1st Games for 15 Baseball Favorites

Aaron and DiMaggio: Two of the 15 Greats on My List.

Aaron and DiMaggio: Two of the 15 Greats on My List.

This morning I got to thinking about the big league batters that mattered the most to me when I was both a kid and growing into a young man – and still trying to play baseball at some low-level of amateur competition. I stopped when my list reached the name of someone who was nearly my age contemporary. In my case, that guy happened to be Frank Robinson, who was breaking into the big leagues at age 20 in 1956, the same year that I was 18 and graduating from high school.

When I suddenly stopped, I had a list of 15 names that almost any group of long time fans could have derived in the same five minutes time, given a difference here and there. Without conscious intention, I had come up with a list of names that shared one aspect in common. – They are all members of the Baseball of Fame. As a little exercise in leisurely research, I decided to go to Baseball Almanac and do an uncomplicated documentation of how each of these fifteen greater hitters did in their very first MLB games. Baseball Almanac is good for that sort of quick snapshot work, although, in devising my table for recording the data, I miscalculated. Baseball Almanac box scores don’t give us individual game stats on batter walks and strikeouts. As a result, those columns remain blank in my table, but it is still interesting to review how they each performed in their first chances as big league batters.

For your entertainment and/or edification, here’s how my “fine fifteen” made out individually and collectively in this chronological break=in date table of major hitting stats.

I think you will be able to easily follow who they are from the brevity names I’ve assigned to each for the sake of making this table work. If not, I spell out their names after the table presentation for the sake of bringing other first game facts to light. It helps to always remember that baseball, like life, is a long-season, Any of us can have good or bad time, but it’s how we grow from adversity over time that really determines the quality of our lives.

Here’s the first game day performance picture for each of 15 men who eventually each played good enough to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown:

PLAYER AGE 1st Game AB R H RBI 2B 3B HR BB SO BA
Joe D 21 5/3/36 6 3 3 1 0 1 0 .500
Ted W 20 4/20/39 4 0 1 0 1 0 0 .250
Stan M 20 9/17/41 4 0 2 2 1 0 0 .500
Ralph K 23 4/16/46 4 0 1 0 0 0 0 .250
Jackie 28 4/15/47 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 .000
Duke 20 4/17/47 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 .500
Larry D 23 7/05/47 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000
Monte I 30 7/08/49 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000
Mickey 19 4/17/51 4 1 1 1 0 0 0 .250
Willie 20 5/25/51 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 ,000
Eddie M 20 4/15/52 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000
Ernie B 22 9/17/53 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 .000
Hank A 20 4/13/54 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000
Roberto 20 4/17/55 4 1 1 0 0 0 0 .250
Frank R 20 4/17/56 3 0 2 0 1 0 0 .667
TOTALS 51 8 12 4 3 1 0 .235

(1) Joe DiMaggio played left field and was a slugfest participant as the Yankees drubbed the Browns at Yankee Stadium with 17 hits for a 14-5 win.

(2)  Ted Williams was in the lineup in right field for the Red Sox when they opened the season with a 2-0 loss to New York in Yankee Stadium. Boston had 7 hits and Teddy’s double off Red Ruffing was one of them.

(3)  Stan Musial played right field in the second game of a Sportsman’s Park double-header in which the Cardinals edged the Boston Braves, 3-2. Stan’s first hit came off Jim Tobin and it was a double that produced the two-runs needed to produce the one-run difference the Cards needed for the win.

(4) Ralph Kiner broke in as a center fielder for the Pirates on Opening Day in 1946 against the home team Cardinals. The Pirates won, 6-4, but it is unclear as to whom Young Ralph got his first league hit among the several pitchers he faced.

(5)  Jackie Robinson went hitless in what has to be the most publicized first big league game for any player in baseball history. The home Dodgers beat the Braves, 6-4, with Robinson scoring one of the Brooklyn runs. Jackie played most of the game at 1st base, but was relieved late by Howie Schultz.

(6)  Duke Snider was the 3rd Brooklyn left fielder of the day, but he arrived in time to get a single for his first MLB hit and also to score a run that added to the 12-6 final score that favored the Dodgers. Again, no ready information this morning reveals which of several Braves pitchers yielded his first hit.

(7)  Larry Doby was a 7th inning pinch hitter for Indians’ reliever Bryan Stephens in a game at Chicago, That was it for Larry D. as he was retired and the White Sox went on to defeat Cleveland, 6-5.

(8)  Monte Irvin was called upon to pinch hit for Giants starter Clint Hartung of the Giants in the top of the eighth in a game at Ebbets Field his club would lose to the Dodgers, 4-3. Monte probably reached base on a walk, but he could have received a no time at bat charge in one of the three other ways it works to that end, but the box score does not provide us with the whole game story to make that clear.

(9)  Mickey Mantle played right field in his first big league game as the great Joe D. still owned center in his last MLB season.  No clarity again on the first hit pitcher, but Mantle’s home team Yankees defeated the Red Sox on Opening Day.

(10)               Willie Mays was off to his now famous inauspicious start, but he made for it in time. Playing center field on the road in Philadelphia, Willie’s Giants did beat the Giants, 8-5, in MLB debut game.

(11)               Eddie Mathews played 3rd base (where else?) in his Season Opener debut for the Boston Braves, but couldn’t scratch a hit off Preacher Roe of the visiting Brooklyn Dodgers, who beat Warren Spahn, 3-2, to start the season.

(12)               Ernie Banks broke in at shortstop for the Cubs with a hitless performance that would not be the style of his always upbeat career.

(13)               Hank Aaron’s 2 for 4 Opening Day got him off to a good start, but his club lost, 9-8, to the home town Reds.

(14)               Roberto Clemente got his first MLB hit off winning pitcher Johnny Podres of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the first game of a double-header, 10-3.

(15)               Frank Robinson started in left field on Opening Day with a 2 for 3 day that included a double, but no runs or rbi’s.

In general, it is interesting to note that these 15 players were not the .235 average of their collective first game performance. These stars also were mostly power hitters, who would each recover from their first-game goose eggs on home runs to bash hundreds of home runs each over the course of their careers. Can you even imagine what these guys would be worth on today’s MLB market?

The thought chills all reason.

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One Response to “1st Games for 15 Baseball Favorites”

  1. Randy Says:

    On the local scene, one of the first-ever two-sport greats from Greater Houston, Sealy’s Ernie Koy, Sr. hit a home run in hist first major league at bat for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1938. He was an all-SWC performer in baseball and as a fullback in football for University of Texas in the early 1930’s.

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