wrigley stadium

Play Ball! Memorable Opening Days in Cubs and White Sox History

Published on April 7, 2022

The timing of Opening Day always brings optimism and the promise of rebirth, so here are some memorable home openers in the histories of both of Chicago’s beloved baseball clubs.

Last year was disappointing for Chicago baseball fans. On the strength of an intriguing blend of rookies and veterans with arguably the best starting rotation in the game, the White Sox went 93-69 winning the AL Central by 13 games. Unfortunately, they crashed out in the Division Series, losing to the Houston Astros in four games. Across town, the Cubs fared far worse. They had their worst season since 2013, finishing fourth in the NL Central with a 71-91 record. The North Siders further upset fans by trading away three much-loved players from the 2016 championship team, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, in the middle of the season.

As the cliché goes with the first weeks of spring, the timing of Opening Day always brings optimism and the promise of rebirth. Both teams have questions that need to be answered. Can the Cubs, led by newly acquired ace Marcus Stroman, quickly rebuild, and prove that 2021 was a fluke? Will Tony LaRussa be able to mold young talent like Eloy Jiménez, Yoan Mancada and Luis Robert into champions? We won’t know until all 162 games are in the books. Until then, here are some memorable home openers in the histories of both of Chicago’s beloved baseball clubs.

Cubs

April 4, 1994: Tuffy Has a Career Day

Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes hadn’t really distinguished himself in three and a half years with the Houston Astros and Kansas City Royals organizations when he was traded to the Cubs midway through the 1993 season. But the outfielder had shown enough to earn the leadoff spot for Opening Day against the New York Mets at Wrigley Field. Facing Dwight Gooden, one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball over the previous decade, Tuffy led off the game with a home run, then smacked two more in the third and fifth innings. Despite Rhodes’ excellence, the Cubs lost 12-8. Tuffy would never have a moment like that in Cubs blue again. The Cubs released him early in the 1995 season; but, Rhodes went on to a very successful 13-year career in Japan.

April 6, 1971: Jenkins Outduels Gibson

The Cubs opened their 1971 season against their arch-rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals. It was a classic pitchers’ duel, with the Cubs sending out Ferguson Jenkins to face the Cards’ ace, Bob Gibson. Both starters had each only given up one run through nine innings. Fergie retired the heart of the Cardinals’ lineup in order, in the top of the 10th. Then, with one out in the bottom half, “Sweet Swinging” Billy Williams sent a Gibson fastball into the right field bleachers for a 2-1 win. But the day belonged to Jenkins, who scattered only three hits, struck out seven and walked none in a masterful performance. Even with the extra inning, the game only lasted one hour and 58 minutes.

April 14, 1925: Old Pete Shines On and Off the Mound

Pitchers are rarely remembered for their hitting (and now that Major League Baseball has adopted the designated hitter rule for both leagues, they don’t have to try anymore). Grover Cleveland “Old Pete” Alexander, for example, only hit .209 and 11 home runs in his 20-year Hall of Fame career. But he went 3-for-3 during this game, with a single, a double and a home run. He was equally impressive on the mound, giving up only two runs (both unearned) in a 8-2 victory at Wrigley over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

April 8, 1969: Mr. Cub Wasn’t Done Yet

At the age of 38, Ernie Banks showed the baseball world he still had plenty of game left. The man known as “Mr. Cub,” became the first Black player in Cubs history when he was signed from the Kansas City Monarchs a team from the Negro American League. Banks went 3-for-5 with two home runs and five RBIs. But it took a two-run pinch-hit homer from veteran journeyman Willie Smith in the bottom of the 11th to defeat the Philadelphia Phillies, 7-6.

April 10, 2017: Rizzo Leads the Way

Anthony Rizzo’s single in the bottom of the ninth gave the Cubs a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in their first game ever at Wrigley as the defending World Series champions. But even if the Cubs had lost, the night would still be revered for what took place before the first pitch had even been thrown. The night started with banners raised for the 1907 and 1908 World Series victories and the 2016 National League pennant, featuring Cubs legends and Hall of Famers Ryne Sandberg, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams doing the honors. Then, each member of the current team, beginning with Rizzo, hoisted the flag commemorating the 2016 championship.

White Sox

April 14, 1981: Welcome, Pudge and Bull

A new era of White Sox baseball began when Jerry Reinsdorf purchased the team in January 1981. He quickly showed his commitment to bringing a winning team to the South Side by signing a pair of established stars, catcher Carlton “Pudge” Fisk and designated hitter Greg “Bull” Luzinski. After splitting two games in Boston, the two men made their Comiskey Park debuts against the Milwaukee Brewers. The Chicago-born Luzinski kicked off the scoring in the bottom of the third with a bases-loaded two-run single. In the next inning, Fisk hit a grand slam to bring the score to 7-0. The White Sox cruised to a 9-3 victory.

April 9, 1990: Comiskey’s Last Opener

In 1990, the White Sox said goodbye to their beloved 80-year old Comiskey Park. As construction on the new stadium next door took place, the team put together its best season since 1983, winning 94 games and finishing second in the AL West. Comiskey’s last Opening Day was a tense matchup against the Brewers, with the White Sox prevailing 2-1. But neither of Chicago’s runs came from base hits. In the bottom of the 5th, with the White Sox down 1-0, Scott Fletcher was at bat when a Chris Bosio wild pitch helped Ozzie Guillen score. Two innings later, Fletcher’s sacrifice fly to right brought home Sammy Sosa.

April 9, 1976: Veeck Brings the Spirit of ’76 to Chicago

Bill Veeck’s second tenure as White Sox owner began with the same flair for promotion he displayed in his first. To celebrate America’s bicentennial, White Sox leadership time took to the field for the national anthem in full “Spirit of ‘76” costumes, with Veeck playing the fife, manager Paul Richards carrying the flag, and business manager Rudie Schaffer banging a drum. The fun was followed by beloved knuckleballer Wilbur Wood pitching a six-hit shutout, with Jim Spencer hitting a homer and driving in three runs to clinch a 4-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals.

April 16, 1940: Feller’s No-No

The beginning of the 1940 season was a low point for the White Sox, but it was nonetheless a moment in baseball history that has yet to be repeated. Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians became the only pitcher in major league history to throw a no-hitter on Opening Day. Feller walked five and struck out eight on this particular day at Comiskey. The lone run came when Jeff Heath scored on Rollie Hemsley’s triple in the fourth. Feller would later admit that he intentionally walked Luke Appling with two outs in the ninth inning because the shortstop fouled off four pitches in a row (including one that might have been fair). The Hall of Fame pitcher also said the official scorer bailed him out by giving an error to centerfielder Roy Weatherly when the wind affected his ability to make a catch.

April 2, 2006: Joy on the South Side

In 2005, the White Sox ended an 88-year championship drought by sweeping the Houston Astros in four games. On Opening Day the following April, a video montage of highlights from the previous season was shared, along with the unveiling of four new banners hanging from the outfield light towers. The banners in right field were for the years when the Sox won their division and the American League pennant. Then, in left field, one banner was devoted to their two previous World Series victories, 1906 and 1917. Finally, the curtain came down on the fourth, dedicated to the 2005 team, as fireworks lit up the South Side sky. The ceremony may have helped propel the Sox to a 10-4 victory over the Cleveland Indians. And, in his very first game for the White Sox, Jim Thome blasted a two-run home run in the fourth to put the game out of reach.

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