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January 25, 2005

Prospectus Matchups

Jumping the Gun

by Jim Baker

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How desperate am I for the baseball season to begin? Consider this: I was watching a BBC cricket video the other day (part of my never-ending quest to expand my horizons beyond just one sport) and the very sight of men wielding bats--albeit flat-sided ones--was enough to make me wax for our own national game.

Many of you reading this are recovering from a weekend snowstorm, so the thought of baseball might seem a bit premature at this point, but remember this: it's never too early to think about Opening Day.

You will notice that I capitalize Opening Day as if it were some sort of holiday. Why is that? Because it should be some sort of holiday. The first Monday in April should be a day of national celebration and contemplation of our great game with all teams--save for the marquee match-up of the previous night or whatever overseas intrigue Major League Baseball has concocted in a given year--beginning play. Can you think of a better excuse to miss work? Well, aside from some of the special holidays we have already set aside, that is. I was counting on President Bush, about whom it can be strongly argued that he would not be in the White House without baseball, to get this Opening-Day-as-holiday thing rolling. (Perhaps if I had actually instigated a petition drive rather than just having thought about it...)

Failing the holiday designation, then, the least we can all do is start capitalizing the day. Perhaps that will be my only legacy; my obituary will read, for the most part: "...fellow responsible for now-common practice of capitalizing baseball's Opening Day...." There are worse legacies to leave, I suppose.

So, I was wondering, is there a meter somewhere on the internet counting down the time left until the first pitch of the 2005 season, as if it were some adolescent star approaching her 18th birthday? I found this on Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy's site, but only gives the days. I was looking more for a meter, like this one for the next "Star Wars" movie.

Come to think of it, I don't think it's important to know this information down to the second or even the hour. Heck, a rough count of weeks is probably enough. The thought of "Star Wars" geeks lining up months in advance for the next Lucas political science lecture while staring at a digital readout of seconds ticking by kind of pulled me back off the precipice. However, if that is something you want for Opening Day, there is this product available. I shouldn't shill for the Hall of Fame gift shop like this--at least not until Bert Blyleven and Ron Santo are granted their overdue plaques.

Rather than stare at the calendar in the hopes that it will move faster, I can, at least, begin touting the very first game of the season. Not that a Yankees/Red Sox series needs any additional hype, but isn't this one of the best Opening Day match-ups ever? It's got both ancient and recent history stoking it, not to mention a marquee pitching duel in the offing, although the chances of Curt Schilling being ready for the opener are extremely remote. Randy Johnson will be on hand, though, and you could do worse than a Johnson/David Wells duel. This will be Johnson's 13th Opening Day assignment. His first came in 1992 against Nolan Ryan.

I was hoping this was the first time ever that opponents from the previous year's League Championship Series met on Opening Day so it would have some quirky historical significance, too. Not so, alas. This is the fourth time it's happened:

1983: Milwaukee at California. Angels won 3-2
1984: Baltimore at Chicago White Sox. Sox won 5-2
1994: Toronto at Chicago White Sox. Blue Jays won 7-3

(The Cardinals are playing at Houston for their 2005 Opening Day, as well.)

I'm writing like this series is going to start tomorrow, so let's all pretend together and load up on these Red Sox/Yankees Opening Day facts:

There was a time when Boston and New York met on Opening Day, on average, every three years. The reason for this was that in the eight-team-league days, the teams were split into "East" and "West" blocs of four for purposes of travel. That meant that the Yankees were always going to open against either Philadelphia, Washington or Boston. (Even when the Athletics moved to Kansas City and the Browns moved to Baltimore in the mid-'50s, the Yankees kept opening against the Senators and the Red Sox.) Consequently, the bulk of the Red Sox/Yankee Opening Day games came before the expansion era. In fact, this is just the seventh time they've opened the season together since the American League abandoned the eight-team lineup in 1961. The most recent results:

1992: New York 4, Boston 3
1985: Boston 9, New York 2
1973: Boston 15, New York 5
1971: Boston 3, New York 1
1970: Boston 4, New York 3
1964: Boston 4, New York 3

Prior to that, it was--as you could have guessed--New York ascending. From 1923 to 1960, the Yankees took 14 of 16 Opening Day contests against Boston. This is the fourth time the Red Sox begin the defense of a World Championship against the Yankees. The last time it happened was the last time it could have happened--1919:

1919: Boston 10, New York 0
1917: Boston 10, New York 3
1904: New York 8, Boston 2

Overall, including the two years the Yankees spent in Baltimore (where the two franchises paired up for their first game ever on April 26, 1901, won by Baltimore, 10-6), the Opening Day record stands New York 18, Boston 11. Because such things cannot possibly be planned, only ten of these games were hosted by the Red Sox.

The Red Sox helped inaugurate Yankee Stadium on April 18, 1923 by losing to the home team, 4-1. Conversely, New York was the first opponent at Fenway Park in 1912, although that game didn't come on Opening Day. Boston opened on the road that year, beating the Highlanders (baseball's only kilted team--look it up) at Hilltop Park 5-3.

And so forth. No matter how hard I try, there's no denying that it's still some ten weeks from the big day. So, I'll stop hyping Opening Day now and we can all go back to whatever it is we do between seasons to keep us interested enough in persevering until the next one starts....

Oh, and what did I learn watching the BBC cricket video? Aside from a lot of the game's rules, it was this: if a man named Viv Richards had taken up baseball rather than cricket as a boy on Antigua, his plaque would be hanging in Cooperstown right now. He would have been inducted in 1999 as either a pitcher or outfielder; or perhaps, both.

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Premium Article Prospectus Today: Fun ... (01/26)

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