Even as a kid, I knew that the Opening Day of the baseball season was special. It was the only day of the year that my father would willingly miss work. He bundled himself amidst layers of long sleeve shirts and sweaters before leaving for the game. When he returned, he regaled my brother and I about how he and his friend survived the cold of County Stadium. Though the thought of watching a baseball game wearing gloves not intended to catch a baseball seemed weird, I still wanted to go. I always thought it was unfair that I had to go to school and he got to go to the game.
This year, some of you will bundle up against the cold to tailgate. Others will dash right from your car into the climate-controlled Miller Park. I will sit on my couch and thank the heavens for the MLB.TV package. Living in Los Angeles, Gallardo’s first pitch will leave his hand at 11:10 AM for me. I’ll be waiting, watching, and wondering if it’s still too early for the first beer of the day. In anticipation, I’ve been digging through the Brewers’ opening day games looking for interesting stats, facts, and trivia. Since I’ll only have my dogs around to watch the game with me, I’d love to let you know what I learned so the information can be shared over grills, beers, and brats across Brewers Nation.
Over the last few years, Opening Day hasn’t been kind to the Crew. You have to go back to the 2008 Opening Day extra-innings affair against the Cubs to find the last time the Brewers started the season with a win. Yet, historically, Opening Days haven’t been so bad for Milwaukee. From 1969 to the present, the organization’s record on the first day of the season is 23-20-1. Their record in home openers, the first game of the season played at home, is almost identical at 23-21.
The Brewers have lost four consecutive Opening Day games. It’s the longest Opening Day losing streak in franchise history. Twice they’ve won five consecutive Opening Day games, 1978-1982 and 2004-2008.
The Brewers have twice scored 15 runs during their first game of the season. The first time was in 1982 when they went into Toronto and clobbered them 15-4. The second time was a slugfest with the Angels, in 1996, that ended up in the Brewers favor, 15-9.
The most runs the Brewers have ever allowed on Opening Day is 12. That happened in 1970 when the Angels blanked the Brewers 12-0.
Prior to today, Milwaukee and Colorado have played each other only once on Opening Day. That was back in 2010, in what I like to call the Clash of Carlos’. Carlos Gonzalez led the Rockies with four hits (all singles) and two runs scored. Carlos Gomez matched him every step of the way with four hits (including a HR and 2B), two runs scored, and one stolen base. Even though the Brewers out hit the Rockies, 12 to 10, their ninth inning rally was snuffed out and they lost 5-3.
The Brewers most abnormal season start occurred in Cincinnati in 2000. After 5.1 innings, rain ended the game in an official 3-3 tie. The game was also noteworthy as the first game Ken Griffey Jr. played as a Cincinnati Red. At the time, a regular season record 55,596 fans filled Cinergy Field and gave Ken Griffey Jr. a 20-second standing ovation during pre-game introductions. Griffey’s mother missed the ceremony while waiting for an elevator in the stadium. She later claimed to have had “a few choice words for that elevator” for making her late.
Two rival, NL Central managers have also made multiple Opening Day starts for the Crew. Cardinal skipper, Mike Matheny, made three consecutive starts behind the plate for the Brewers from 1996-1998. He went 3-11 with three runs and two RBIs. And Cubs manager, Dale Sveum, made two starts at shortstop for the Brewers in 1987 & 1988. Sveum went 4-8 (including a HR) with two runs and two RBIs over his two starts.
Terry Francona also made one Opening Day start for the Crew in 1989. Playing first base, he went 1-3 and got caught stealing. Interestingly, the team Milwaukee played that day, in 1989, is the same team Francona now manages – the Cleveland Indians.
Currently, Rickie Weeks holds the record for the most Opening Day starts by an active player. Today, Weeks will be making his eighth-consecutive Opening Day start. All of Weeks’ starts have come at second base, but he’ll need a contract extension with the Crew to compete for the team record. Jim Gantner holds the record for starts at second with 11. He started all but one Opening Day game for the Brewers between 1981-1992. Gantner only missed the start at second, in 1990, because he was recovering from a torn ligament in his knee, suffered after taking a hard slide while trying to turn two in an August 15, 1989, game against the Yankees.
Lifelong Brewer Robin Yount holds the record for most Opening Day starts with a total of 19 – including 10 at shortstop, eight in center field, and one in left field. By comparison, today, Ryan Braun will be starting his sixth Opening Day for the Crew in left field. Even if Braun and the Brewers exercise the $20M mutual option for 2021, Braun will only have started 14 season openers for the Brewers. In 2021, Braun will be 37. Yount turned 37 in 1993. Following the 1993 season, Yount retired.
Today’s start for Yovani Gallardo will be his fourth on Opening Day. Nudging him past Teddy Higuera and Jim Slaton, who both started the season opener three times. Ben Sheets still holds the team record with six starts coming between 2002-2005 and 2007-2008. In his six starts, Sheets went 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA, 29 strikeouts, and only eight walks. Over those six starts, the Brewers had a record of 5-1.
Gallardo’s Opening Day splits haven’t been nearly as good to him or the Brewers. Over his three starts, Gallardo is 0-2 with a 5.94 ERA, 12 strikeouts, and 10 walks. Of course, last year’s performance against the Cardinals, in which he allowed four home runs over 3.2 IP with six earned runs, seriously skewed his numbers. So far the Brewers have not won an Opening Day game that Gallardo has started, going 0-3. If the Brewers pick up his $13M option for 2015, and Gallardo stays healthy and effective, he could tie Sheets for the most Opening Day starts by a Brewer in 2015.
Finally, the coolest name of any player to start an Opening Day game for the Brewers has to be Billy Jo Robidoux. He made two starts for the Crew – playing first base in 1986 and DH in 1987. Coming in a close second is Sixto Lezcano, who made six consecutive Opening Day starts between 1975-1980, five in RF and one in CF.
From my couch in LA to wherever you may be, here’s to the start of another Brewers’ season and the hope that the Crew snaps their Opening Day four-game losing streak.