Best Opening Day Starts

For those of your who missed it, I recapped the worst Opening Day starts in baseball history yesterday, here. Fausto Carmona finally found a list he belongs on! Well, unfortunately, here is a list he doesn’t belong on. This is a collection of the best starts on Opening Day. First off, an important note: “Opening Day” can’t be put on a calendar; it’s each team’s first game, regardless of what day of the year it is.

So, who do you think when you think of Day One dominance on the mound? Hopefully, your answer is Bob Feller. He, famously, is the only guy to throw a no-hitter in team game number one. However, if the stat game score is used (a stat that accounts for innings, hits, runs, home runs, strikeouts, and walks), Feller’s no-hitter ties 5 other starts for 6th place on the list of best Opening Day starts. It’s even tied with another of Feller’s own starts!

As Edwin Jackson can attest, no-hitters are incredibly overrated. I mean, come on, 150 pitches, 8 walks, a wild pitch, and he hit a batter. So, who had the best starts to seasons on the hill? Without further ado, here is the list, from tied for 6th to 1st:

The pride of Van Meter, Iowa.

  • Bob Feller (1940 Indians)- The Feller no-hitter consisted of 9 wicked innings where the White Sox’s only hope was to take a walk. Thankfully for them, they managed an impressive 5 of them. They couldn’t scrape a run across, though, as they fell 1-0.
  • Johnny Vander Meer (1943 Reds)- Not one of Johnny’s famed consecutive no-hitters, it was still an amazing start. He threw 11 shutout innings and gave up just 2 hits, eventually getting the victory against the Cardinals 1-0.
  • Mel Harder (1935 Indians)- One of Feller’s teammates actually bested him in this category. He refused to accept a loss (or even a no-decision) under any circumstance, throwing 14 innings of 1-run ball for the Tribe as they won 2-1. I guess it’s OK to give up a run if there are 13 other scoreless ones surrounding it.
  • Bob Veale (1965 Pirates)- Tied with Harder, Veale threw 10 shutout innings giving up just 3 hits and a lone walk versus 10 strikeouts. Veale earned the win against the Giants, and has laid his claim on the history books here.
  • Lon Warneke (1934 Cubs)- Second on the list, Warneke hurled 9 innings while giving up 1 hit and 2 walks against 13 Ks. He was dominant, but don’t hold those 9 innings against him compared to some of the longer outings: he was the only one to receive some support, winning 6-0.
  • Walter Johnson (1926 Senators)- The true champion of Opening Day is arguably the greatest right-handed starter in history. And boy did he deserve this particular crown. At age 38, he threw 15 innings of shutout baseball against a star studded Philadelphia Athletics lineup featuring the likes of Hall of Famers Al Simmons and Mickey Cochrane. He gave up a whole 6 hits in those 15 innings, keeping the Senators around until they pushed a run across for the win. Who knows how long he could’ve gone?

These pitchers all fared pretty well in their subsequent seasons, as you might imagine. Feller went on to lead the league in ERA, innings, strikeouts, WHIP, and complete games. Vander Meer led the league in strikeouts and carried a 2.87 ERA. Mel Harder went 22-11 with a healthy 138 ERA+. Bob Veale had a 2.84 ERA, Lon Warneke went 22-10 with a 3.21 ERA, and even a 38-year old Walter Johnson was still impressive, with a 3.63 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP right in the heart of the live ball era.

Arguably the finest right-handed pitcher in history, Walter "The Big Train" Johnson.

And interestingly enough, all of them except Walter Johnson made the All-Star team that year (there was no Midsummer Classic in 1926, so it wasn’t the Big Train’s fault). I guess starting off the year in such a fine way is sure to make an impression on voters. Certainly all of these fine pitchers deserved their spots, as well. Their Opening Day starts truly were a fine harbinger of spring.

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