As we hit another Opening Day, and CC Sabathia’s second Opening Day start for the Bombers, I decided to take a look at some of the history behind the pitchers who got the nod.
In the franchise’s 107-year history, 57 men have taken the hill on Opening Day. Whitey Ford, Mel Stottlemyre and Ron Guidry are tied for most Opening Day starts, with seven.
Ford’s seven starts actually took place over a 13-season span, from 1954 to 1966. He never started more than two openers consecutively. Don Larsen (2 starts), Bob Turley, Jim Coates (!), Jim Bouton and Ralph Terry got the assignments in the non-Ford years.
Stottlemyre was the ace of the staff during the lean post-dynasty years. He threw the first pitch every year from ’67 to ’74, except for ’71, when Stan Bahnsen opened things up.
“Gator” started what would be his memorable 25-3 1978 campaign as the Opening Day starter in ’78 (he got a “no decision” that day, as the Yanks lost 2-1 at Texas). Guidry started six more Openers in the next eight years, missing only 1981 (Tommy John got the assignment) and 1985 (Phil Niekro).
The period from 1987-1992 was muddled to downright depressing, depending on your point of view. Six different managers, three in-season managerial changes, and four consecutive seasons with winning percentages lower than .470 (which hadn’t happened since 1912-15 . . . and the Yankees were the Highlanders in ’12). Four of those six years saw the team use at least 20 different pitchers. So, it should be no surprise than six different men got the Opening Day start during that period (Dennis Rasmussen, Rick Rhoden, Tommy John, Dave LaPoint, Tim Leary and Scott Sanderson). If you add in Guidry’s final Opener (1986), and Jimmy Key’s first Opener (1993), then there were eight different starters over eight years, the longest streak in franchise history.
Here is some Opening Day starter minutia for ya’:
- Yankee career totals of Opening Day starters:
- Most games won: Ford (236)
- Fewest games won: Carl Pavano (9)
- Most games started: Ford (438)
- Fewest games started: Pavano (26)
- Highest winning percentage: Spud Chandler (.717)
- Lowest winning percentage: Marty McHale (.289, from 1913-15)
- Best ERA+: Ford (133)
- Worst ERA+: Tim Leary (79)
- Key has the most wins without a loss (3).
- Ray Caldwell (starter in 1912, ’16 and ’17) has the most losses without a win (3).
- Guidry has the most No Decisions in games which the Yankees lost (4). No other pitcher has more than one No Decision, regardless of the outcome of the game.
- The Yankees have never had an opener started by a pitcher with a last name beginning with A, E, I, Q, U, X, Y or Z.
- Al Orth (1907 starter) has the shortest name of all Opening Day pitchers (6 letters), while Orlando Hernandez (starter in 2000) has the longest name (16 letters).
(Edit: I just noticed another statistical oddity . . . besides 57 different Opening Day starters, there have been 57 different Yankees to hit a homer on Opening Day.)