The long wait ended Sunday and baseball’s multi-day Opening Day festival continues Monday with 12 games on the docket. Some players just seem to perform better during the first game of the season.
We thought we’d take a look at a few Opening Day records and the rookie cards of the players responsible for setting them.
Tom Seaver’s big league career began in 1967 and Topps snuck him into the last series. That rookie card is among the most valuable cards of the 1960s. His run of 16 Opening Day starts began the following season and he started every one with the Mets through 1977, then a few more with the Reds and White Sox. Graded NM examples of his rookie card currently start at around $900.
This record will never be broken. Walter Johnson started 14 opening games for the Washington Senators and tossed seven shutouts. Johnson’s first Opening Day start—and shutout– was in 1910, a memorable 3-0 win over Philadelphia. Johnson gave up only one hit and it was a fluke. Right fielder Doc Gessler tripped over a small child sitting on the edge of the warning track and the ball bounced into the overflow crowd seated there for a ground rule double. Different times, for sure.
Between 1912 and 1924, Johnson started every Senators’ lid-lifter but one.
His traditional rookie cards are in the T206 set, which were hot when The Big Train pitched that first gem. Prices depend greatly on condition but they are easy to find. Johnson did have a card in the 1907-1909 Novelty Cutlery postcard set which you can see on the right. It’s expensive but one of those cards that can be a collection centerpiece.
Most Opening Day Strikeouts
Randy Johnson fanned 107 batters during his 14 Opening Day starts and modern-day analysis seems to indicate he may have actually been better than Seaver in those games. Arriving during the “overproduction years”, Johnson’s rookie cards don’t cost much.
No surprise here. Pete Rose, who made his debut in 1963 and was still an active player into the mid-1980s, recorded 31 career hits on Opening Day, more than anyone else in the last 100 years.
There’s a famous photo of Rose taking the field for the first time. He also appeared on a Topps rookie card that season and it remains one of the most valuable cards of the decade. You can find one without a crease that looks respectable for $500 or so but a nice one will be much more.
Willie Mays was just 20 years old in 1951 when he took his place in center field for the New York Giants. He was still there with the Mets in ’73. Mays belted seven homers and drove in 16 runs during 21 Opening Day starts.
His 1951 Bowman rookie card has been picking up steam. While a PSA 8 just sold for over $51,000, you can still own one in VG condition for under $2,000.
Most Opening Day Home Runs
Frank Robinson hit eight of them. Ken Griffey Jr. tied him and then Adam Dunn matched those two. Robinson hit those homers with four different teams, by the way. His last Opening Day homer came in his first at-bat as a player-manager. Robby’s rookie card is one of the keys to the 1957 Topps set, but it’s easy to find and you can still own a very nice one for a few hundred dollars.
Griffey’s last Opening Day homer came in 2009 after a lengthy drought. His rookie cards from the 1989 sets are well known and easy to find.
Dunn was one of the most consistent home run hitters of his era, regularly belting 40 but also prone to whiffs. He was done by age 34 with 462 homers but owning a share of a record with a couple of Hall of Famers isn’t bad. His earliest cards can be had for a very little.
It shouldn’t surprise you that Ted Williams put on an Opening Day hitting clinic. He played in 14 of them (when he wasn’t busy in the Marines) and hit .449. Williams had a hit in every one of those 14 openers. Ted’s first Opening Day in 1939 was against the Yankees; the last for Lou Gehrig, who would soon learn his cruel fate.
Williams’ 1939 Play Ball rookie card is black-and-white but a great image of the young star. A mid-grade example can still be had for $1,000-$1,500.