The start of the season finds the White Sox in Detroit, and it is a highlight game for third baseman Pete Ward. Ward smacks a seventh-inning, three-run home run off of Jim Bunning to push the Sox into the lead, and in the ninth inning makes a clutch, barehanded pick up-and-throw out of a slow roller hit by Al Kaline. The Sox win, 7-5, and it would be the start of a brilliant rookie year for Ward. That year, he finishes at .295 with 22 home runs, 84 RBIs, 34 doubles and six triples.
It’s the biggest crowd for a home opener in years, as 43,253 fans pour into Comiskey Park to see the “New Look” White Sox under new player personnel director Roland Hemond and manager Chuck Tanner. The size of the crowd completely catches ownership with their pants down, as concession stands and vendors run out of items by the mid-game!
The players don’t leave fans hungry, however, as Rich McKinney’s two-out, ninth-inning single scores Rich Morales with the game-winning run in a 3-2 victory over Minnesota. Morales led off the inning with a single off Twins relief ace Ron Perranoski.
Owner Bill Veeck is back, and 40,318 fans turn out to welcome him home on Opening Day. They get their money’s worth, as in a Bicentennial tribute Veeck, manager Paul Richards and front office executive Rudy Schaffer present the colors dressed as the fife player, drummer and flag bearer of the Revolutionary War. The stunt is unannounced, coming as a last-minute brainstorm by Veeck — who along with GM Roland Hemond has to convince Richards to dress up!
In the game itself, Wilbur Wood tosses a complete game six-hitter and Jim Spencer has a two-run home run in a 4-0 win against Kansas City.
The White Sox defeat the Blue Jays in Toronto, 3-2, for the franchise’s first-ever regular season win outside of the United States. Oscar Gamble’s home run in the fourth puts the Sox on top to stay, and the team adds two more runs in the fifth. Chris Knapp gets the win and Lerrin LaGrow his first save of what becomes the best season of his career (25 saves, 2.46 ERA).
Francisco Barrios, the only pitcher to bridge the full second tenure of Bill Veeck’s White Sox ownership, dies in Hermosillo, Mexico.
Barrios pitched his entire MLB career of seven seasons with the White Sox, leading the pitching staff of the 90-win South Side Hit Men (and finishing second on the team overall) with 4.4 WAR. His career totals were 38-38 with a 4.15 ERA/95 ERA+.
But Barrios fought drug and alcohol addiction, got into scrapes with teammates, and was arrested for cocaine possession. In 1981, when rosters expanded, the White Sox cut him loose. Over the winter, Barrios refocused enough to earn MVP honors in the Mexican Pacific League, with a 7-3 record and 1.65 ERA. Rumors circulated that the Milwaukee Brewers would be bringing him back to the majors, but before that could happen he passed away in his parents’ home, where he had been living.
Barrios died just 10 months after his final MLB game, on June 3, 1981.
For future Hall-of-Famer Tom Seaver, it is his record 14th Opening Day start. For Ozzie Guillén, it’s his debut in the major leagues. The two of them combine to help the Sox beat Milwaukee, 4-2, at County Stadium. Guillén bunts a single off of future Sox pitcher Ray Searage in the ninth inning for his first major-league hit. Seaver gets the win, with 6 2⁄3 innings of work.
In the last home opener at the original Comiskey Park, the Sox made it a good one in beating the Brewers, 2-1, before 40,008 fans who wait out a rain delay. In the seventh inning, Scott Fletcher’s sacrifice fly scores Sammy Sosa with what turned out to be the winning run. Barry Jones gets the win, and Bobby Thigpen picks up the first of a record-setting 57 saves that season.
During the home opener against the Yankees, Bo Jackson shows that the human spirit is simply amazing. Jackson, playing with an artificial hip, hammers a Neal Heaton pitch into the right-field seats for a home run. It is Jackson’s first at-bat since his hip surgery, caused by an injury he suffered during his days as an All-Pro running back for the Los Angeles Raiders.
In 1993 Bo would go on to hit 16 home runs, including one in late September against Seattle that would prove the game-winner in the Western Division title-clincher. He was the first athlete to have had hip replacement surgery and be able to return and play at the highest level.
As far as the baseball hit off Heaton, a fan returns it to Jackson and he later had it encased and welded to the headstone of his mother’s grave.
Just 1,677 fans watch the Blue Jays knock off the White Sox, 5-0, in Chicago. Originally scheduled as a night game, extreme cold forced the start time into the afternoon, when it was still just 34 degrees at first pitch. It is the smallest crowd at a White Sox game since 1970.