Shortly before the season opened, the White Sox finished their decimation of the young depth on their roster by shipping future All-Star and power-hitting catcher Earl Battey along with future power-hitting All-Star first baseman Don Mincher to the Senators for power-hitting first baseman Roy Sievers.
Sievers gave the Sox good output, averaging 27 home runs, 92 RBIs and a .295 batting average in two seasons. He had a 21-game hitting streak in 1960, and made the All-Star team in 1961. But Battey, who cried when he was told he was traded, may have won the Sox the pennant in 1964, 1967 or both just by himself (to say nothing of other players shipped out that offseason like Johnny Romano, Norm Cash and Johnny Callison.) Battey would go on to make four All-Star appearances and win three Gold Gloves at catcher. Mincher would become a two-time All-Star.
The White Sox opened the season at home under freezing conditions versus the Angels and Nolan Ryan. Wilbur Wood started, which caused broadcaster Harry Caray to comment that the game was “The tortoise against the hare.” This time the hare won, as Ryan and the Angels got an easy 8-2 victory.
The game did have its moments, however. The streaking craze had hit college campuses and, on this day, a few young ladies in the upper deck decided to partially streak while a young man jumped the outfield fence and ran naked through left field before being hoisted back into the stands by his friends. White Sox manager Chuck Tanner had one of the best lines anywhere when asked what he thought about the outfield streaker: “I wasn’t impressed by him.” (nudge, nudge, wink, wink ... say no more!)
Literally a few hours before the team was to head north to open the season, owner Bill Veeck traded shortstop Bucky Dent to the Yankees. Salary was the reasoning behind it, and Veeck’s comment (“I’d trade Dent even-up for any other starting shortstop in the American League”) didn’t help matters.
In return, the White Sox got outfielder Oscar Gamble, pitcher Bob Polinsky, minor league pitcher LaMarr Hoyt and $200,000. Gamble would be a big part of the 1977 hitting orgy, belting 31 home runs (a White Sox record for lefthanders), while Hoyt would take the 1983 Cy Young Award as a 24-game winner.
New manager Ozzie Guillén figured he had his debut game all wrapped up, as the White Sox took a 7-3 lead into the ninth inning at Kansas City. Twenty minutes later, the Royals had scored six runs to take the game, 9-7. The amazing rally set the modern record for the most runs scored in the ninth inning to win a game on Opening Day. Damaso Marte faced three batters, gave up three hits (two of them home runs) and allowed five runs to score in getting the loss.
It was Opening Day and for Mark Buehrle, it was his eighth Opening Day start, setting a franchise record.
Buehrle was brilliant in the 6-0 win over Cleveland, but what everyone was talking about after the game was the play he made on a hard-hit ball off the bat of Lou Marson in the fifth inning. Both ESPN and the MLB Network called it the play of the year.
Marson’s shot ricocheted off of Buehrle’s leg and was hit so hard it headed towards foul ground on the first-base side of the field. Buehrle sprinted off the mound, fielded the ball with his glove and flipped it between his legs to Paul Konerko, who made a barehanded catch to nip Marson by a step. It was simply an incredible play.
Also on that day ...
President Barack Obama threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day at Nationals Park, marking the 100th anniversary of the first presidential first pitch, made by William Howard Taft on April 14, 1910. White Sox diehard Obama wore a Nats jacket for warmth, but donned his familiar White Sox cap for the pitch.