Opening Day Superlatives

The 122nd season of the modern era is underway. This post takes a look at opening day games of the past, and some of the more memorable accomplishments in those games.

Let’s start with the batters.

Hits

Twelve players have recorded 5 hits in an opening day game, including Hall of Famers Eddie Collins (1913), Babe Ruth (1921), Billy Herman (1936), Nellie Fox (1959) and Craig Biggio (2001). Nine of those games were recorded from 1901 to 1959, and the last three since 1998. Seven of the twelve games were posted by second basemen, including the most recent four occurrences.

Extra-Base Hits

Four of Billy Herman’s five hits in 1936 went for extra-bases, tying him with Pop Dillon (1901), Jim Greengrass (1954) and Don Baylor (1973) for the most on opening day. In Dillon’s game, his Tigers posted a 10 spot in the 9th inning for a comeback 14-13 walk-off win over the Brewers.

Home Runs

Four players have clubbed 3 home runs on opening day; they are George Bell (1988), Tuffy Rhodes (1994), Dmitri Young (2005) and Matt Davidson (2018). Rhodes’s big game came in a losing cause; the other thee went deep playing DH, all against the Royals.

Runs

No fewer than 29 players have recorded 4 runs on opening day, including Hall of Famers Rogers Hornsby (1927), Frankie Frisch (1928), Billy Herman (1936) and Carlton Fisk (1973), as well as future HOFer Albert Pujols (2010). Wid Conroy of the 1901 Brewers is the only player to do this in a losing cause (that 9th inning collapse noted above against the Tigers).

Runs Batted In

Only two players have recorded 7 RBI on opening day: Brant Alyea for the Twins in 1970; and Corey Patterson for the Cubs in 2003. Alyea’s 4-2-4-7 box score line is one of only nine such games.

Total Bases

Only two players have recorded 13 total bases on opening day. Not surprisingly, they are Tuffy Rhodes (1994) and Dmitri Young (2005), two of the players with an opening day 3 HR game.

Walks

Fourteen players have recorded 4 walks on opening day, including Paul Goldschmidt in 2022. Goldschmidt is one of only four of those players to also record a hit, led by Eddie Robinson with a pair of knocks for the White Sox in 1951. Buddy Myer in 1927 was the first player with a 4 walk game and is still the only one without an official AB in the same game.

Stolen Bases

Nine players have recorded 3 stolen bases on opening day, including Rickey Henderson (1989) and Emilio Bonifacio (2009), who both added a home run to their ledgers. Bonifacio’s game is one of only six with 4+ runs, 4+ hits, 3+ stolen bases and one or more HR.

Strikeouts

Ron Karkovice in 1996 stands alone as the only player to whiff 5 times on opening day. Three of those K’s came against Mariner starter Randy Johnson, who whiffed 14 White Sox batters in only 7 IP.

Win Probability Added

The best opening day WPA games are led by Raul Mondesi (1999) and Pete Rose (1974), the only players to top 1.000 WPA. Of the top 10 WPA scores, only one was delivered by a substitute; Willie Smith‘s 11th inning one out, 2 run, pinch-HR in 1969 erased a one-run deficit for the Cubs to give them a walk-off win over the Phillies.

Moving to the pitchers.

Innings Pitched

Walter Johnson in 1926 (at age 38) leads all pitchers with 15 IP on opening day. Johnson twirled a six hit shutout, whiffing nine and walking only three. There are 15 opening day games of 13+ IP, all of them complete games, including Tony Cloninger‘s 13 IP losing effort in 1966, the longest of the integration era. Orlie Weaver‘s 11 IP in 1911 is the longest opening day relief appearance, while Bill Duggleby‘s 8.2 IP in 1901 is the longest relief stint in a 9 inning game.

Shutouts

There have been 135 complete game 9+ IP opening day shutouts since 1901, the most recent by Kyle Hendricks in 2020. Walter Johnson recorded 7 of those 135 games (in 1910, ’14, ’15, ’17, ’19, ’24 and ’26), more than twice as many as the next highest total of three games recorded by Bob Feller (1940, ’46, ’48), Rip Sewell (1943, ’47, ’49), Chris Short (1965, ’68, ’70) and Rick Mahler (1982, ’86, ’87). Eddie Rommel‘s 7.2 IP in 1929 is the longest shutout relief appearance.

Hits

Bob Feller in 1940 has the only opening day no-hitter. There have been nine opening day one-hitters, the most recent by Feller’s teammate Bob Lemon in 1953.

Strikeouts

Camilo Pascual‘s 15 strikeouts in 1960 leads all opening day pitchers. Fourteen strikeouts by Randy Johnson (in 1993 and 1996) and Shane Bieber (2020) are the most when pitching fewer than 9 innings. Don Drysdale (1960) also recorded 14 strikeouts, the most when pitching more than 9 innings. Pitchers with 13+ strikeouts on opening day have posted an 8-0 record with 1 ND in those games, far better than the 4-6 record with 2 ND posted by pitchers with exactly 12 opening day strikeouts.

Game Score

Walter Johnson’s 111 game score in 15 IP in 1926 is easily the best among the highest opening day game scores. Lon Warneke‘s 96 total in 1934 is the highest in a 9 inning game, Mel Harder‘s 95 mark in 1935 is the best in a non-shutout performance, Jean Dubuc‘s 92 in 1914 the best in a non-CG effort, Ron Guidry‘s 87 in 1980 tops the field in non-CG games of 9 IP or less, and Eddie Rommel’s 86 in 1926 is the highest by a pitcher taking the loss.

Win Probability Added

Walter Johnson’s 1.552 WPA in his 15 IP game in 1926 tops the list of best opening day WPA games. The top 10 on that list are either shutouts or extra-inning CG. At no. 11 with 0.876 WPA is the A’s Al Williams in 1937, pitching 7.1 scoreless IP in relief to close out a 4-3 win against the Senators. Opposing starters Ron Guidry and Jon Matlack (1980) jointly share the best WPA by a starter in a non-CG effort, and Jack Kramer (1944) has the best starter WPA in less than 9 IP.

To close, here are the opening day team records, for one team and for both teams.


Opening Day Records (One Team)
Record Date Tm Opp Rslt
Batting Records
21 Runs1925-04-14CLESLBW 21-14
23 Hits2005-04-04CHCARIW 16-6
12 Extra-Base Hits1912-04-11NYGBROW 18-3
8 Home Runs2019-03-28LADARIW 12-5
37 Total Bases2019-03-28LADARIW 12-5
1996-04-02MILCALW 15-9
7 Stolen Bases1914-04-14NYYPHAW 8-2
Pitching Records
16 Innings Pitched2012-04-05TORCLEW 7-4
2012-04-05CLETORL 4-7
66 Batters Faced (most)1959-04-10DETCHWL 7-9
28 Batters Faced (fewest in 9 IP)2005-04-04CHWCLEW 1-0
1944-04-18STLPITW 2-0
1942-04-14SLBCHWW 3-0
1910-04-14CHWSLBW 3-0
1909-04-14DETCHWW 2-0
34 Baserunners Allowed (most)1925-04-14SLBCLEL 14-21
2 Baserunners Allowed (fewest in 9 IP)2007-04-02MILLADW 7-1
1935-04-16BOSNYYW 1-0
1915-04-14PHABOSW 2-0
1909-04-14DETCHWW 2-0
1906-04-12BSNBROW 2-0
17 Earned Runs Allowed1951-04-17SLBCHWL 3-17
13 Unearned Runs Allowed1925-04-14SLBCLEL 14-21
0 Hits Allowed (fewest in 9 IP)1940-04-16CLECHWW 1-0
21 Strikeouts1996-03-31SEACHWW 3-2
14 Walks Allowed1951-04-17SLBCHWL 3-17
9 Pitchers Used2018-03-29KCRCHWL 7-14
8 Pitchers Used (in Win)2022-04-08TORTEXW 10-8
2022-04-08NYYBOSW 6-5
2018-03-30PITDETW 13-10
2012-04-05TORCLEW 7-4
Defensive Records
10 Errors Made1925-04-14SLBCLEL 14-21
Provided by Stathead.com: View Stathead Tool Used
Generated 4/11/2022.

Opening Day Records (Both Teams)
Record Date Tm Opp Rslt
Batting Records
35 Runs 1925-04-14 CLE SLB W 21-14
18 Runs Winning Margin 1955-04-13 NYY WSH W 19-1
39 Hits 1937-04-21 SLB CHW W 15-10
1925-04-14 CLE SLB W 21-14
16 Extra-Base Hits 2006-04-03 STL PHI W 13-5
2005-04-04 COL SDP W 12-10
1936-04-14 CHC STL W 12-7
1929-04-18 BSN BRO W 13-12
1912-04-11 NYG BRO W 18-3
10 Home Runs 2019-03-28 LAD ARI W 12-5
64 Total Bases 1925-04-14 CLE SLB W 21-14
8 Stolen Bases 1914-04-14 NYY PHA W 8-2
Pitching Records
32 Innings Pitched 2012-04-05 TOR CLE W 7-4
127 Batters Faced (most) 2012-04-05 TOR CLE W 7-4
57 Batters Faced (fewest in 9 inning game) 2005-04-04 CHW CLE W 1-0
62 Baserunners Allowed (most) 1925-04-14 CLE SLB W 21-14
6 Baserunners Allowed (fewest in 9 inning game) 1909-04-14 DET CHW W 2-0
25 Earned Runs Allowed 2011-04-01 CHW CLE W 15-10
1950-04-18 NYY BOS W 15-10
1937-04-21 SLB CHW W 15-10
17 Unearned Runs Allowed 1925-04-14 CLE SLB W 21-14
4 Hits Allowed (fewest in 9 inning game) 1918-04-16 CIN PIT W 2-0
30 Strikeouts 2013-04-01 LAA CIN W 3-1
18 Walks Allowed 2012-04-05 TOR CLE W 7-4
1950-04-18 NYY BOS W 15-10
1937-04-19 PHA WSH W 4-3
1934-04-17 PHA NYY W 6-5
15 Pitchers Used 2022-04-08 NYY BOS W 6-5
2021-04-01 PIT CHC W 5-3
2020-07-24 OAK LAA W 7-3
2018-03-30 PIT DET W 13-10
Defensive Records
12 Errors Made 1925-04-14 CLE SLB W 21-14

Provided by Stathead.com: View Stathead Tool Used
Generated 4/11/2022.


So, what are your favorite opening day memories?

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Richard Chester
Richard Chester
7 months ago

I attended the game with the biggest opening day margin of victory. On 4-13-55 the Yankees beat the Senators 19-1. The weather was awful, cold, raw and drizzling. Only 11,251 fans attended. It was so cold that my friends and I ran up and down the bleacher steps between innings to keep warm. Starting pitcher Whitey Ford outhit the Senators 3-2. He also drove in 4 runs, tied for second best as a pitcher on opening day.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
7 months ago

Ford and Harry Coveleski (4/12/1916) are the only pitchers to outhit the opposing team on Opening Day.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
7 months ago

There is at least 1 other game in which the pitcher outhit the opposing team. On 4/14/1915 Herb Pennock of the A’s had 2 hits to the Red Sox 1 hit.

Doug
Doug
7 months ago

For those wondering, Van Mungo’s 5 RBI for Brooklyn against the Phillies in 1935 is the opening day record for a pitcher.

Richard, can you tell us if Detroit’s 9th inning comeback from 9 runs down in 1901 is the biggest on opening day? (the Yankees came back from 9 runs down to beat Boston in 1950, but that was after 5 innings)

Last edited 7 months ago by Doug
Richard Chester
Richard Chester
7 months ago
Reply to  Doug

As far as I can say that Detroit comeback in 1901 is the biggest. Incidentally in the 1950 Yankee-Red Sox game Billy Martin became he first player to get 2 hits in an inning in his debut game.

Paul E
Paul E
7 months ago

Looking at Matt Davidson’s career, it looks like he’s been trying to channel his inner JJoey Gallo

Doug
Doug
7 months ago
Reply to  Paul E

To your point, Davidson’s 443 PA in 2017 is the lowest total in any 165+ strikeout season. And, his 2018 season with 496 PA ranks 7th on that list.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
7 months ago

On opening day in 1939 the Yankees played the Red Sox. That game marked the only time Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig played together in the same game. Also it was the first time Joe DiMaggio played on opening day.

Doug
Doug
7 months ago

This is the 100th season since Gehrig’s debut. You can span those seasons in only four steps. Gehrig played against Williams Williams played against Jim Kaat Kaat played against Julio Franco Franco played against Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina Wainwright is the first pitcher aged 40+ to start for the Cardinals on opening day since Pete Alexander in 1929. Molina turns 40 on July 13th. If he and Wainwright start a game on or after that date, they would be just the fifth starting battery both aged 40+, after Orlando Hernandez/Sandy Alomar (2007), Tom Glavine/Sandy Alomar (2007), Jamie Moyer/Pat Borders… Read more »

Last edited 7 months ago by Doug
Richard Chester
Richard Chester
7 months ago
Reply to  Doug

Going in the other direction Gehrig played with Ty Cobb which goes back to 1905.

Doug
Doug
7 months ago

Cap Anson died 100 years ago today (the 14th), three days before his 70th birthday. I wonder if there’s a way to get from Anson to today in only 6 linkages. This chain gets to within 10 years of today.
1. Cap Anson (1871-1897) played against Honus Wagner (1897-1917)
2. Wagner played with Burleigh Grimes (1916-1934)
3. Grimes played against Dutch Leonard (1933-1953)
4. Leonard played against Willie Mays (1951-1973)
5. Mays played against Dave Winfield (1973-1995)
6. Winfield played against Andy Pettitte (1995-2013)

Paul E
Paul E
7 months ago
Reply to  Doug

Winfield also played against A-Rod….who played thru 2016.
Going in the other direction, Cobb may have played against Deacon McGuire – who started in 1884. What’s really odd is that Cy Young, in 1905, was the only AL pitcher over age 35. And, at age 38, only takes us back to 1890 for his debut at the ripe old age of 23.

Doug
Doug
7 months ago
Reply to  Paul E

I found the 6 steps. Kind of. Anson played against Bobby Wallace Wallace played against Waite Hoyt* Hoyt played against Enos Slaughter Slaughter played against Jim Kaat* Kaat played against Julio Franco Franco played against Molina, Pujols, Cabrera and Cano, and batted against Wainwright and Oliver Perez I put an asterisk beside pairs that didn’t play in the same game, but possibly or probably were on the same lineup card for one or more games. Wallace played for the Cardinals against the Giants in the game preceding Hoyt’s big league debut for the Giants against the Cardinals. Those two games… Read more »

Paul E
Paul E
7 months ago
Reply to  Doug

Doug,
Which begs the question, “Who the heck is Ken Wood?” You’ve got five Hall of Famers above along with seven ‘very goods”….

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
7 months ago
Reply to  Paul E

Wood was an outfielder for the Browns who had a very strong throwing arm.

Paul E
Paul E
7 months ago

Thanks

Doug
Doug
7 months ago

Despite the strong arm, Wood was not a good defensive outfielder. For his career, he had almost as many errors (26) as outfield assists (31).

Wood is one of 18 players (incl. 7 outfielders) since 1901 under -1.5 oWAR and under -1.5 dWAR in a 1000 PA career.

Doug
Doug
7 months ago
Reply to  Paul E

Just noticed that Willie Mays had 5 RBI for the Giants in that Slaughter-McCovey game. That makes it one of 107 games with players from both teams having 5+ RBI.

EF 700
EF 700
5 months ago
Reply to  Doug

On September 19, 2003, Jason Bay had 8 RBI in a losing effort.

John S
John S
7 months ago
Reply to  Doug

Per B_R:. Cap Anson played with George Decker on the 1897 Colts. Decker played with Frank McManus on the 1899 Senators. McManus played with Charley O’Leary on the 1904 Tigers. O’Leary played with Rollie Helmsley on the 1934 Browns. Helmsley played with Curt Simmons on the1947 Phillies. Simmons play with Steve Carlton on the 1965 Cardinals. Carlton played with Bobby Bonilla on the 1986 White Sox. Bonillà played with Albert Pujols on the 2001 Cardinals. Seven steps.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
7 months ago

Yogi Berra, Gary Carter and Todd Hundley each hit an opening day HR in 4 consecutive seasons.

Paul E
Paul E
7 months ago

The San Diego Padres have yet to commit an error thru 9 games. This can’t be a record, right? Any idea – most errorless games (by a team) to start a season?

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
7 months ago
Reply to  Paul E

If I have done my analysis correctly the most errorless games to start a season through 2021 is 9 by the Detroit Tigers in 2013.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
7 months ago
Reply to  Doug

Doug: I had to revise my spreadsheet and my search results now agree with yours. I was unaware that the search could be done with Stathead.

Paul E
Paul E
7 months ago

Richard, Doug,
Thanks for digging this stuff up. On another note, I saw an article detailing the dearth of home runs thus far….time to move the mound back another foot. 🙁

Doug
Doug
7 months ago

The Rockies and Blue Jays have recorded a save in each of their 6 wins so far this season. The record to start a season is a save in 11 straight wins by the 2005 Pirates.

Paul E
Paul E
7 months ago

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B3BHRRBI BBSO BA OBP SLG OPS

COL-Coors Fld 79 76 317 276 55 91 23 1 24 81 30 62 .330.407 .681 1.088

CJ Cron’s career split at Coors…..double it and you have a heck of a full season. Can we re-think/recalibrate/recalculate the Coors effect? This guy was a career 111OPS+ before Coors. He’s hitting like a prime Manny on steroids….just sayin’

Doug
Doug
7 months ago
Reply to  Paul E

As it happens, currently Cron’s .284 career OPS difference (i.e. Coors – Total) is the largest of any player with 300 career PA at Coors.

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Last edited 7 months ago by Doug
Paul E
Paul E
7 months ago
Reply to  Doug

I guess he’ll come down to earth….or start the 2022 All Star game. What else is amazing is that somehow, guys like Cron, have better than their average years playing in Tampa, too

Doug
Doug
7 months ago
Reply to  Paul E

Cron’s 5 HR in his team’s first 8 games of the season marks the 66th time that’s happened, by 64 players (Nelson Cruz has done it thrice).

Cron is the fifth Rockie to turn that trick, trailing only the Giants with 7 players (but only two of those since the Rockies were born).

Last edited 7 months ago by Doug
Doug
Doug
7 months ago

This season is still looking for its first CG, but Kevin Gausman on Thursday became the first starter to throw a pitch in the 9th inning.

2019 is the only season without a CG in a 9 inning game in every team’s first 15 games of the season. Last season with:
5 CG (across all teams) in first 15 games – 2018
10 – 2011
15 – 2005
20 – 1994
25 – 1993
50 – 1988
75 – 1981
100 – 1975

Last edited 7 months ago by Doug
Doug
Doug
7 months ago
Reply to  Doug

April 25th is the day, as Walker Buehler records the season’s first CG, a 3-hit shutout of the D-Backs. It was the Dodger’s 16th game, and Arizona’s 17th.

Also on April 25th was the season’s first game with both starters going 7 innings, between the Mets (game 18) & Cardinals (game 15), and between the Red Sox (game 17) & Blue Jays (game 17).

It’s been 6 years since the last time both starters recorded a CG in a 9-inning game. There were two such games that year (2016), and at least two in every prior season.

Last edited 7 months ago by Doug