500 HRC Members Fired Away On Opening Day
Written by Jim Rednour   
Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Major League Baseball’s Opening Day is one of the most anticipated days of the year, with fans in cities all over the nation, and around the world, sitting on the edge of their seat in anticipation of spectacular exploits and amazing performances to come during the spanking new season.  And no one delivered more excitement on Opening Day than the members of The 500 Home Run Club®.

Ted Williams Was Splendid On Opening Day

The “Splendid Splinter” Ted Williams was considered by many to be the best pure hitter of all time, and even more people consider him the best Opening Day hitter who ever lived. 

“Teddy Ballgame” dazzled crowds during 14 Opening Day games, hitting .449 with three home runs and 14 RBIs. He delivered at least one hit in every Opening Day game he appeared in.  In addition to three first-day dingers he tallied seven doubles, one triple, 14 RBIs and nine runs scored.

Frank Robinson Was The King of Opening Day

While three 500 Home Run Club LLC members (Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Eddie Mathews) each blasted seven Opening Day homers, no batter ever hit as many home runs on Opening Day as their fellow club member Frank Robinson. The Hall of Fame outfielder belted eight career home runs on the first day of the season, three for Cincinnati, three for Baltimore, one for California, and one for Cleveland.

In addition to his record for most Opening Day homers, no other batter has equaled Robinson's feat of hitting Opening Day homers for four different teams.  Robinson's final Opening Day homer, for Cleveland on April 8, 1975, came as a player/manager in his first at-bat in that role, as he became the first African-American manager in major league history.

Eddie Mathews Hits Two in Opener – Twice

Eddie Mathews was one of only two players have had two two-homer games in season openers – and he achieved this feat on two separate occasions.  Mathews hit two home runs for Milwaukee when it opened the season at Cincinnati on April 13, 1954 and against Pittsburgh on April 15, 1958.

Jim Thome Comes Up Big on Opening Day 2008

“Big” Jim Thome came up huge for the White Sox on March 31, 2008, when he smashed two long balls off Cleveland Indian’s Ace C.C. Sabathia, the reigning American League Cy Young winner.  Before Jim Thome's power surge, the last White Sox player to hit two home runs on Opening Day was Sammy Sosa in 1991.  (see 600 HRC Members Sizzled on Opening Day.)

Mantle’s Opening Day Quartet

Mickey Mantle hit four opening day homers.  After hitting a game winning homer on Opening Day April 13, 1955, Mickey started the following year with a bang by blasting two tremendous Opening Day homers against the Washington Senators at Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC. on April 17, 1956. 

President Eisenhower cheered Mickey from his seat behind the Senators dugout. Both homers are searing line drives that go over 500 feet, each clearing the 31-foot wall in centerfield. The first landed atop a house across from the park and the second hit a clump of trees and rolled onto Fifth Street. Only Babe Ruth had ever hit a ball into the trees outside Griffith Stadium.
April 10, 1962: Mickey hits his last Opening Day home run on April 10, 1962. It flew some 425 feet into the right-centerfield bleachers at Yankee Stadium and the Yankees nipped Baltimore 7-6.

Mike Schmidt’s Opening Day Walk-Off

On Opening Day 1974. with the Phillies trailing 4-3 In the bottom of the ninth inning, 500 Home Run Club member Mike Schmidt hit a walk-off home run to win the game against Tug McGraw of the New York Mets. He only hit two more home runs in April, but flirted with .300 all season, finishing at .282 with the first of three consecutive home run championships.

Mel Ott Final Career Homer Came on Opening Day

The final home run of 500 HRC Club member Mel Ott's career (511) came in an opening day game on April 6, 1946 against the Phillies at the Polo Grounds. Ott, the Giants' player-manager, hit a first-inning homer in an 8-4 New York win. His 511 homers were a National League record for 20 years until Willie Mays broke it in 1966.

Big Mac Attacks Opening Day

When 500 Home Run Club member Mark McGwire hit a grand slam against the Dodgers to win the first game of the 1998 season, he became the first Cardinal to hit a grand slam on opening day in the club's 107-year history.  McGwire then hit homers for four straight games as he began his attack of the record books.  He slugged 27 homers by the end of May and had 50 on August 20; to become the first player in baseball history to hit 50 in 3 straight years. He smashed all records as he hit an amazing 70 for the year.

Yankees Honor Mantle and Maris at Home Opener, but Jackson Steals the Show

In what was supposed to be a day to honor the return of 500 Home Run Club members Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris—the M & M boys, the heroics of a rising Yankee star (and eventual 500 Home Run Club member) Reggie Jackson and a certain candy bar bearing his name – captured the headlines.  

The good folks at Standard Brands Confectionary came up with the idea of handing out free REGGIE! Candy bars to fans attending the home opener of Reggie Jackson’s second season with the Yankees.   The candy itself wasn't half bad; a 25-cent concoction of chocolate, peanuts and corn syrup, wrapped in a square, orange little package with a picture of Jackson in mid-swing on the front.

In the first inning, with two men on, Jackson pumped a knuckleball that didn't knuckle over the fence in deep right-center field.  As soon as it was out of the park, while Reggie was still making his way around the bases, the first bars began to come down. They kept coming for the next five minutes; a rain of orange-and-blue squares, covering the grass in right and left fields—while the big crowd stood and roared, and chanted, ''Reggie! Reggie!'' The grounds crew had it cleaned up in no time, and the Yanks breezed to a 4-2.

Reggie, with his usual showman's eye, took it all in stride. ''I figured they'd be coming out on the field,'' he said after the game. ''I just appreciated it. It was a nice gesture.”