It was only fitting, perhaps, that the final Opening Day in old Yankee Stadium was rained out March 31, 2008, and postponed until April 1. Reggie Jackson threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Tuesday night game, George Steinbrenner was the first of 81 (sometimes) celebrities to advance the home games left counter from 81 to 80 in the fifth inning, and the Yanks prevailed 3-2 over Toronto in a scintillating pitchers’ duel between Roy Halladay and Chien-Ming Wang. That Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera threw scoreless eighth and ninth innings, respectively, to preserve the win was not surprising, but two other things were: First, Melky Cabrera came through with a tying home run in the sixth inning; then, Jason Giambi contributed greatly to the winning rally in the seventh with a cunning baserunning move, diving to the ground to avoid a tag and then scrambling to second just in time to thwart a double play attempt that put Alex Rodriguez at third base with one out. DH Hideki Matsui delivered the run with a fielder’s choice ground ball.
Perhaps not a “day that will go down in infamy,” but April 1, 1999, is the day George Steinbrenner lost his patience with Yankee starter Hideki Irabu after the burly righty failed to cover first in the last Spring Training game. The furious owner called Irabu “a fat puss-y toad.” The veteran righthander is back in Japan now.
The glorious 1998 Yankee season began with a stumble as the Bombers succumbed to Chuck Finley and the Angels, 4-1, on April 1 of that year. New Yankee second sacker Chuck Knoblauch‘s first game for the Yanks was his 1,000th at second base, and he instantly took the lead in career fielding percentage in the American League for players who had appeared in that many contests at that position. It is perhaps ironic that Knoblauch would be a stellar offensive contributor in New York, particularly in the postseason, but would struggle in the field.
What could be more fun than attending the Yanks opener on the road?, we thought on the drive to Baltimore on April 1, 2002. And the Yanks sent reigning Cy Young winner Roger Clemens against Scott Erickson, struggling to recover from arm surgery. But David Segui‘s one-out hopper in the fourth glanced off Clemens’s pitching hand, the Rocket walked the next two, and Tony Batista blasted a grand slam to straightaway center on the next pitch in a 10-3 Orioles’ win.
The worst part of the Yankees’ decision to place righty starter Chien-Ming Wang on the 15-day disabled list on April 1, 2007, was not that he would be missing his Opening Day start the next day. Rather, it was that his strained right hamstring began a string of injuries to Yankee players, particularly starting pitchers, that would not subside for months. And the depth list on starters would take another hit immediately, as Jeff Karstens joined Wang on the DL right away. In other transactions, it came as no surprise that righties Jose Veras and Humberto Sanchez were also DL’d. And the Yanks reassigned southpaw reliever Ron Villone to minor league camp.
Timing is everything. The Yankees released first baseman Jorge Vazquez, a guy who had a couple of great Spring Training camps with them and who was a Caribbean Series MVP, on April 1, 2012, partially because he was blocked in his position by Mark Teixeira. Mark may be out of the 2013 season with a wrist injury. New York also signed two free agents the same day: right fielder/DH Jack Cust and righty reliever Jason Bulger.
April 1, 2005, was cleaning house day on the Yankees, as they optioned catcher Wil Nieves and righthander Scott Proctor to Triple-A Columbus; and re-assigned southpaw Buddy Groom, infielder Damian Rolls, outfielder Colin Porter, catcher Joe Depastino, righty Aaron Small, and infielder Russ Johnson to minor league camp. Lefty Alex Graman was also released. Four from that list would play significant innings in the Bronx during the upcoming season.
One year later on April 1, 2006, Damian Rolls and Russ Johnson made the Coulmbus trip again, along with infielders Luis A. Gonzalez and Felix Escalona, and catcher Omir Santos. Also sent were pitchers Matt Smith, Matt Childers, Jose Veras, and Ramiro Mendoza. Three more hurlers, Aaron Small, Octavio Dotel, and Carl Pavano, were placed on the Disabled List to start the year.
In honor of his heroics in October 2003, we acknowledge Aaron Boone‘s ninth-inning sac fly that carried the Reds to a 5-4 win over the Cubs on April 1, 2002. We also salute Aaron now that he has retired after successfully, if for just a few games, coming back from heart surgery in 2009.
On this day in 1969 young minor league outfielder Lou Piniella was traded to Kansas City by the Seattle Pilots for former Yankee outfielder Steve Whitaker. Lou wouldn’t don the Pinstripes for another five years. St. Louis traded southpaw Bob Shirley to the Reds for minor-league hurlers Jose Brito and Jeff Lahti on April 1, 1982. The rubber-armed lefty Shirley would be in the Yankee pen the following year. And George “Snuffy” Stirnweiss, who hit 27 homers and drove in 254 runs for the Yanks from 1943-1950, was traded from the Browns to the Indians on April 1, 1951.
There are a slew of other mentions of former or future Yankees in April 1 baseball history, leading off with current first base coach and ex-All Star catcher Tony Pena, who was traded from St. Louis to Pittsburgh on April 1, 1987, for outfielder Andy Van Slyke, backstop Mike LaValliere, and pitcher Mike Dunne. On the same day, Doc Gooden of the Mets avoided suspension by agreeing to enter a drug rehab program, attempting to confront a problem that sadly dogs the now-retired righty to this day. One year earlier, future Yankee hurler Pascual Perez was one of four veteran pitchers the Braves opted to release. Also, former Yankee prospect Fred McGriff stroked three hits with four rbi’s in the first win in Tampa Bay Devil Rays history in an 11-8 victory over the Tigers on April 1, 1998. One year to the day earlier Rickey Henderson hit the middle shot of three consecutive home runs in an 11-run Padres inning during a 12-5 vanquishing of the Mets, tying a record for biggest offensive inning on Opening Day in the Twentieth Century in the process.
The last ex-Yank mention goes to Branch Rickey, who decided to leave Jackie Robinson on the roster of AAA Montreal on April 1, 1947, rather than bringing him to the parent club Brooklyn Dodgers. He would amend that decision nine days later.
We acknowledge the anniversary of the opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown on this day in 1938.
Way back on April 1, 1876, the Boston Red Caps of the newly formed National League won that league’s first game, 6-5 over a team from Philadelphia. The Red Caps franchise would, in succession, be named Bees, Rustlers, Doves, Beaneaters, then Boston, Milwaukee, and finally Atlanta Braves.
On April 1, 1989, A. Bartlett Giamatti replaced Peter Ueberroth as Major League Baseball Commissioner.
Umpire John McSherry collapsed and died of a heart attack only a few pitches into the home opener of the Cincinnati Reds on this day in 1996.
The Yanks and Indians were snowed out of their opener that same day in Jacobs Field in Cleveland.
No Yankee players have died on April 1.
The list of three other notable major leaguers to pass this day includes a pitcher, an infielder, and an outfielder. Hall of Fame lefty Rube Waddell (1914) did most of his pitching from 1897-1910 with the Philadelphia Athletics; he posted a 193-143 record with five saves. Infielder Frankie Gustine (1991) hit 38 home runs with 480 rbi’s from 1939-1950, mostly with the Pirates; and outfielder Jo-Jo Moore (2001) played only for the Giants from 1930 through 1941, accumulating 79 long balls good for 513 runs driven in during that time.
Players Who Have Died This Day
Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, who went 16-11 and 16-9 for the ’84 and ’85 Yanks, was born on April 1, 1939. The Yanks inked Niekro to a free-agent contract in January 1984, and signed him again two years later, but they released him before the 1986 season got underway. The career mark of the knuckleballer, primarily with the Braves, was 318-274.
Outfielder Larry Murray (1953) made his debut with the Yanks in 1974-1976, knocking in two runs and stealing a couple of bases in 20 games over those years. The Yankees selected Larry in the fifth round of the 1971 amateur draft, and he finished up with three years in Oakland once the Bombers traded him there along with Dock Ellis and Marty Perez for Mike Torrez in April 1977.
“Whistling Jake” Wade (1912) went 2-1 in 13 games for the 1946 Yanks, after they received him from the White Sox for Johnny Johnson in December 1944. Although that completes the list of guys who played for the Yanks, original Met “Hot Rod” Kanehl (1934) was a 1954 Yankee draft pick who made a stop in Cincinnati before playing in Flushing in 1962-1964.
Also born today: Dodgers reliever Ron Perranoski (1936), who was traded to the Dodgers for former Yankee bench coach Don Zimmer; Astros, Tigers, Rangers, but most famously Expos and Mets outfielder Rusty Staub (1944), known as “le grande orange” in French-speaking Montreal; All Star Cleveland outfielder Jeff Heath (1934), who smacked 194 dingers with 887 rbi’s and 56 steals from 1936-1945; Willie Montanez (1948); Mike Bacsik (1952); Rich Amaral (1962); Frank Castillo (1969), who hasn’t appeared in the bigs since his two years with the rival Red Sox came to a close in 2002, and who was contacted by the Yankees in the 2004 offseason; Masumi Kuwata (1968); Matt Herges (1970); Will Rhymes (1983); John Axford (1983); and Daniel Murphy (1985).
Players Born This Day