Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. Today is one of my favorite days of the year.
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Opening Day is one of the best days on the sports calendar, especially when it’s a bright, sunny day. The gloomy weather here in the New York area has dampened some of my excitement (and forced the Yankees–Red Sox game to get bumped back to tomorrow) but I’m still looking forward to the season finally getting underway. And hey, it could be worse. It’s snowing in Minneapolis, which means the Twins-Mariners game has also been postponed.
But there are still seven games left on the schedule, including four that will be available to national audiences:
- Cubs-Brewers (2:20 p.m. ET, MLB Network)
- Nationals-Mets (7:05 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
- Braves-Reds (8:08 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
- Angels-Astros (9:38 p.m. ET, MLB Network)
The thing that makes Opening Day great, though, is the thrill of anticipating what the season has in store. Will Shohei Ohtani be able to repeat his historic 2021 season? Are the Dodgers going to be as unbeatable as everyone thinks they will be? Can the Mets stay healthy enough to make a run at the Braves? I could spend all morning listing things I’m curious about for this season.
I’ve been anxiously awaiting the start of baseball season for weeks now, and so I’ve spent the past several days devouring all of Sports Illustrated’s preview content, from regular-season and playoff predictions to award picks. It may end up coming back to bite me, but here are my picks for the season:
AL division winners: Blue Jays, White Sox, Angels
AL wild-card teams: Yankees, Astros, Twins
NL division winners: Braves, Brewers, Dodgers
NL wild-card teams: Mets, Padres, Phillies
World Series: Blue Jays over Dodgers
AL MVP: Vladimir Guererro Jr.
NL MVP: Ronald Acuña Jr.
AL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole
NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer
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AL Rookie of the Year: Bobby Witt Jr.
NL Rookie of the Year: Hunter Greene
The best of Sports Illustrated
There isn’t a better possible pairing for today’s Daily Cover than the best baseball writer around (Tom Verducci) and the best player in the game (Shohei Ohtani):
“One year ago, Ohtani was a curiosity coming off a season in which he hit .190 and pitched 1 2/3 innings after not pitching at all in 2019. This time he is the most amazing player in baseball—probably even in the game’s history.”
Verducci has another feature on another Angels star: Mike Trout. … Rohan Nadkarni has four big questions the Lakers are going to have to answer to become a contender again. … As for Los Angeles’s other NBA team, Michael Pina thinks the Clippers could be dangerous in the playoffs. … Conor Orr argues that NFL teams shouldn’t be afraid to give Colin Kaepernick a workout.
Around the Sports World
The Mystics have reportedly traded the first pick in next week’s WNBA draft to the Dream. … Sixers wing Matisse Thybulle is listed as “ineligible to play” tonight in Toronto (presumably because he’s unvaccinated), which could be a big problem for Philadelphia in a potential playoff series with the Raptors. … Only 22 of the NCAA’s 130 FBS schools have plans in place to pay athletes the bonuses for good grades that they’re eligible for. … The chairman of Augusta National says that Phil Mickelson was not disinvited from The Masters. … Stephen Curry shut down the idea of playing with LeBron James.
The top five…
… moments from the Masters par-3 contest:
5. Gary Player’s near hole-in-one
4. Max Homa’s near hole-in-one
3. Jason Kokrak’s actual hole-in-one
2. Tommy Fleetwood skipping his ball across the water to within three feet of the pin
1. Jon Rahm’s 1-year-old son’s obsession with Marty Smith’s microphone
On this day in 1925, Babe Ruth fell ill during a trip to Asheville, N.C., and was taken to the hospital. Two weeks later, he underwent stomach surgery. What nickname was Ruth’s ailment given by newspaper writers?
Yesterday’s SIQ: What was the result of Ron Blomberg’s historic first plate appearance as a designated hitter in 1973?
Answer: A bases-loaded walk. Blomberg, the No. 1 pick in the 1967 draft, batted sixth in the lineup that day. After Red Sox starter Luis Tiant allowed a two-out double to Matty Alou, he walked Bobby Murcer and Graig Nettles to bring Blomberg to the plate. He walked to drive across the first run of the game and then Felipe Alou hit a two-run double to make it 3–0 in favor of the Yankees. Boston would go on to win, though, 15–5, as Tiant threw a complete game.
Blomberg had the best season of his career in 1973. He had a .329/.395/.498 slash line in 100 games, splitting time between DH and first base. The Yankees’ primary DH that year was a guy named Jim Ray Hart, who they acquired from the Giants two weeks into the season. Hart had been with San Francisco since signing as an amateur free agent in ’60 and had batted well over the course of 10 big league seasons playing third base and left field.
But Hart was hampered by a knee injury suffered in September 1972 and started only one of San Francisco’s 11 games before he was shipped to New York, where he was able to avoid testing his knee by designated hitting.
Hart was one of eight players who appeared in more than 100 games as a DH in the rule’s first year. He started out hot, bringing his batting average to .354 in the last week of May, but he batted just .167 in the month of June and finished the year at .251. The Yankees sent him to the minors after a poor start to the 1974 season, after which he finished his career with three seasons in Mexico.
Hart played his last game at 34 in 1976, but he said he could have had a longer career if not for his struggles with alcoholism.
“If I hadn’t been drinking, I’d have played another four or five years, no problem,” he said in 1991, according to his SABR biography. “It got to the point I didn’t care about the game no more. Whether we won or lost, I didn’t care. I just wanted to go out and have a drink or two. I mean, this was every day.”
Hart fell on hard times after his playing career, as Bob Trostler detailed in his SABR bio:
“His San Francisco home was repossessed, and he was seen scavenging grocery store floors for lost change. After finally hitting rock bottom in 1988 when blacking out in the middle of a flight to Toronto and not knowing where he was when he awoke, Jim Ray entered a rehabilitation program called Project 90 in San Mateo, California, that he credited with saving his life. He then secured steady employment as a warehouse worker in Sacramento.”
Hart died in 2016 at his home in California.
From the Vault: April 7, 1980
The cover story of SI’s 1980 MLB preview issue was more of a preview of the coming decade in baseball. Ron Fimrite lists a few players who could end up being among the new decade’s stars. One of them was Keith Hernandez, who after four good but not great seasons won the NL MVP in 1979 after leading the league in batting average at .344.
“Who is Keith Hernandez,” the cover of the magazine asked, “and what is he doing hitting .344?”
While Hernandez would go on to become one of the most famous players of the 1980s with the Mets, his star turn in the last year of the ’70s with the Cardinals had to have been unexpected. Hernandez was a 42nd-round draft pick in ’71 but rocketed through the St. Louis system and made his big league debut at age 20 in ’74. He hit well after beginning to earn regular playing time in ’76 and ’77 but slumped to .255/.351/.389 in ’78, making his MVP season even more surprising.
“There is no better feeling than hitting a home run,” Hernandez told Fimrite, explaining how he turned things around at the plate. “But you have to keep everything in perspective and realize your limitations. In 1978 I tried to pull the ball. I had hit 15 homers in 1977, and I was trying to hit 20. Instead, I slumped from .291 and 15 homers to .255 and 11. I stopped trying to hit homers last year. The result was that I hit 11 again but had my most productive year.”
The other players Fimrite lists as stars of the 1980s are Garry Templeton, Carney Lansford, Paul Molitor and Bob Horner. Molitor is a Hall of Famer, Lansford won the 1981 AL batting title, Templeton had a long career, even if he didn’t hit as well with the Padres as he did with the Cardinals, and Horner hit 218 home runs in 10 seasons before collusion by MLB owners derailed his career and a shoulder injury ended it.
Check out more of SI’s archives and historic images at vault.si.com.