Livescore Sunday, April 21
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The Sporting News turned 138 years old on March 17, which — with all due respect to a certain saint — we here refer to as Founders Day, an unofficial company holiday.

Now, 11 days later, “the Bible of Baseball” is ready to celebrate our 138th Opening Day.

In advance of 2024’s lid-lifter, we dug into The Sporting News Archives (more on that as 2024 develops) and mined a dozen assorted items related to the season’s first day as our gift to you on this unofficial national holiday.

Enjoy, Opening Day.

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Issue: May 10, 1886

WASHINGTON, May 8 — Editor Sporting News: The auspicious opening of the championship season on Thursday, when the home team wrested a victory from Harry Wright’s [Philadelphia] nine, has done much to increase the interest in the National sport in this city. Base ball is the chief topic of conversation on all sides, and as long as the Washingtons give creditable exhibitions the seating capacity of the grounds will be tested daily. It is very natural that admirers of the local team should resent the prophecies, so freely offered by base ball wiseacres in other towns, to the effect that the representatives of the Capitol City will not finish the season better than seventh, if they do not bring up the extreme rear, and a careful analysis of the club as at present constituted would seem to justify their faith in the ability of the Washingtons to win and hold a position much higher up the list.

POSTSCRIPT: The wiseacres were right. The Nationals would finish in last place at 28-92 (.233). 

Issue: April 25, 1903

Special to THE SPORTING NEWS.

NEW YORK, April 23 — President Ban Johnson, of the American League, called at National League headquarters and, left a check for $4,000 there for President [Harry] Pulliam, to satisfy the claim which the New York National League Club had on Edward Delahanty. Mr. Johnson when seen said: “I received the $4,000 from the management of our Washington Club and left it at Mr. Pulliam’s office, to be forwarded to the New York National League Club. Delahanty is now free and clear to fulfill his obligation to Washington, and he will play on the Washington team during the entire season, no matter how tempting offers may be made to secure his services elsewhere.” President Johnson went to Philadelphia to be present at the raising of the championship pennant which the Philadelphia Athletics won last year.

POSTSCRIPT: The Boston Americans, who became the Red Sox in 1912, dethroned the A’s in the American League and then defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5 games to 3, to win the first “World’s Series” in 1903. “Big Ed” Delahanty would play in only 42 games for the Senators in his final season. He was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945. Historical footnote: The formation of the American League in 1900, as a rival to the National League, was an idea widely promoted, if not conceived, by Al Spink, co-founder of The Sporting News.

President Harding and Babe Ruth on Opening Day 1923.

Issue: April 26, 1923

NEW YORK, N.Y., April 23 — Nearly 42,000 paid admissions and 14,000 dead-beats. When the magnificent opening of the Yankee Stadium had passed into baseball history last Wednesday, Business Manager Edward Grant Barrow of the New York American League club announced that 74,217 patrons had passed through the turnstiles and had seen the home team top the Boston Red Sox, 4 to 1. The crowd, clearly the greatest that ever saw a baseball game, either professional or amateur, exceeded the fondest hopes of the Yankee officials.

POSTSCRIPT: This story ran under the triple headline “Everything Combines To Make Yankees’ Opener Glorious; Greatest Crowd Ever At A Ball Game; Ruth Gives Occasion Climax by Hitting Homer That Rouses 74,000 to Frenzy of Enthusiasm”. “Some ball park,” Babe Ruth would say, according to The Sporting News, after his home run won the opener. Soon, TSN contributor and future Hall of Famer Fred Lieb would dub the more than $2 million cathedral of baseball “the House that Ruth Built.”

Issue: April 25, 1940

CLEVELAND, O. — Adding a page to pitching history and another citation to his growing list for eventual entry in the Hall of Fame, Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians hurled the second no-hit opening game ever recorded in the American League, April 16, when he held the White Sox without a safety at Chicago. The feat never has been performed in the National and the only previous performance of a like character in the American was turned in by Morris (Doc) Amole of Buffalo against Detroit, April 19, 1900.

POSTSCRIPT: Only 21 at the time, Feller was beginning his fifth major-league season. He led the AL in victories with 27 that year, the middle of a three-season run in which he topped AL pitchers in wins. Feller did, in fact, gain entry into the Hall of Fame, in 1962 — a class that included Jackie Robinson.

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Issue: April 23, 1947

By WARD MOREHOUSE

NEW YORK, N. Y. — “I’m really a home boy,” said Jackie Robinson as I called upon him two hours after he had finIshed the first major league game of his life. “Give me five years of this and that will be enough. If I can make enough money to build my own little place and give my boy a good education, everything will be all right. I realize I have been given a great opportunity, and I believe I can make it.”

POSTSCRIPT: Robinson broke MLB’s color barrier on Opening Day, April 15. Morehouse, a renowned columnist and theater critic, per a note accompanying this story, “was asked to get Jackie Robinson’s reactions after his first major league game.” Robinson would go on to bat .297 that year and win TSN’s and the BBWAA’s Rookie of the Year award after helping lead the Dodgers to the World Series.

Issue: April 19, 1969

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Togetherness … good old-fashioned togetherness. That’s the ingredient Gil Hodges believes he has blended into the Mets and the reason he predicts a record number of victories this year.

“We’ll win a minimum of 85 games,” Hodges declared boldly.

POSTSCRIPT: The Mets — 11-10 losers to the Expos on Opening Day and 3-7 through their first 10 games — finished with a flourish, going 23-7 in September to chase down the Cubs in the NL East. In the process, they outdid Hodges’ prediction. New York went 100-62, and beat the 109-win Orioles, 4 games to 1, to win the franchise’s first World Series. The “Miracle Mets” were born.

Issue: April 20, 1974

ATLANTA — When all has been said and done, when Hank Aaron has hit his last home run, they will remember the Braves’ star not merely as a powerful batter and an able all-round baseball player, but as a man. They’ll recall him as a warm, humble, prideful, conservative, private human being, not simply the player who broke the record that could not be broken, Babe Ruth’s career home-run mark.

After the Braves’ slugger tied Ruth’s record of 714 by belting a home run off the Reds’ Jack Billingham on his first swing in the season’s first game, Aaron cared not to dwell on his accomplishment because his club had lost the game.

“That took the edge off,” he said. “If we could have won, I would have felt like celebrating. If we had won, I would have popped open the champagne and we would have had a little celebration in the clubhouse.”

That tells you something about Aaron. His team comes first. So do his teammates.

POSTSCRIPT: Aaron tied Ruth on Opening Day, April 4 in Cincinnati. He and the Braves could pop the bubbly four days later after a 7-4 victory at home in which Aaron broke Ruth’s record with a fourth-inning home run off the Dodgers’ Al Downing that gave Hammerin’ Hank 715. He would hit 40 more before retiring after the 1976 season.

Ronald Reagan

Issue: April 16, 1984

BALTIMORE — The first home stand of the season for the defending world champion Baltimore Orioles was reduced to one game, which was marred by uncommon wildness by pitcher Scott McGregor and highlighted by a one-inning visit from President Ronald Reagan

The visitor from the White House caught the Orioles somewhat off guard (they had less than two hours notice of his intention to attend) and turned the home team’s dugout into a chaotic scene, players and coaches scurrying to make room for the Presidential entourage.

POSTSCRIPT: President Reagan would win reelection in November by a landslide over Walter Mondale. The Orioles would win 85 games in ’84, but that was only good for fifth place in the A.L. East. And speaking of landslides, the Tigers (104-58) ran away with the division, finishing 15 games ahead of the second-place Blue Jays.

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Issue: April 22, 1991

As fans spent the early days of the season buzzing about Rickey Henderson’s pursuit of Lou Brock, grizzled baseball men were more interested in the wicked foul ball that chased Henderson’s teammate, Oakland Athletics relief pitcher Gene Nelson, to the disabled list.

In Oakland’s quest for a fourth consecutive American League championship, Nelson’s broken pinkie figured to mean more than Henderson’s quest to break a record.

Henderson’s bid to succeed Brock as the career stolen-base king was made for TV. But those who follow the big picture paid more attention when a line drive by Minnesota’s Mike Pagliarulo fractured Nelson’s right little finger as Nelson sat in the dugout during the fifth inning of Oakland’s season opener last Tuesday.

POSTSCRIPT: Henderson would get his 939th stolen base on May 1, passing Brock. (Milestone note: Nolan Ryan threw his seventh and final no-hitter the same day.) Amazingly, the “Man of Steal” went on to play 12 more seasons and steal another 467 bases. The ’91 A’s? Their streak of three consecutive AL pennants (and World Series victories) was snapped, and, truth be told, not because of Nelson’s Opening Day injury. 

Issue: April 10, 2000

Mets pitcher Rick Reed says he “was on a mission,” and he wasn’t talking about his mission on the mound against the Cubs last Thursday night in the Tokyo Dome, a masterly eight innings of work in which he checked Chicago on four singles and one unearned run in the Mets’ 11-inning, 5-1 season-opening victory. 

Instead, Reed was talking about his quest for genuine Pokémon cards, the pocket-monster game for kids that originated in Japan a few years ago and still is all the rage, at least if the long line of Japanese children and their parents waiting for admission to the Pokémon Center in the heart of Tokyo earlier Thursday is any indication.

POSTSCRIPT: Reed would go 11-7 and get the Mets’ only World Series victory in their loss to the Yankees. He was out of baseball by 2003. Pokémon, meanwhile, remains all the rage. 

Issue: April 15, 2005

Ah, yes, Opening Day (note: reverential capital letters). It’s the time of year when buds blossom, grass grows and, for baseball fans everywhere, hope springs eternal. Eternity — wait, doesn’t that describe the baseball season?

They say the hockey season is long, but the people who say that don’t like hockey to begin with and are just crabby. C’mon. What pro season, other than the NFL’s, isn’t too long. Yet everyone rhapsodizes about baseball’s magic, about how the glorious national pastime epitomizes sports in their purest sense and should last forever and ever, Kevin Costner and Ray Liotta shagging flies in an eternal dusk orange day.

POSTSCRIPT: There comes a time when you have to say that not everyone loves baseball, that the NFL is the national pastime now (though, yes, some say the NFL’s season is too long now, too). Even the Bible of Baseball is self-aware enough to poke a little tongue-in-cheek fun at the game on Opening Day.

Issue: April 14, 2008

Stadium vendors don’t hawk optimism in April because baseball fans bring it from home by the backpackful.

They believe.

POSTSCRIPT: The Phillies, who had won just one title, way back in 1980, and the Rays, who’d dropped the Devil that year and would get their first taste of heaven, a.k.a., the postseason, would meet in the 2008 World Series. So, yeah, sometimes that Opening Day optimism comes to fruition. The Phillies won the crown in ’08 and haven’t since; the Rays remain without a championship. Maybe this year.

Play ball!

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