CINCINNATI, OH – Opening Day in baseball is special. Hope springs eternal. Every fan can dream that their team, no matter how poorly they’ve played in seasons past, will turn into the 1969 Miracle Mets. Reality usually kicks in by tax day for most of these fans but on Opening Day all clubs smell like a rose.
Baseball is all about tradition and many of these traditions were born on Opening Day. The Cincinnati Reds traditionally opened every baseball season at home one day before any other team was able to host a game. This was in deference to the Cincinnati Red Stocking’s standing as the original base ball club. This tradition ran continuously for 114 years from 1876-1989. In 1990 this practice was unceremoniously discontinued when they were forced to play on the road. Strangely enough the Reds went on to win the World Series that season so maybe the time was right for them to give up that honor.
I’d like to highlight some other baseball traditions that began on Opening Day. Some of these are still part of the game today and some unfortunately never caught on:
First Pitch – In 1910 President Taft begins a tradition on Opening Day by throwing out the first pitch. Every President since except Jimmy Carter has thrown at least one ceremonial first ball for Opening Day, the All-Star Game or the World Series. Carter did redeem himself when he boycotted the 1980 Olympics because the Russians were going to let Carl Lewis throw out the first pitch.
Not So Grand Opening – Bill Veeck famously trotted out 3′ 7″ Eddie Gaedel to bat in a game, but that wasn’t the only time Veeck employed Gaedel. On Opening Day in 1960 Veeck hired Gaedel and five other midgets to work as vendors in the box seats. Veeck claimed that there were numerous complaints the previous season of vendors blocking patrons views so he came up with this creative solution. Veeck himself decided they should sell “little shorty beers, little cocktail wieners and other midget sized edibles”. Makes nothing but sense to me.
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Baseball’s Debt To Cricket – On April 11, 1907,NY Giants Catcher Roger Bresnahan played the Opening Day game wearing leg guards usually used in cricket. Other catchers followed Bresnahanâ€™s lead and shin guards became standard. Bresnahan was later thrown out of baseball when he tried to install another Cricket tradition – afternoon tea. Bresnahan brought a tea cart out to home plate at the bottom of the seventh inning and refused to continue play until the home plate umpire and the opposing batter enjoyed a spot of tea with him. They had to carry him out on a stretcher and thus the 7th inning stretch was born.
Greatest Opening Day Streak – Some say Opening Day’s greatest streak is Robin Roberts 12 consecutive starts, while others say it is Ted Williams getting a hit all 14 Opening Day games he played in. I beg to differ. In Comiskey Park on Opening Day 1974 the game had to be stopped several times due to streakers crossing the field. One guy streaked wearing only a White Sox batting helmet. A well endowed topless woman in the stands caused a near riot when angry patrons pelted security guards who were trying to escort her out of the stadium. I was hoping to see one of The Matts streaking across Shea Shack yesterday wearing only a blue and orange wig but alas it was not to be.
Please let me know if there are some good Opening Day traditions I failed to mention. I’m sure Angry Ward’s column tomorrow will have a first hand report on yesterday’s Opening Day festivities (and Met victory) at Shea Shack.