Opening Day doesn't always open easily. Nowhere was that truer last week than in Baltimore. At Memorial Stadium, banners with the names of the American League teams and cities flapped in the breeze. They were more tangled than spangled: The Toronto banner was upside down and another bore the name ROYAES. A parachutist was supposed to deliver the first ball to the mound, but aw, chute, strong winds blew him off target. He landed, unhurt, in the parking lot.
Former Oriole Brooks Robinson, after fielding a softly thrown grounder at his old third-base spot, uncharacteristically threw the ball into the dirt in front of home. Baltimore Catcher Rick Dempsey spared Brooks an error by digging it out.
Florence Lacey, the leading lady of a road-company production of Evita and the designated singer of the national anthem, had to be put on the disabled list at the last moment because of the flu. Fortunately, there was a powerful pinch hitter—Baltimore Opera Company baritone Joseph DiCara.
The umpires then left their dressing quarters and came on the field. Rich Garcia, Al Clark, Vic Voltaggio and Mike Reilly came to attention behind the plate, where Dempsey also stood, and placed their caps over their hearts as they waited for the national anthem. Dempsey had heard DiCara sing but, knowing a good gag when he spotted one, put his cap over his heart also.
In the first inning, the Orioles committed an error that gave the Royals a run. During the seventh-inning stretch, team officials flubbed one, too. Instead of playing John Denver's Thank God I'm a Country Boy, as they have done for seven years, they introduced a new theme song, That Magic Feeling. The song evoked lots of feeling, none of it magic: The crowd of 51,889 booed lustily. An inning later, Denver's toe-tapping tune was back. But where was retired Oriole skipper Earl Weaver while the Birds were losing 7-2? Playing golf in Miami.
Vida Blue of the Royals, a self-described space-travel freak, was miffed that there was no TV in Baltimore's visiting clubhouse. That meant he couldn't watch the launching of space shuttle Challenger minutes before the first pitch. Blue has a manual detailing the functions of various space vehicles, and he studies it diligently. "When there's a launch, I go page for page with them on TV," Blue said. "It's my simulated flight. I go right down the checklist and pretend I'm helping. They say we're getting so crowded we might have to live in space. I want to be ready. I'd love to go to the moon."
Cincinnati used a real submarine ball for its ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day; it traveled more than 50,000 miles underwater aboard the nuclear sub U.S.S. Cincinnati.... Cincy fans didn't see team mascot Mr. Red, but he saw plenty of red after being cut from stadium appearances by the club.
Three of the batters least ready for the season's start obviously were Andre Thornton of the Indians (he hit .088 with no homers in spring training), George Brett of the Royals (two hits and no RBIs in his last 32 exhibition-game at bats) and Willie Upshaw of the Blue Jays (. 175 and no homers). So what happened? Thornton walloped the first pitch thrown to him for a three-run homer. After Brett's first two trips to the plate he had a double, home run and two RBIs. Upshaw, hitherto called Mr. March because of his spring-training hitting sprees, homered and singled on Opening Day and was promptly redubbed Mr. April.
Mariner Manager Rene Lachemann and his coaches, who agreed that Clint Hurdle had made the team, were stunned when club President Dan O'Brien sent Hurdle packing despite his .317 exhibition-game average. A few days later Hurdle was signed by the Mets and sent to their Triple A Tidewater team.
Toronto's Bobby Cox was one manager who had his way. Feeling he needed a spare infielder more than another outfielder, Cox trimmed Mitch Webster and retained Mickey Klutts. Webster, 23, hit a club-leading .464 during spring training. Klutts, 28, has had five knee operations and has been in only 177 major league games in seven seasons while accumulating 382 days on the disabled list.
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, feeling he no longer has to play politics now that his days on the job are supposedly numbered, explained frankly why he was in Boston for the opener against Toronto. Said Kuhn, "Every year I go to an opener and I'm asked, 'Why are you here?' This year I can finally answer, 'Because it's Fenway, and it's my favorite park.' "
Here are some of the things Pitcher Larry Gura of the Royals would do if he were named Kuhn's successor: The season would not start before April 15, and night openers wouldn't be allowed in northerly cities. There would be fewer off days in April and more in August and September. One local fan would sit in the home dugout during each game. All stadium seats would have electronic devices allowing fans to vote on hits/errors decisions, but the official rulings would be made by full-time scorers. Organ music at games would be banned. Players would select the All-Star teams and there would be a five-day break for the game, after which no player sales or trades would be permitted. Electronic devices would help umpires call pitches, or there would be two umps—one on either side of the plate. There would be interleague play. All divisions would be rearranged to make more sense geographically. A pitcher would be allowed to do anything he wants with his motion in an effort to deceive batters and base runners.
Forget it, Gura. They'll never choose you. Your ideas are too good.
Remember when Atlanta Pitcher Pascual Perez got lost while driving to the stadium last year on the day he got his driver's license? Well, the Braves plugged their Opening Day with a 20-second promo that showed Perez giving directions to the stadium to new teammate, Reliever Terry Forster.
In the opinion of White Sox base-running Coach Dave Nelson, his smartest runner is a 225-pounder who's had only 30 steals in 12 years. "In two years here he hasn't made a single base-running mistake," Nelson says. "That's because he's smart and knows his limitations." That's no bull. That's Greg Luzinski.
Before the season began, Red Sox Pitcher Dennis Eckersley vowed he'd stop giving up homers to banjo hitters, and he specifically named Rance Mulliniks of the Blue Jays as a batter of that ilk. Eckersley faced Mulliniks in the second inning of the opener. Result: Mulliniks came through as loud and clear as a bongo drummer by bopping a two-run homer. In their next confrontation, Eckersley hit him. Cleveland's Rick Sutcliffe seemed equally determined not to let Oakland's Rickey Henderson steal a base in their opener, throwing 12 times to first to keep him close. Didn't work, though. Henderson took off and stole anyway.
San Diego Manager Dick Williams has a strong opinion about the off-season trade that sent the Giants' Joe Morgan and Al Holland to the Phillies for Mike Krukow. "That's going to be a big loss [for San Francisco]," Williams said. "Morgan's leadership is invaluable. And they got rid of Holland, too? I think they're hurting."
The Dodgers and Angels, who set league attendance records last season with 3,608,881 and 2,807,360 people, respectively, are in line to surpass those figures. L.A. cut off its season-ticket sales at a club-record 27,000, and California broke its mark with more than 18,000. Assessing the Dodgers' chances of reaching 4,000,000, ticket manager Walter Nash said, "It depends on the April weather and how the club is going in August and September."
General manager types in both leagues agree that the toughest part of their job these days is dealing with players' agents. "A non-roster player had a couple hits in our first intrasquad game this spring, and the next morning his agent called and wanted to renegotiate his contract," says Cleveland's Phil Seghi.
Houston's Joe Sambito, who recently had a third operation on his right elbow, won't pitch again, if at all, until 1984.... No wonder every big-leaguer wants to wear a World Series ring. The Cardinals' rings are valued at $1,200 each.... Cub Pitcher Mike Proly, who's on the disabled list with tendinitis in his right shoulder, says, "I guess I can park in the 'disabled' spaces now."
Texas knuckleballer Charlie Hough, who was 16-13 last year, is ahead of schedule following arthroscopic surgery on his right knee during spring training. Instead of pulling up an easy chair while recuperating, Hough pulled up a stool, sat down and threw to a catcher. His knee is fine; in fact. Hough pitched four innings of clutch relief last Sunday and got a win.
OH, GIVE ME A FOAM...
BEER HERE: When Indian President Gabe Paul heard that a brew at Cleveland Stadium would cost $2, he protested, "That's too much." Paul's frothing paid off: Prices were dropped to $1.30 and $1.25, depending on the size of the serving.... AND HERE: Even though Opening Day and Election Day coincided in St. Louis, fans in Busch Stadium toasted their champs in style. Aldermen averted a brewhaha by repealing a law that prevented the sale of alcohol while polls were open.... BUT NOT HERE: The Braves will sell no beer in two special dry sections of 384 reserved seats.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
ANDRE THORNTON: After starting the year with a homer, Cleveland's designated hitter kept at it, going 10 for 16 overall, with two doubles, two homers and nine RBIs, two of them game-winners.
"Players are funny. They respect guys who make a lot of money, even if they don't deserve it. The manager is the most important guy on the team and should be treated on a higher level. Coaches should be regarded highly, too, but because of their comparatively low salaries, they're not. I don't think that's fair.