Cleveland’s All-Time Opening Day Starting Lineup
Steve Eby | On 03, Apr 2016
Opening Day is like no other day of the year for baseball fans.
The stadium is sold out. Warm weather is on the way. There’s optimism. Everybody is tied for first place. A win can catapult a fan base’s spirit and a loss can crush early dreams.
No other day is full of overreactions quite like Opening Day.
So which Cleveland players have vaulted hopes on the season’s first day the best? I thought it might be interesting to find out and construct a lineup.
In order to be fair, I decided that the player must be in the top three number of games played in Openers started at their position and must have at least five games in under his belt, too. This eliminates any player who went 3-3 in their lone Opening Day contest as well as any pinch hitter who maybe went 1-1 with a home run in their lone Opener.
**The Opening Day records at Baseball-Reference.com only date back to 1913, so any Opener prior to that is not counted**
Bob Feller (1939-41, 46-49)
Rapid Robert started a franchise-high seven Openers from 1939-49 and posted a 4-3 record with a 1.21 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 52 innings. He notched a 0.83 WHIP and also threw the only Opening Day no-hitter in history. Feller is widely regarded as the franchise’s best player, so it is no surprise that he earns the notch as the Opening Day hurler.
Sandy Alomar, Jr. (1990-94, 96-2000)
Like Feller, Alomar’s place on the list is not surprising. In ten Openers, Alomar had an impressive .375 average with one home run, three RBI, three doubles and five runs scored.
After a tight race at pitcher between Feller and Lemon, the race got even tighter at catcher as Alomar just did squeak past Steve O’Neill (.357, 0 HR, 2 RBI), who started nine Openers in the franchise’s early days. Also in the running was Jim Hegan (.289, 1 HR, 6 RBI), whose eleven starts behind the dish are the most of any Indian catcher.
Jim Thome (1997, 99-2002)
Oddly enough, first base is among the weakest positions stat-wise for Openers. Thome largely struggled on Opening Day, hitting just .222 with a double, a homer and three RBI in his five games as a starting first baseman. It was his four walks and four runs scored which separated him from the other two contenders, who were also surprisingly unimpressive.
The franchise leader with eight Opening Day starts is Hal Trosky (.181, 1 HR, 3 RBI), who struggled through every start from 1934-41. Also in the running was Doc Johnston (.210, 0 HR, 1 RBI), who started five Openers between 1913 and 1921.
Bill Wambsganss (1917-20, 22-23)
The tightest race thus far is at second base, where old man Wamby just eeked out a victory against 1950’s second-sacker Bobby Avila. Wambsganss batted .416 in six Openers with a double, three RBI, six runs scored and a stolen base. This puts him slightly ahead of Avila (six starts) who was also impressive with a .375 average, one homer and four RBI.
Also in the running with Wamby and Avila was a trio of five-time starters in Ray Mack (.250, 1 HR, 2 RBI), Duane Kuiper (.181, 0 HR, 1 RBI) and Carlos Baerga (.142, 1 HR, 2 RBI). Monday night will likely allow current Indian Jason Kipnis to join the list of second baseman as he sits at four Opening Day starts, but Kip needs an impossibly big game to unseat Wambsganss as he is mired in a 1-18 (.055) skid on Opening Day.
Al Rosen (1950-56)
Rosen is remarkably still the last Indian to win the MVP award and is also the only qualifying third baseman to put up decent Opening Day numbers. Rosen batted .280 in his seven Openers with one home run, three RBI, a double, five walks and a stolen base. It is solid production from one of the best that Cleveland has seen from the hot corner.
The rest of the field boasts two good players, but interestingly poor Opening Day performers. Ken Keltner (.205, 1 HR, 1 RBI) put up shockingly poor stats in his record eleven Openers by driving in just one run on a solo homer. Brook Jacoby (.148, 0 HR, 2 RBI) also uncharacteristically failed to hit eight times on the season’s first day.
Joe Sewell (1921-28)
Shortstop may be the biggest surprise on the list, but Sewell’s eight games were far better than the only two others to play more than him. Sewell leads all researched players with a .483 average and is tied with fellow shortstop Omar Vizquel as the leader with 14 Opening Day hits. He also ranks second out of everyone with nine RBI, so the choice at shortstop was a simple one.
Vizquel’s (.275, 1 HR, 7 RBI) eleven starts were nothing to sneeze at, but Lou Boudreau’s (.244, 0 HR, 3 RBI), the co-leader in games played, were not nearly up to par.
Charlie Jamieson (1921, 23-29)
A 1920’s and 1990’s theme is starting to arise, but Jamieson definitely deserves the nod in left field. In a position-high eight games, Jamieson batted a solid .270 with one homer, four RBI and two steals.
Kenny Lofton (1992-96, 98-2001)
The rest of the list is significantly more recent, as the remaining three players all played into this century with the Tribe. Center field is patrolled by Kenny Lofton, who started all nine Openers in his years with Cleveland. Lofton batted .286 with one home run, two triples, five RBI, five walks, five runs and four steals in opening contests, proving to be the catalyst that he always was from the very start.
Behind Lofton are two Hall of Famers who struggled to start their seasons on the right foot. Tris Speaker (.190, 1 HR, 7 RBI) played in eleven Openers for Cleveland while Earl Averill (.250, 2 HR, 9 RBI) started ten.
Manny Ramirez (1994-2000)
A closer call than I had anticipated happened in right field—considering that I had never heard of the runner-up and only other player who met the five-start criteria. Man-Ram takes the prize, however, as he batted .333 with one home run and a list-high ten RBI in seven games.
The aforementioned runner-up was Homer Summa (.316, 0 HR, 4 RBI), who played five Openers in right for the Tribe in the mid-1920’s.
Travis Hafner (2004-2012)
The last position is the most recent to join the baseball ranks, as the DH has only two qualifiers as well. The choice was another easy and predictable one, as Pronk started nine of his ten Openers at the DH spot. Hafner batted .297 with two home runs, five RBI and two doubles as a DH.
The only other qualifier for the DH spot was Andre Thornton (.158, 1 HR, 5 RBI), whose statistics were nowhere near those of Hafner’s.
Batting Order (based solely on the Opening Day stats):