Twenty-five years ago today, George Bell made history with one of the greatest performances in the history of Opening Day.
It was April 4, 1988, and Bell wasn’t merely the star left fielder for the Toronto Blue Jays, he was also the defending AL MVP. Sabermetric types don’t think much of Bell’s winning that award over the more well-rounded Alan Trammell in 1987, but it’s easy to see what caught the voters’ attention: his giant, gaudy power numbers.
He blasted 47 homers that season, more than any other American Leaguer since the 1960s (though not enough to lead the league, as a rookie named Mark McGwire blasted 49) alongside a league-topping 134 RBIs (the second-most by any AL player in the 1980s to that point).
After a season like that, what would Bell do for an encore? After Opening Day 1988, it looked like the sky was the limit.
In his first trip to the plate of the new season, Bell faced star Royals pitcher Bret Saberhagen and promptly hit one out of the park to lead off the second inning. Yeah, that’s a nice start to the season.
Two innings later Bell did it again, this time a two-run bomb with one out. He clearly had Saberhagen’s number. Fans could be forgiven for wondering if Bell would top himself and hit 50 dingers on the year.
Or not. In the sixth, Saberhagen finally won a battle, getting Bell to fly out harmlessly to left, but the game wasn’t over yet. In the eighth, with Saberhagen still pitching, Bell came to the plate one last time and yet again smashed one over the fence.
With that swing, Bell had made history. Many had blasted three homers—or even four—in one game before, but none had ever done it on Opening Day. Since then, it’s been done twice, by Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes and Dmitri Young, but Bell was the first.
Some fans must have left the stadium dreaming of a 60-homer season from the bigger slugger. Sure it was a tall order, but then again, he was on pace for 486. Predictably, Bell fell short. In fact, while he did a nice job hitting all month long, including a 5-for-5 performance in the second game of the season, Bell ended April with just four homers, his three on Opening Day plus one more. He finished the year with 24 long balls and for the rest of his career never rose above the mid-20s in homers.
But no one will ever be able to erase what Bell did 25 years ago today when he hit three home runs on Opening Day for Toronto.
Aside from that many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
1,000 days since Seattle trades Cliff Lee to Texas. This turns out to be a bad idea.
2,000 days since the Indians beat the Red Sox, 13-6 in 11 innings, in Game Two of the ALCS. That was a mighty nice top of the 11th for Cleveland.
2,000 days since the Reds hire Dusty Baker as their manager.
5,000 days since the first ever Turn Ahead the Clock Night, in which the Pirates and Mets wear ghastly “futuristic” uniforms.
5,000 days since Fred McGriff gets his 2,000th career hit.
6,000 days since the Phillies name Terry Francona their new manager. It’s his first big league gig as skipper.
8,000 days since Roberto Alomar enjoys the first of his 13 career multi-home run games. Its also his best career WPA game: 1.037 as both his homers are clutch, late ones for Toronto in their 5-3, extra-inning loss to the White Sox.
8,000 days since photographers catch Jose Canseco leaving Madonna’s apartment.
1888 Hall of Fame superstar Tris Speaker is born.
1910 Joe Vosmik, left fielder, is born.
1910 The Giants trade veteran player Buck Herzog to the Braves.
1911 Auto maker Hugh Chalmers agrees to give the MVP of each league a new car.
1916 Mickey Owen, catcher, is born.
1924 George Wood, 1880s outfielder, dies.
1924 Gil Hodges, star first baseman for the 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers, is born.
1937 Washington purchases former star outfielder Al Simmons from Detroit for $15,000.
1938 Future baseball commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti is born.
1942 Jim Fregosi, star infielder-turned-manager, is born.
1943 Mike Epstein is born. He’ll become a slugging first baseman nicknamed SuperJew.
1948 Aging baseball lifers Connie Mack and Clark Griffith stage a foot race from third base to home plate before today’s A’s-Senators game. They both enter the field in an ambulance. The race ends in a tie.
1949 George Suggs, pitcher, dies.
1953 The Phillies release lefty swingman Ken Heintzelman.
1956 Tom Herr, second baseman for the 1980s Runnin’ Redbirds teams, is born.
1960 The White Sox trade Earl Battey, Don Mincher and $150,000 to Washington for Roy Sievers. Battey and Mincher will be two of five future All-Stars the White Sox trade away in the 1959-60 offseason.
1965 Baltimore trades pitcher Mike McCormick to Washington.
1974 The Angels purchase starting pitcher Bill Stoneman from Montreal.
1974 Jim Sundberg makes his big league debut.
1974 Pete Rose has his greatest game ever, according to WPA. He’s 3-for-5 with a walk, two doubles, three runs, and an RBI for 1.003 WPA in the Reds’ 7-6 win over Atlanta.
1975 The Pirates release aging infielder Tony LaRussa, who will soon switch to managing.
1975 Scott Rolen, star third baseman, is born.
1977 The Angels trade Mike Easler to Pittsburgh, where he’ll play for several years.
1978 The A’s trade catcher Manny Sanguillen to the Pirates, the team he starred for earlier in the 1970s.
1978 Toronto purchases slugger John Mayberry from the Royals.
1980 Dave Kingman, long reputed to be a jerk, dumps a large plastic bucket full of ice water on a reporter.
1984 Bret Saberhagen makes a rocky big league debut. Entering in relief with runners on, his first pitch is a disaster. The catcher calls for a pitch out, and the young Saberhagen throws him a curve. The catcher isn’t expecting that and misses it, the ball nearly hits the umpire, and it rolls to the backstop. Oops.
1987 The Indians sign free agent pitcher Steve Carlton, who is in the final, sad stage of his great career.
1988 Roger Clemens balks three times in one game. It sets the tone for 1988, the Year of the Balk, as umpires have been told to crack down on it.
1989 Art Howe manages his first big league game.
1989 Joe Girardi makes his big league debut.
1994 Jacobs Field hosts its first real baseball game.
1994 The good Alex Gonzalez makes his big league debut.
1994 Tuffy Rhodes, of all people, hits three home runs on Opening Day.
1995 MLB owners try to stay Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s injunction. The Court of Appeals denies the attempted stay.
1996 The Reds select Mike Remlinger off waivers from the Royals.
1998 In the fourth St. Louis Cardinals game of the year, Mark McGwire hits home run No. 4, one in each game. He’s just the second person to do that, following Willie Mays.
1999 The Indians sign free agent pitcher and former fireballing star Mark Langston.
1999 Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn dies.
1999 In a first for Major League Baseball, a team has its Opening Day in Mexico. That’s where the San Diego Padres host the Colorado Rockies.
2000 Rafael Furcal makes his big league debut.
2001 Carlos Delgado hits three home runs in one game for the third time in his career.
2001 Hideo Nomo throws a no-hitter.
2003 Sammy Sosa smashes his 500th career home run.
2003 Chase Utley makes his big league debut.
2005 Dmitri Young hits three home run on Opening Day. Bell, Rhodes, and Young are the only ones to ever do it, and they all do it on April 4.
2006 ESPN begins its new reality show, Bonds on Bonds. It stinks.
2006 James Loney makes his big league debut.
2007 Oakland frees Durazo, releasing slugger Erubiel Durazo.
2007 Closer Joakim Soria makes his big league debut.
2012 It’s the first game at the new Miami ballpark, and St. Louis tops the Marlins with Kyle Lohse flirting with a no-hitter. The ceremonial first pitch is thrown by a badly incapacitated Muhammad Ali. It’s more depressing than anything.