82% success rate stands out among the other queried player-seasons. It seems Puhl gave up on the strategy shortly thereafter, up until ’89, but by then he had either lost the knack or the speed for the bunt hit.

          • 21
            Hartvig says:


            Wow. Thanks for the info.

            I have yet to decide if this is some misinformation that I was remembering or information that I mentally misfiled myself. Either way, it is pretty evident that Puhl was not a big bunter over the course of his career.

            Again, thanks.

  4. 15
    Timmy Pea says:

    HUGE congradulations to Juan Pierre for making the Phillies opening day roster! Juan had 4 hits on Friday and has taken the fact that he is the 4th or 5th outfielder with his usual good nature. Juan is devoted to helping the team win no matter what.

  5. 26
    John Autin says:

    Counting all PAs in Butler’s 10 Opening Day games on the road, he had a .480 OBP and scored 13 runs.

    • 27
      birtelcom says:

      It’s interesting that Butler does not have a higher profile in baseball lore. B-ref’s Play Index for game searches has now added 1918 — cheers to the amazing folks at Retrosheet and at baseball-reference! So we can now say that the leaders for the most games started in the leadoff spot from 1918 through 2012 are:
      1. Rickey Henderson 2,875
      2. Pete Rose 2,300
      3. Lou Brock 1,893
      4. Brett Butler 1,845

      The first three guys are famous enough to be bamliar names to the most casual baseball fans. The fourth guy — well frankly, most casual fans would probably quote Clark Gable’s last line in “Gone With the Wind”.

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