Fifty years ago today was a big day in the history of MLB debuts:
First off, an entire team debuted: The Angels. They won their franchise opener 7-2 over the Orioles. To date, it’s the only time their cumulative franchise record has ever been over .500. The American League’s other expansion franchise, the new Washington Senators, had its debut the day before.
While the new Senators didn’t began fifty years ago today, the old Washington Senators began their new life on April 11, 1961, playing in a new home town with a new nickname, the Minnesota Twins. Like the Angels, they also found success, beating the Yankees 6-0 in Yankee Stadium.
Speaking of new starts, that game marked the debut of New York’s post-Casey Stengel era, as longtime Yankee coach Ralph Houk filled out his first lineup card that day. Though that particular game didn’t work out for Houk’s squad, they won their next five and were never below .500 again all year. In fact, he wouldn’t be under .500 in any season as manager again until 1966, as he began a 21-year, 3,000-plus game career as big league manager that day.
Houk’s 1961 Yankees won 109 games in the regular season and triumphed in the World Series in five games, and they repeated as world champions in 1962. Houk is still the only manager to win the World Series in both of his first two full seasons, though he never won another.
That 1962 World Series was a hard-fought seven game contest over the Giants. Their manager, Alvin Dark, also debuted in the dugout exactly 50 years ago today. Like Houk, the first game was a loss, though it was a very exciting game. At home against the visiting Pirates, the Giants blew leads of 3-0 and 6-3 to lose 8-7. The key moment came in the top of the ninth when Pittsburgh’s Bill Virdon crushed a three-run homer with two outs to give the Pirates their first and only lead of the day.
Franchises and managers weren’t the only creatures debuting a half-century ago today: So did a first-ballot Hall of Famer. In left field for the Boston Red Sox, Carl Yastrzemski first took the field. He hit the ground running, singling in his first major league plate appearance, beginning a 23-year run with the Red Sox. That’s an even longer tenure with the team than the man Yaz replaced in left: Ted Williams. Aside from Teddy Ballgame’s years serving in the military, one of those two would be on the squad all the time from the 1930s to the 1980s.
Lastly, though Yaz was the most famous player to debut on April 11, 1961, he wasn’t the only newbie who went on to have his number retired. In the very same game Yaz debuted, another person began his tenure in the majors. The opposing Kansas City A’s (who beat Boston 5-2 that day), had a new shortstop that day: Dick Howser.
OK, fine, Howser’s number was retired by a completely different franchise, the Royals, that didn’t exist in 1961, and he was honored as a manager, not as a player. (Also, his number retirement was partially due to his success and partially because he died young of brain cancer). Still, Howser did debut on this day. As an added bonus, the debut was for the same city in which that he later managed, too.
Mighty nice day, that Opening Day 1961.
Here are some “day-versaries” occurring today:
5,000 days ago, Curt Schilling stole the only base of his career
5,000 days ago, Todd Helton made his MLB debut
20,000 days ago, Tommy Lasorda played his last MLB game
20,000 days ago, former White Sox great Billy Pierce allowed a personal-high 15 hits in one game: 5.2 IP, 15 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 3 K. Game Score: 14.
Finally, here are some traditional anniversaries in the baseball world today:
1852: Cap Anson is born.
1891: MLB debut for Hall of Famer Clark Griffith.
1907: Giants suffer baseball’s only Opening Day forfeit when fans throw snowballs on the field during game against the Phillies.
1907: Hughie Jennings makes his managerial debut. He’ll win pennants in each of his first three seasons but never win a World Series.
1913: Cubs sell Jimmy Sheckard to the Reds. His full name was James Samuel Tilden Sheckard, so I’m betting his parents voted Democratic in the 1870s.
1928: Burt Shotton manages his first game. He’ll manage on and off, mostly off, for over 20 years.
1932: Cardinals trade Chick Hafey to the Reds.
1953: Kid Nichols dies.
1954: Cardinals trade Enos Slaughter to the Yanks for Bill Virdon and two others.
1959: Early Wynn notches his 250th victory.
1959: Indians trade Mickey Vernon to the Brewers.
1959: Mets play their first game—and lose, of course.
1963: Warren Spahn passes Eddie Plank as the all-time winningest lefty, with 328 wins.
1964: Bret Saberhagen is born.
1966: Emmett Ashford becomes baseball’s first black umpire.
1967: MLB debuts for Rod Carew and Joe Rudi.
1968: Billy Williams hits two homers on the day. The second is the 200th of his career blast.
1971: Here’s a random one: On this day, Brooks Robinson came to the plate three times with the bases loaded and failed to drive in a single run. He had a pair of two-out flyouts and then whiffed.
1972: Jason Varitek is born.
1973: Nolan Ryan‘s 50th win.
1975: Hank Aaron returns to Milwaukee, now as a Brewer.
1977: Nolan Ryan issues his only career walk-off walk. A free pass to Mitchell Page with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth gives the A’s a 3-2 win over California.
1977: Toby Harrah hits a rare walk-off inside-the-park HR.
1980; According to WPA, the best game ever by any Seattle Mariners hitter comes this day. Rod Craig posted a WPA of 0.959 by going 3-for-5 with a double, homer, a walk and five RBIs in a 10-7 loss to Toronto. Yes, despite his heroics, the Mariners lost anyway.
1980: For the first time in over 200 starts, Fergie Jenkins walks the first batter of the game. He last did it on September 30, 1973.
1980: Mark Teixeira is born. I really wish Hank Blalock blossomed and Teixeira flamed out, just for the self-serving reason that Blalock is much easier to spell.
1980: MLB debut: Dave Smith, closer.
1985: Dave Kingman hits a ball that hits a roof support wire in the Kingdome. It’s caught for an out.
1986: Wild Giants-Dodgers game. Giants led 8-1 during the seventh inning stretch only to see LA tie it with four in the bottom of the seventh and three in the bottom of the ninth. It’s all for naught as the Giants win 9-8 in 12 innings.
1990: No-hitter thrown by two pitchers: Mark Langston (7 IP) and Mike Witt (2 IP).
1992: Carlos Baerga gets six hits in a 19-inning game for Cleveland.
1996: Roger Clemens‘s 100th loss. His record: 182-100. For the rest of his career, he’ll be 172-84, which is an even better winning percentage.
1996: Greg Maddux loses, ending a stretch of 18 straight road wins, during which time he’d posted a 0.99 ERA in 20 road starts.
2000: New ballparks open in Houston, San Francisco, and Detroit.
2003: According to WPA, this is the best day of Jeff Kent‘s career: 0.773 WPA by going 1-for-4 with a run and two RBI in 3-2 victory for his Astros over the Cardinals. As you can probably guess, it was a big clutch homer. Down 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, he hit a two-run, walk-off homer off Matt Morris. That homer by itself had a WPA value of 0.897.
2004: Mike Mussina wins his 200th game to run his record to 200-112.
2006: WPA’s favorite Derek Jeter game. Like the Kent game, it was all thanks to one big home run. A bomb with two on and two out in the bottom of the eight when the Yanks trailed by one had an WPA value of 0.621. Jeter’s entire game had a WPA value of 0.536.
2007: Alex Rodriguez hits an extra-base hit in his 11th straight game. In that span, he’s 17-for-40 with six doubles and seven homers. His slugging percentage is 1.100.
2009: Albert Pujols hits his seventh career grand slam. He’ll have four more by the time the year is over. He also ties a personal high with seven RBI in the game, as he hit two homers on the day.
2010: David Murphy reaches base twice in one game via catcher’s interference. This is only the sixth time that’s happened since 1920.