Today, the White Sox will celebrate their 120th Opening Day in franchise history.
Traditionally, the team and its fans have recognized Opening Day as the first tangible evidence that the bitter cold, howling winds and drifting snow of Old Man Winter are passing from the scene. Opening Day has always been a time for renewed hope, the promise of approaching summer ... of warm nights, cold beer and good baseball. “The Boys Are Back In Town!” (With apologies to Thin Lizzy.)
Opening Day has provided moments of joy, disappointment and outright strangeness. It has foretold championship seasons, and seasons where the Sox only hope of winning a championship was if the rest of the American League forfeited. Some of the best players in franchise history have performed on Opening Day, while others have seen themselves disappear from the franchise soon afterwards.
With that in mind, here’s a look back at some of the most interesting and eventful Opening Days — White Sox style.
Here are the Top 16, in order of their importance and uniqueness:
April 7, 1971, at Oakland
The “new look” White Sox, decked out in powder blue with red trim road uniforms, beat the Oakland A’s, 6-5 and 12-4, in the only regularly-scheduled Opening Day doubleheader in history.
The idea was courtesy of A’s owner Charlie Finley, who thought he could get a jump on the league by beating the Sox twice. After all, Chicago was coming off of a 106-loss season the year before. The Sox blasted five home runs in the doubleheader and should have had a sixth, but Carlos May was called out for failing to touch home plate after hitting what was thought to be a home run in the first inning of the nightcap.
May would talk about that moment: “As I was rounding third base, the bench was empty. I mean, nobody was in the dugout; they were all at home plate. As I got towards home they mobbed me, and I guess I never touched the plate. I don’t know how Gene Tenace saw that I missed it with everybody around. I was in the dugout when Tenace got a new ball, came over and tagged me and the umpire said I was out. I was embarrassed!”
The game also marked the first regular-season broadcast for new announcer Harry Caray with the team.
April 2, 2006
The White Sox were World Champions and opened the season at home before a capacity crowd that saw the title banner raised before the game against Cleveland. The only bad thing about the evening was the weather, as heavy rain blew in and halted play for roughly three hours.
The Sox overcame it, though, and blasted Cleveland, 10-4. Seven different Sox players had RBIs including newcomer Jim Thome, who launched a massive home run deep into the right field seats in the fourth inning.
April 10, 1981, at Boston
The game was the first Opening Day for new White Sox owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn, and it was a magical moment for newly-signed free agent catcher Carlton Fisk.
The future Hall-of-Famer returned to Boston and belted a three-run home run off Bob Stanley in the eighth inning to get his revenge in a 5-3 win.
“Stanley has a heck of a sinker,” Fisk said. “And I looked for a pitch down and over the plate. When I hit it, I thought it was going to be off the wall. I was going for a double and when I got close to second base, I saw the umpire waving me around. It felt pretty good.”
The game and the season marked a new start for the franchise, as the new owners provided enthusiasm and money to improve the team.
April 4, 2005
The Sox began what would turn out to be a magical season, beating Cleveland, 1-0, at U.S. Cellular Field in front of more than 38,000 in perfect weather.
The game itself took less than two hours and set the tone for the year. Mark Buehrle went eight innings, allowing only two hits, and Shingo Takatsu finished it up. That combination of great pitching, timely hitting and excellent fundamentals would lead to 99 wins in the regular season, and an 11-1 run through the postseason to win the franchise’s first world championship since 1917.
April 23, 1919, at St. Louis
Perhaps the greatest White Sox team ever opened the season in St. Louis, destroying the Browns, 13-4.
The Sox scored three runs in the third inning and put the game away with five more in the fourth. Claude “Lefty” Williams got the win backed by Buck Weaver’s five RBIs and Eddie Collins’ three.
April 16, 1940
Cleveland’s Bob Feller fired the only Opening Day no-hitter ever, beating the White Sox in Chicago, 1-0, in front of 14,000 cold fans at Comiskey Park.
Or did he?
White Sox shortstop Luke Appling hit a drive that appeared to kick up the chalk down the left-field line. However, it was ruled foul. An incredulous Appling challenged the call, only to be told by home-plate umpire Harry Geisel “It isn’t a big deal, because Feller is going to be a credit to the game.” Appling angrily responded: “What the hell am I, chopped liver?” Sox starter Edgar Smith took the loss, allowing only six hits on the day. Cleveland’s only run scored thanks to a triple by catcher Rollie Hemsley in the fourth inning.
April 15, 1951, at St. Louis
The dawn of the “Golden Era” of White Sox baseball began with a 17-3 destruction of Bill Veeck-owned St. Louis. White Sox manager Paul Richards unveiled a new type of team that relied on smart baseball, good pitching and defense, and great speed. They would go on to have 17 consecutive winning seasons; in seven of those 17 years the Sox would win more than 90 games. Billy Pierce picked up the complete-game win. It was easy going for him after the Sox put six on the board in the second inning. Al Zarilla and Gus Zernial knocked in four runs apiece.
April 9, 1990
It was the last Opening Day in the original Comiskey Park, and the Sox celebrated with a 2-1 win over the Brewers.
Melido Perez and Bobby Thigpen combined to hold Milwaukee to only four hits. The winning run came in the seventh inning on a sacrifice fly from Scott Fletcher. The win was the first of 94 for the club, picked for last place in the Western Division. A capacity crowd of more than 40,000 turned out to see the spunky team that turned out to be one of the most fundamentally sound in franchise history.
April 24, 1901
In the first game for the new American League, the White Sox beat the Cleveland Blues, 8-2.
The ceremonial first ball was supposed to be thrown out by Robert Burke, special counsel to the mayor. He declined, however, stating that he was afraid the ball might get hit back to him. The first batter in White Sox history that day was “Dummy” Hoy, a deaf-mute player who overcame his disabilities to thrive in the major leagues baseball. The winning pitcher was Roy Patterson.
April 10, 1959, at Detroit
Chicago’s first AL pennant-season in 40 years began in freezing Detroit and was won by an unlikely long ball hero. Nellie Fox, who hit home runs as often as he struck out, left the park in the 14th inning — his first home run in two years — to give the White Sox a 9-7 win. Detroit had tied the game with three runs in the eighth inning. Fox had a terrific afternoon, with five hits and three RBIs. His game-winning shot came off of future Sox relief pitcher Don Mossi. “I hit so many [home runs] that I have trouble keeping track of them,” Fox told the Detroit Free Press after the game with a smile on his face.
April 15, 1972, at Kansas City
The first labor impasse to cause regularly scheduled games to be cancelled caused Opening Day to be pushed back.
In Kansas City the Sox lost, 2-1, to the Royals in 11 innings despite Dick Allen’s first White Sox home run. The long ball broke a scoreless tie in the top of the ninth inning. Kansas City tied the game with two out when Bob Oliver homered off Wilbur Wood. The Royals won it on a John Mayberry single.
April 10, 1961, at Washington. D.C.
The Sox opened the season in Washington against the “new” Senators with a 4-3 win. (The original Senators had fled to Minnesota the previous winter.)
The winning run came in the eighth inning, thanks to a sacrifice fly off the bat from Roy Sievers. However, the big news was made before the game when both President John Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson were interviewed by WGN-TV’s Vince Lloyd as part of the “Lead Off Man” show. It’s the only time a sitting president agreed to a pregame interview from his box. White Sox outfielder Jim Rivera caught the ceremonial first ball tossed on to the field by Kennedy.
April 5, 1974
Nolan Ryan and the Angels beat Wilbur Wood and the White Sox, 8-2, in freezing weather at Comiskey Park.
All was not lost, however ... except some clothing, despite the weather.
It was the days of the “streaking” craze. One female disrobed herself to the delight of fans in the upper deck. Then a guy wearing nothing but a Sox batting helmet ran onto the field in the left-field corner before he was lifted back up into the stands by his friends. White Sox manager Chuck Tanner later said, with tongue planted firmly in his cheek: “I wasn’t impressed by him.” Announcer Harry Caray described the “action” in ways that you couldn’t get away with today.
“Ah, ya can’t beat fun at the old ballpark!”
April 9, 1976
Bill Veeck, in his second go-around as White Sox owner, wanted to make a splash in his return to the game. So Veeck lined up manager Paul Richards and business manager Rudie Schaffer, and the three of them marched on to the Comiskey Park field as the drummer, fife player and flag carrier from the Revolutionary War for the playing of the national anthem. After all, it was the Bicentennial. Wilbur Wood threw one of his last good games for the team in shutting out Kansas City. 4-0, allowing only six hits. Newly-acquired Jim Spencer hit a two-run homer in the game, in front of more than 40,000.
April 7, 1977, at Toronto
The South Side Hit Men were born in a snowstorm, as American League baseball came to Canada.
The expansion Blue Jays won the game, 9-5, but the Sox banged out 15 hits, including a tremendous home run by Richie Zisk. That season would prove to be one of the best-loved in team history as the group of castoffs, has-been’s and injured players battered the baseball to the tune of 90 wins by season’s end.
April 12, 1966
The White Sox opened the season with a 3-2 win over the Angels in 14 innings.
Tommy McCraw delivered the game-winning hit off George Brunet after Tommy Agee’s two-run homer in the seventh inning tied the score.
But the game is known for what the 28,000-plus fans sang to open the afternoon. It was not “‘The Star Spangled Banner,” but “God Bless America.” The Sox made the change, stating that the words to the National Anthem were too hard to remember and to sing. Famous songwriter Irving Berlin wrote a letter to the Sox, begging them to go back to the original anthem. The Sox then decided to let the fans vote on which song they preferred. “The Star Spangled Banner” won.