#80 - (Chipper Jones)

Recent retiree and certain first ballot Hall of Famer Chipper Jones is the Atlanta Braves all time leader in on base percentage (.402) and third in home runs.  In his 19 year career from 1994-2012, all with the Braves, the switch hitting third baseman (except for 2002-2003 when he played left field) hit .303 (over .300 from each side of the plate) with 468 home runs and 1623 RBIs (the most in history for a third baseman and the second most in history by a switch hitter behind Eddie Murray).  Chipper joins Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams and Stan Musial as the only players with at least 2500 hits, 1500 walks, 500 doubles, 450 HRs, 1500 RBIs, a .300 batting average, a .400 on base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage.  Pretty impressive company.  Chipper is a World Champion (1995 in his first full year against the Cleveland Indians), an MVP (1999), a batting champion (2008), a two time Silver Slugger award winner (1999 and 2000) and an 8 time N.L. All-Star (1996-1998, 2000, 2001, 2008, 2011 and 2012).  He also hit 20 or more home runs for 14 consecutive years and led the Braves to an astounding 11 straight playoff appearances from 1995-2005.  His best year arguably was his MVP year of 1999 where he led the Braves to the N.L. Pennant over the New York Mets and forever incurred the wrath of the Met fans thereafter by saying “Now, all of the Met fans can go home and put on their Yankees’ stuff.”  For the purpose of completeness, Chipper and the Braves were then swept in the 1999 World Series by those very same Yankees, although Chipper did hit the Braves only World Series home run off of El Duque.  Chipper closed out his brilliant career with a hit in his last at bat in the 2012 N.L. Wild Card playoff game (his Braves lost to the St. Louis Cardinals).  Here is his very humble Opening Day memory.

My first Opening Day was in 1995.  We had just returned from the strike, and were playing the Giants in Atlanta. Greg Maddux was pitching. It was my first start at third base ever, and I was facing the pitcher that I faced the night I blew out my knee the year before—Terry Mulholland.  The first hitter in the first inning popped the ball up down the first base line and, trying to be aggressive, I come flying like a bat out of you know what looking up at the baseball, and the next thing I know, I’m laying flat on my back looking up at the sun with my flip-down glasses down around my nose.  I look over and see Greg Maddux laying on his back in obvious pain, and I thought to myself, ‘What a way to break into the big leagues. You’ve just killed the most valuable player in baseball at that point and managed to hurt and embarrass yourself at the same time.’ Luckily, all Greg got out of that was a nice little charley horse in the calf where I kicked him when I was coming across, but it’s one of my more embarrassing moments.  Things got a little better after that.

They sure did. See you in two. Richie

Chipper Jones (3)

#79 - (Bucky Dent)

Best known for his dramatic pennant winning home run for the New York Yankees against Mike Torrez and the Boston Red Sox in game 163 of the 1978 season, Bucky Dent didn’t stop there, as he led the Yankees to the 1978 World Championship with a .417 average for which he was named World Series MVP.  Bucky was the Yankees’ shortstop from 1977-1982.  He was acquired from the Chicago White Sox, where he had played from 1973-1976.  Bucky earned two World Series rings with the Yankees (1977 and 1978) and was an A.L. All-Star 3 times in his career (1975, 1980 and 1981).  Despite his big home run, he was known more for his steady fielding than his hitting (he only hit 40 career HRs).  Bucky was traded to the Texas Rangers in 1982 for former New York Mets star Lee Mazzilli, and he played for the Rangers in 1982 and 1983 before closing out his career with the Kansas City Royals in 1984.  Bucky managed the Yankees in 1989 and 1990 and coached for multiple major league teams thereafter.  Here are his Opening Day memories.

“Well, my first Opening Day with the White Sox in 1974 was quite a thrill because it was everything I ever worked and dreamed for.  We opened up at home against the Angels and Nolan Ryan. It was a real cold, windy day and I remember Dick Allen crushing a ball that looked like it was going over the roof and the wind knocked it back down on the warning track.  I remember Ken Henderson hitting a ball with the bases loaded to dead center field and Mickey Rivers running back to the fence like it was going to go over and the wind just blew it back in and it landed like half way in center field. That’s how hard the wind was blowing that day.  I remember my first at bat off of Ryan. It was like, here I am, nervous as heck, facing this guy who throws a hundred miles an hour on my first opening day and it’s about 30° with the wind blowing about 40 miles an hour.

My first Opening Day with the Yankees also was really special. I got traded to the team I wanted to go to on the last day of Spring Training in 1977.  I had always dreamed of being a Yankee and they were coming out of the World Series.  I remember we were playing Milwaukee, and I was uptight and thinking about all the great players that have played there, and then when Bob Sheppard announced my name, it was like the ultimate.   I also remember 1978 as being really special, because we had just won the World Series in 1977 and we were coming back as World Champions.  The other one I remember was 1981 because I hit a home run off of Jon Matlack and another off of Fergie Jenkins the next day.

Thanks Bucky for your memories and especially for the homer.

See you in two.  Richie

Bucky Dent

 

 

#78 - (Bret Saberhagen)

In addition to being one of the winningest pitchers in Kansas City Royals history, and a World Champion and Cy Young winner in his second season in the big leagues at the mere age of 21, Bret Saberhagen coached the baseball team at my son’s high school and is the dad of one of my his childhood friends.  Bret began his major league career with the Royals in 1984 at age 20.  In 1985, he led the Royals to their only World Championship (against the St. Louis Cardinals), winning the Cy Young with a 20-6 record and a 2.87 ERA and the I-70 World Series MVP as the result of his two complete games including a Game 7 shutout.  He won his second Cy Young with the Royals in 1989 with a 23-6 record, a 2.16 ERA and a league leading 12 complete games.  He made the A.L. All Star team twice with the Royals (in 1987 and 1990), won a Gold Glove in 1989 and pitched the Royals last no hitter in 1991 (on my birthday) against the Chicago White Sox.  Bret was traded to the New York Mets after the 1991 season.  He made the N.L. All-Star team with the Mets in 1994 in a season in which he had more wins than walks; a feat that had not been accomplished since 1919.  He was supposed to be the ace of the Colorado Rockies in 1995, but struggled (as many pitchers do) in the high Denver altitude.  Bret missed the entire 1996 season due to injury. He returned to the big leagues with the Boston Red Sox in 1997, won Comeback Player of the Year in 1998 and retired for the first time after the 1999 season.  After sitting out the 2000 season, he had a short 3 appearance comeback with the Red Sox in 2001 and then retired permanently with 167 career wins and a very respectable 3.34 ERA.  Bret was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame in 2005 and thereafter got involved in coaching high school baseball

“I didn’t start a whole lot of Opening Days, but in 1988 against Toronto at home, I gave up three home runs to George Bell.  Actually, he had two off me and he popped one up right in front of the dugout.  I ran over and misjudged it.  It bounced off my glove and on the next pitch he hit his third home run off me.  Another reason why that particular game was memorable for me is because after Opening Day usually is the Final Four championship game and that year it was in Kansas City.  We actually went to watch Danny Manning and the Kansas Jayhawks defeat Oklahoma in what was a great game. So although we did not win, and I didn’t pitch very well, it was a great afternoon to watch the final game of college basketball.  It seemed like on every Opening Day that I started, there was an instrument involved.  In 1990, Sam Horn hit a home run off me on Opening day and another year Albert Belle did”.

Bret’s memory was quite good.  On Opening Day 1990, Sam Horn hit two home runs and knocked in six to lead the Baltimore Orioles over Bret’s Royals 8-7, although not all of that damage was off Bret, and Bret did not get the loss.  Albert Belle’s homer off Bret was the following year, but in that one Bret and his Royals prevailed over the Cleveland Indians 4-2.  He apologized to me for only remembering what he called the bad ones, but I refreshed his memory on the good ones.

See you in two. Richie

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#77 - (Brady Anderson)

I remember really enjoying my time with Brady Anderson in the visiting dugout in Anaheim and being amazed at all of the fans yelling loudly (and rudely) for his autograph while we hung out and talked.  Brady was classy, gracious and patient.  Brady arrived in the big leagues in 1988 with the Boston Red Sox but his career really didn’t take off until after his trade to the Baltimore Orioles along with Curt Schilling for Mike Boddicker—a very very good trade for the Orioles.  Actually, his career did not take off until 1992, his first year as a full time player, and from 1992-2001 he was one of the game’s most well rounded and consistent players hitting for average, power, scoring runs and stealing bases.  He stole a career high 53 bases in 1992 and hit a career high 50 home runs in 1996 (which was approximately one quarter of his career total of 210).  The only other player to steal more than 50 bases and homer more than 50 times in a season is Barry Bonds.  Brady was a very good fielding center fielder, a very good leadoff hitter, and a three time A.L. All-Star (1992, 1996 and 1997).  He homered twice in the game where Cal Ripken, Jr. tied Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak (September 5, 1995) and it was Cal who introduced Brady when he was inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame in 2004 as the Orioles best ever leadoff hitter and the best athlete Cal ever played with.  In addition to still being in the top 10 of many of the Orioles hitting categories, Brady was a .300 post season hitter in the Orioles’ 1996 and 1997 ALDS and ALCS series.  Brady closed out his playing career with the Cleveland Indians in 2002 and he currently is an Orioles executive.  Here is his Opening Day memory.

“Well, I think every player probably remembers their first day in the big leagues vividly. My first happened to be on Opening Day, and I’ve actually had some good success on Opening Day. On that day, I was playing for the Red Sox. It was in 1988. Jack Morris was pitching. I think it was a Monday or Sunday day game.  He was one of the nastiest pitchers in the league.  The first at bat, I was out of there. The first pitch was a high slider.  The next pitch was a forkball.  I hadn’t really seen a fork ball. Not many players in the big leagues have ever seen a fork ball like Jack Morris had and that is what I saw my first day in the big leagues. And his support pitches. Well, I struck out and it is weird what that does to you. It’s almost like you go into some kind of survival mode which actually converts to your benefit.  It did that day for me, because I just remember anything he threw up there that I thought that I could put wood on, I was going to do it and I got three hits in a row off him after that.   I lined out in my last at bat off of Mike Henneman. I remember we lost, Clemens pitched and Matt Nokes hit two homers off of him.”

Brady was a little off—Nokes only hit one and Alan Trammell hit the other, but everything else was dead on.  See you in two. Richie

Brady Anderson

#76 - (Brad Ausmus)

Throughout his 18 year major league career (1993-2010), Brad Ausmus was known as a superior defensive catcher.  He also (surprisingly to me) had a lifetime .251 average and over 600 RBIs.  Brad played for the San Diego Padres, the Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros twice each, and closed out his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers.  He was most well known as an Astro where he won 3 Gold Gloves in 2001, 2002 and 2006, although he was an AL All Star with the Tigers in 1999.  Brad was not fortunate enough to be a World Champion, but he did play in the World Series for the Astros when they lost to the Chicago White Sox in 2005 as well as in the post season on 4 other occasions (all with the Astros).  Brad holds the major league record for most games played by a Jewish player (1,971); is a member of the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and managed Team Israel in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.  Brad is the current Manager of the Detroit Tigers. Here is his Opening Day memory.

“In 1995, we had an exhibition game in Anaheim the day before Opening Day. I was playing with the San Diego Padres and I got sick that night and was throwing up all night long.  My wife thought I was nervous about Opening Day and that’s why I was throwing up. It turned out about 7 or 8 guys on the team all got sick from the food we had eaten the day before in Anaheim and a handful of guys actually missed the game because of it. That’s my most memorable Opening Day.”

Different.  See you in two. Richie

Brad Ausmus

#75 - (Mark Langston)

One of my greatest personal baseball thrills was when I faced Angels and Seattle Mariners star lefty Mark Langston at Angels fantasy camp in 2007 and fouled off two pitches before I walked.  Afterwards, Mark told me if I didn’t swing, I would have walked on four pitches.  I told him that the foul balls were a way bigger thrill than the walk.  I also while we were walking to the field one morning asked him about his only World Series appearance, and in particular about the grand slam home run he gave up to my then favorite player Tino Martinez in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series (where the Yankees swept his San Diego Padres) on the pitch after what very arguably strike three.  Instead of talking about the questionable pitch before the home run, which even I couldn’t believe was called a ball, Mark told me about the pitch on which Tino homered with class and without excuse.  That is because in addition to being an excellent and candid broadcaster and a funny entertaining storyteller, he is a class act.  Mark was a great pitcher in his prime with the Mariners (1984-1989) and Angels (1990-1997) (he also spent part of 1989 in Montreal with the Expos after being traded for Randy Johnson).  He won 19 games twice, led the American League in strikeouts three times, was a four time All-Star and won 7 Gold Gloves.  He won 179 games and had 2464 career strikeouts.  He also probably had the best pick-off move of his era (pre Andy Pettitte).  He finished his career in the bullpens of the Padres in 1998 and the Cleveland Indians in 1999 and currently broadcasts for the Angels.  Here is his most memorable Opening Day.

“It probably has to be my first major league experience at an Opening Day with the Seattle Mariners in 1984. You always dream as a kid about your first time being introduced in a major league game and that is when mine came true. I didn’t pitch that game, but still it was probably the most memorable Opening Day experience for me being announced at a major league facility and at a game we played against Milwaukee. I’ll never forget that moment.”

Thanks buddy.  See everyone in two. Richie

Mark Langston

#74 - (Bob Brenly)

Bob Brenly caught for the San Francisco Giants from 1981-1988, left for one half season with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1989, and returned to the Giants where he finished his playing career that same season.  He made the NL All Star team in 1984 when he had his best season, hitting .291 with 20 HRs and 80 RBIs.  He helped lead the Giants to the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1987 with 18 HRs and 51 RBIs, but the Giants lost that series in 7 games.  That was to be Bob’s only playoff appearance as a player.  Bob played in one very bizarre game against the Atlanta Braves in 1986.  Although known as a good defensive catcher, Bob made 4 errors in one inning.  But he more than redeemed himself by homering in the 5th inning, hitting a game tying 2 run single in the 7th inning and then hitting a walk off game winning HR in the bottom of the 9th.  Bob probably is more well known for managing the Arizona Diamondbacks to their first World Series championship ever in his first year as a manager in 2001.  His Diamondbacks beat the Yankees in seven games shortly after the horrific events of 9/11 in what some call the greatest World Series ever (I went to two games including the Tino Martinez game tying HR and the Derek Jeter game winning HR in Game 4 which earned Derek the nickname “Mr. November,” but the end of Game 7 was the single worst baseball moment in my life to date).   Bob’s managerial tenure ended in 2004 and he has been an excellent broadcaster since.  Here is his Opening Day memory.

“For me personally, I think it would have to be the 1983 season. I had just come off my best year as a big league player and we opened against the Padres at home at Candlestick Park and, unfortunately, we lost the ball game, but I think I had 3 or 4 hits in that game and it was kind of reaffirming after having a good year in ’82. I think a lot of people thought it was a fluke season and we’ll never be able to do it again and then to start off the ’83 season that way, it felt very good.  I also particularly remember that Opening Day because there was a representative from my hometown newspaper back in Coshocton, Ohio, and because I had the good game and I was a hero back home.”

In fact, Bob’s Giants lost to the San Diego Padres 16-13 and he went 2 for 4 with 4 RBIs and a home run.

See you in two. Richie

Bob Brenly (b)

#73 - (Billy Wagner)

Despite being a natural righty who taught himself to throw left handed resulting from two childhood broken right arms, reliever Billy Wagner was the hardest throwing left handed pitcher I have ever seen pitch.  He also was only 5’ 11,” but seemed even shorter than that when I was hanging out with him on the field (he was injured in street clothes) at Minute Maid (then Enron field) before game time.  Billy ended his 16 year career with 422 saves, a 2.31 career ERA and 1196 strikeouts.  He was the game’s dominant left handed reliever for almost the entirety of his career with the Houston Astros (1995-2003), Philadelphia Phillies (2004-2005), New York Mets (2006-2009), Boston Red Sox (2009) and Atlanta Braves (2010).  To show how dominant Billy really was, check out some of these seasons.  In 1997, his first full season, he struck out 106 batters in 66 2/3 innings—an average of 14.4 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched.  In 1999, the year he won Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year, he struck out 124 batters in 74 innings and set the major league record with an average of 15 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched.  He also saved more games that year (39) than he allowed hits (35).  In 2003, probably his best statistical year, he had 44 saves, struck out 105 in 86 innings in 78 games and threw 159 pitches over 100 mph.  The pitcher in second place (Bartolo Colon) threw 12.  Billy was a 7 time All-Star (1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2010).  He was the 6th pitcher and closer in the Astros last no-hitter against the Yankees on June 11, 2003 (I remember being quite disgusted that day).  Billy ended his final season by striking out the the last 4 batters he faced including the last 3 looking.  He now coaches high school baseball.  Here is his Opening Day memory.

“I think the year was 1997 and we were playing the Braves.  John Hudek was sent in to get the save and got in trouble.  So they brought me in with one out and the bases loaded in the 9th. Kenny Lofton came up to the plate, and hit a line drive to third base. Billy Spiers caught it, and stepped on third for the double play. One pitch; game over!”

Thanks Billy .  See you in two. Richie

 

Billy Wagner (3)

#72 - (Bill Stoneman)

I got to know Bill Stoneman a little when he was the Angels’ GM.  But in his younger days, Bill was the ace of the Montreal Expos pitching staff.  He was selected by the  Expos from the Cubs in the 1968 expansion draft and in his 5th start and the Expos 9th game on April 17, 1969; he threw his and the Expos’ first no hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies in old Connie Mack Stadium.  He threw his second one against the New York Mets in old Jarry Park on October 2, 1972—the first ever no hitter thrown in Canada.  Bill pitched for the Expos from 1969 until 1973 when he suffered an arm injury.  He concluded his playing career with the Angels in 1974.  But from 1969-1972, he was a workhorse and among the league leaders in innings pitched, strikeouts and complete games.  Bill was not a good hitter, with a lifetime batting average of .129 who struck out 212 times in 338 at bats.  After his playing career, he got involved in the Expos front office and became the Angels GM in 1999.  He hired Mike Scioscia as the Angels manager and presided over the 2002 Angels World Championship and subsequent ownership transition from Disney to Arte Moreno.  He stepped down as the Angels GM in 2007.  Here is his Opening Day memory.

1972 was the first ever players strike that cost any time during the season.  I was training with the Expos in West Palm Beach. We broke off with maybe a week to go, or so, before the season started. Everybody went home from spring training because the players went on strike, and I didn’t do a whole bunch until finally the strike was over. We worked out for a couple of days and then flew to St. Louis to open the season.  I’m not sure of the exact date–it was April 15th or 20th, something like that–and I started against Bob Gibson and went nine, won the game and I was the only pitcher in major league baseball to go nine innings on that delayed Opening Day.  That’s probably my most memorable Opening Day.

On that day, Bill pitched a complete game 3-2 victory over Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals.

See you in two. Richie

Bill Stoneman (1)

#71 - (Bert Blyleven)

Netherlands born Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven won 287 games and struck out 3701 batters over a 23 year career with the Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians and California Angels which he began in 1970 at age 19.  He had a nasty curveball, spoke his mind and was a notorious prankster.  He was a two time World Champion with the “We Are Family” Pirates in 1979 and in his second stint with the Twins in 1987; a two time All Star with the Twins and the Indians; and the 1989 A.L. Comeback Player of the Year.  He won 20 games for the Twins in 1973 and 19 for the Indians in 1984, and he followed that season up in 1985 with 17 wins, 5 shutouts and a led the A.L. with an astounding 24 complete games.  On September 22, 1977 he no-hit the Angels while pitching for the Rangers.  Bert was inducted in the Twins Hall of Fame in 2002 and Cooperstown in 2011.  The Twins also retired his No. 28 that same year.  Bert has been a Twins’ broadcaster since 1996.  Here is his Opening Day memory.

“I think throughout my 23 years, I probably opened the season maybe a half a dozen times, so to pick one specific date is really hard.”  But my most memorable Opening Day probably was in 1972–my first one–at the age of just 21 years old. Being such a young age and also having guys on the team like Jim Perry and Jim Kaat, and getting the nod ahead of them, was very memorable. I’m not exactly sure how I did, but being an Opening Day starter at such a young age was an honor.

Bert pitched 6 innings that day against the Oakland A’s and gave up only 2 runs. But his Twins lost to the A’s 4-3 in 10.

See you in two. Richie

Bert Blyleven (3)