At approximately 4:10 p.m. Thursday, J.T. Realmuto — or Scott Kingery, or maybe Roman Quinn? — was supposed to dig into the batter’s box at Marlins Park in Miami and get the Phillies’ 2020 season underway.
So much for that.
But although opening day is on hold for seven weeks and quite likely more, it’s worth marking what would’ve been the dawning of the 138th season in club history. After all, despite going only 64-71-2 in the first game of their seasons, the Phillies have had several memorable openers since they were defeated, 4-3, by Old Hoss Radbourn of the Providence Grays on May 1, 1883, at Recreation Park on the corner of 24th Street and Columbia Avenue.
There’s no better time, then, to dive into the archives of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News to unearth a Starting Nine of opening days past.
1955: Close, but no ‘no-no’ for Roberts
Robin Roberts was at the height of his Hall of Fame powers as the 1955 season began. It would mark his sixth consecutive season of least 20 wins, 300 innings and 20 complete games. If the bulldog right-hander threw the first pitch of a game, he almost certainly would throw the last one, too.
There never was much doubt of that on April 13 at Connie Mack Stadium.
Roberts retired the first 11 New York Giants batters before walking Willie Mays in the fourth inning. The Giants still didn’t have a hit when Roberts came out for the ninth inning. But two outs from history, he gave up a clean single to right field by Alvin Dark in an eventual 4-2 Phillies victory.
“I wanted that no-hitter for him so bad I couldn’t think of anything else,” Phillies pitching coach Whit Wyatt told the Inquirer’s Art Morrow. “But when the end of the season comes and they hand up the records, a no-hitter looks just the same as any other victory. Robbie won and that’s what really counts.”
1960: Phils lose, manager quits
How bad did the Phillies lose on opening day? Bad enough that the manager quit.
Eddie Sawyer, manager of the 1950 Whiz Kids, resigned after the Phillies fell to Cincinnati, 9-4, on April 12, 1960. He was replaced by Gene Mauch, who trails only Charlie Manuel for the most wins as Phillies manager.
Sawyer felt he no longer had the respect of the team’s veterans, who began to distrust him that spring when he said infielder Ted Lepcio was “one of the worst-looking major-league ballplayers I’ve ever seen” after Lepcio arrived late to Clearwater.
It was the second time Sawyer quit, as he resigned in June of 1952 when the Phillies were seven games below .500. His 1960 resignation was the first time a manager resigned or was fired that early in the season.
“I’m 49 years old," he said, “and I want to live to be 50.”
— Matt Breen
1972: The crashing debut of Kite Man
The Phillies won just 59 games in 1972, with 27 of those famously coming on starts by Steve Carlton. So perhaps it was fitting that they began that woeful season with a near disaster at the home opener.
Team president Bill Giles arranged for a stuntman named Jeff Jobe to deliver the first ball to Mayor Frank Rizzo by roller-skating down a 100-foot ramp in the center-field seats at Veterans Stadium and, with an oversized kite strapped to his back, soaring 400 feet to home plate. The Phillies advertised him as “Kite Man.”
But the season was delayed due to a players’ strike and Jobe was stuck in Mexico. The Phillies turned to a replacement named John Williamson, but he backed out a day before the opener due to heavy winds. And that led them to Richard Johnson, the third-string Kite Man who planned to water ski down the greased ramp instead of roller-skating.
The fans booed Johnson as he paused at the top of the ramp, believing Kite Man was having second thoughts. Then they gasped when a gust of wind blew Johnson off the greased ramp and sent him barreling into the Vet seats. Johnson eventually stood up and tossed the baseball to the field from the upper deck. Catcher Tim McCarver retrieved it and handed it to the mayor.
Disaster was avoided, the game began, and the Phillies lost to St. Louis, 5-4, because Carlton did not pitch that night.
1974: Michael Jack walks it off
Mike Schmidt was not yet Michael Jack Schmidt (meant to be said in your best Harry Kalas impersonation voice) at the start of the 1974 season. In fact, after hitting .196 as a rookie the previous year, he was the Phillies’ No. 8 hitter on opening day at the Vet.
Schmidt was also 0-for-3 with a strikeout against New York Mets starter Tom Seaver when he came to the plate for his final at-bat of the day. Facing Mets closer Tug McGraw with one out in the ninth inning, the 24-year-old Schmidt smashed a fastball for a game-winning two-run homer in a 5-4 victory.
To borrow McGraw’s famous line from one year earlier when the Mets won the pennant, “you gotta believe” it was the first of many big homers in Schmidt’s Hall of Fame career.
"Tug's going to have to try to get ahead of me because Bill Robinson's behind me," Schmidt said, according to the Inquirer's Frank Dolson. "I think he'd rather pitch to me than Bill Robinson."
1989: Mitch mows down Phils in Joe Girardi’s big-league debut
This one sticks out to me because it was my first opening day as a Phillies beat writer. I had replaced Rusty Pray as the Camden Courier-Post beat writer late in the 1988 season and covered my first road game at Wrigley Field on Labor Day that season. The ballpark had undergone a major renovation that offseason with the addition of luxury boxes and a new press box high above home plate that remains in place today.
The Phillies had also undergone some major changes, the most notable of which was the hiring of 35-year-old manager Nick Leyva. This game was also the major-league debut for a young kid named Joe Girardi, who became the first rookie catcher to start on opening day for the Cubs since Randy Hundley in 1966. His first career hit came off Floyd Youmans.
After falling behind 3-0 and 4-1, the Phillies got to within a run in the top of the eighth inning when Mike Schmidt hit his 543rd career home run off reliever Calvin Schiraldi to open the inning. The homer was significant because Schmidt had not homered once in spring training after undergoing surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff the previous September.
Schmidt would bat again in the ninth after the Phillies loaded the bases with nobody out against the Cubs’ new closer — Mitch Williams. Acquired in an offseason deal with Texas, the future Phillies closer struck out Schmidt with a slider and ended the Cubs’ 5-4 victory with strikeouts of Chris James and pinch-hitter Mark Ryal.
1991: A bartending umpire
The umpires settled their contract dispute with major-league owners in the morning, but the settlement did not happen in time for the umps to get on the field for opening day on April 8, 1991. So the Phillies opened the season against the Mets at Shea Stadium with amateur umpires who worked college games as part-time gigs.
They had a mixologist (“read: bartender,” the Daily News wrote) umpiring first base, a computer salesman behind the plate, a salesman at second base, and a pharmaceutical salesman behind the third-base bag.
Wally Backman, the Phillies second baseman, said second-base umpire Scott Graham got in his way during a pickoff play and said he told Graham to “stay the bleep out of the way.” But Graham said he never touched Backman nor heard him say anything. Home-plate umpire Bob Nelson said Graham was in the right position. Von Hayes said the replacement umpires “did an excellent job.” They were replaced the next day and returned that weekend to calling college games. The Mets won, 2-1.
— Matt Breen
1993: Houston, the Phils are about to lift off
It’s a bit of a myth that nobody gave the 1993 Phillies much of a chance to win after they had finished last in 1992. The truth is the predictions about the team were all over the map. USA Today’s Baseball Weekly picked them to win the NL East, but Sports Illustrated had them finishing in front of only the newly formed Florida Marlins.
“You can’t always believe what you read,” Phillies catcher Darren Daulton said before the team left Clearwater.
A major test was placed in front of the Phillies as they opened the season on the road against a Houston Astros team that included future Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio as well as newly acquired ace Doug Drabek. The Phils faced Drabek on opening night in the Astrodome and beat him 3-1, thanks to a four-hitter by Terry Mulholland. RBIs from Daulton and free-agent additions Jim Eisenreich and Pete Incaviglia also helped the Phillies end an eight-game, opening-day losing streak that dated back to 1984.
The Phillies went on to sweep the Astros and spent 181 of 182 days during the season in first place on their way to the World Series.
1997: Dodgers barely make contact, Schilling finally gets his contract
There were other storylines at the start of spring training — Lenny Dykstra’s bid to return from back surgery, Darren Daulton’s attempt to become an outfielder and Terry Francona’s first season as manager among them — but the only thing that mattered as camp came to a close was Curt Schilling’s contract situation.
Schilling was entering the last year of his contract and the negotiations that spring were often contentious. “It hurts when someone tells you you're not worth what you think you are,” Schilling said during spring training.
With the talks still ongoing, Schilling took the mound on opening day in Dodger Stadium and held the Dodgers to a couple of singles while striking out 11 batters over eight innings in a 3-0 Phillies victory. By the time the series was over, Schilling had a three-year extension worth $15.45 million. Before the All-Star break, however, he told the Phillies he’d be willing to waive the no-trade clause that had been so important to him during negotiations.
2010: Doc dominates in debut
How many times does reality actually live up to the hype?
“The Dark Knight” was everything that everybody wanted. So was the first Olympic Dream Team. The Colosseum in Rome is every bit as awesome as it looks in pictures. Usually, though, nothing is quite as good as advertised. We almost expect to be let down.
Then there was April 5, 2010, at Nationals Park in Washington. Roy Halladay made his first Phillies start and sparkled for seven innings. He gave up one run on six hits, struck out nine, and cruised to an 11-1 victory behind a grand slam and six RBI from Placido Polanco.
Oh, and the best was still to come. No. 34 threw a perfect game in May in Miami and a no-hitter in his first career playoff start in October at Citizens Bank Park and won the Cy Young Award.
There might have been a better season by a right-handed pitcher in Phillies history, but few of us were around to see it.
— 1900: The Phillies allowed nine runs in the bottom of the ninth but still defeated the Boston Beaneaters, 19-17, in 10 innings.
— 1914: Sherry Magee homered twice and drove in six runs in a 10-1 rout of the New York Giants at Baker Bowl.
— 1915: Grover Cleveland Alexander blanked the Boston Braves, 3-0, to kick off a pennant-winning season.
— 1930: Les Sweetland’s three-hit shutout against the Brooklyn Robins at Ebbets Field did not foretell the season the left-hander nicknamed “Sugar” was about to have. Sweetland’s 7.71 ERA that season is the highest in the modern era for pitchers who qualified for the ERA title. He was married in secret before spring training and after he told his teammates he had gotten married, his wife said, “I know he will win at least 20 games this year." He went 7-15.
— 1937: What’s better than one opening-day win? The Phillies swept a doubleheader against the Boston Bees, 2-1 in 11 innings and 1-0, at Braves Field.
— 1965: Richie Allen hit a two-run homer and Chris Short pitched a four-hitter in a 2-0 victory over the Houston Colt .45s in the first game ever played at the Astrodome.
— 1980: Greg Luzinski hit a three-run homer in the first inning and Steve Carlton went the distance in a 6-3 victory over the Montreal Expos at the Vet. Six months later, the Phillies won their first World Series.
— 1984: Mike Schmidt homered and Steve Carlton tossed seven scoreless innings in a 5-0 victory at Atlanta, pretty much the recipe for Phillies wins during this era.
— 1994: Trailing 6-4 in the eighth, the Phillies scored eight runs and beat Colorado, 12-6, at Mile High Stadium.
— 2003: Jim Thome notched three hits in his Phillies debut, an 8-5 victory at Miami.
— 2011: John Mayberry Jr.'s walk-off single capped a three-run ninth inning and a 5-4 victory over the Astros.
— 2014: In his last Phillies opening day, Jimmy Rollins drove in four runs in a 14-10 victory at Texas.
— 2019: Bryce Harper broke out Phanatic cleats and Andrew McCutchen homered in his first Phillies plate appearance in a 10-4 victory over Atlanta.