Dazzling debuts, including Will The Thrill, The J-Hey Kid and The Natural
Yasiel Puig's debut with the Dodgers was dynamite more because of his defense — particularly that game-ending assist from the warning track — than for his 2-for-4 showing at the plate. Nonetheless, it jogged my memory regarding outstanding major league debuts.
While one can generate objective lists based on hits, RBI, total bases or any other such category, here are a dozen from the expansion era (1961 onward) that stand out in my mind, both for their statistical accomplishments and other reasons. The list is limited to hitters (though one exception stands out), and ordered chronologically.
Bert Campaneris, A's: July 23, 1964
A Cuban shortstop who would become better known for his slick fielding and his versatility, Campaneris became the first player since 1948 to homer on his first pitch of his inaugural plate appearance when he connected off the Twins' Jim Kaat. He added another homer off Kaat later in the game as well as a single — giving him a record-tying nine total bases — and walked in his final plate appearance against reliever Al Worthington. The next year, as part of a promotion concocted by outlandish owner Charlie Finley, Campy — who had already thrown ambidextrously in a spot mound appearance in the Florida State League in 1962 — became the first player to play all nine positions in a single game.
After striking out and being hit by a pitch in his first two plate appearances against the Dodgers' Claude Osteen, Bonds became the first player since Bill Duggelby in 1898 to connect for a grand slam in his major league debut, doing so at the expense of reliever John Purdin.
In the second game of a doubleheader against the Red Sox, a duo that would form the longest-lasting double play combination in the game's history each made their major league debuts. Trammell collected two singles in his three trips to the plate before yielding to a pinch-hitter, while Whitaker collected two singles and an RBI double in five plate appearances. The pair would help the Tigers to the 1984 world championship, and remain teammates through the 1995 seasno, when Whitaker retired.
The overall number one pick out of Arizona State University, where he set single-season and career collegiate home run records and won College World Series MVP honors, Horner was one of four players that year — along with Oakland's Mike Morgan and Tim Conroy and Toronto's Brian Milner — who went straight to the major leagues without spending a day in the minors. Ten days after being drafted, he was in Atlanta's lineup, and after making a pair of outs in his first to trips to the plate against the Pirates' Bert Blyleven, he mashed a two-run homer off the future Hall of Famer in the sixth inning. Horner went on to hit 23 homers in 89 games that year, good enough to earn NL Rookie fo the Year honors.
Will Clark, Giants: April 8, 1986
Less than a year after being made the overall number two pick of the amateur draft following a stellar career at Mississippi State University, where he had won the Golden Spikes Award as the top collegiate player in the country, Clark homered in his first plate appearance — and on his first swing — off future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, then pitching for the Astros.
Bell's first-pitch homer in his first plate appearance came at the expense of Blyleven, and it carried significance for two reasons. First, just over a year earlier, the former first-round pick had been traded by the Twins to the Indians in a four-player package for Blyleven. Second, the homer was the 47th Blyleven allowed on the season, surpassing a Robin Roberts record that had stood since 1956. Blyelven wound up allowing 50 that year, a record that still stands.
Jennings gets to stand as the lone pitcher on this list because not only did he throw a five-hit shutout against the Mets, he collected three hits in five trips to the plate himself, including an RBI single off Grant Roberts in the seventh and a homer off Donnie Wall in the ninth. That made him the just the ninth pitcher since 1916 to homer in his debut, and the first to do so while spinning a shutout. Jennings actually only pitched seven games and 39 1/3 innings that year, and so retained his rookie eligibility into the following season, when his 16-8 record with a 4.52 ERA and .306/.348/.371 showing with the bat was enough to win NL Rookie of the Year honors.
Jason Heyward, Braves: April 5, 2010
Anointed the game's top prospect by Baseball America coming into the year, Heyward generated a ton of hype during spring training thanks to his prodigious home runs, both in exhibitions and in batting practice. He showed what the fuss was all about when he jacked a three-run homer off the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano in his first plate appearance, a drive that Hit Tracker estimated at 476 feet — the fifth-longest homer of the year, when it was all said and done. He added an RBI single in the eighth inning as well.
Less than two months after his 20th birthday, Castro — who came into the year ranked 16th on Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects list — began making his mark. In his first plate appearance, the Cubs' new shortstop bashed a three-run homer off the Reds' Homer Bailey, and in his third time up, he cranked a bases-loaded triple, giving him six RBIs, the highest total of any debut performance since 1916.
As a nondrafted free agent who got his professional start with the Chico Outlaws of the Golden Baseball League, Nava was already mid-storybook by the time he came to the plate against the Phillies' Joe Blanton in the second inning. He instantly added to the lore with a first-pitch grand slam into the Boston bullpen, making him the second player to do so in major league history after Kevin Kouzmanoff (Sept. 2, 2006). He later added a double off Chad Durbin.
A reasonably well-regarded catching prospect who fell off Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects list after a poor 2009 showing at Las Vegas, Arencibia followed that up with a stronger year at the Triple-A outpost, and he was dynamite in his MLB debut. He clubbed a two-run homer off the Rays' James Shields on the first pitch he saw, doubled off Shields in his second time up, then added a single and another home run off reliever Dale Thayer before finally being retired by Chad Qualls in his final plate appearance. His 11 total bases stands as a first-game record, eclipsing the 10 by the Royals' Mark Quinn in 1999.
A Sports Illustrated cover boy as a 16-year-old, the first pick of the draft as a 17-year-old, and the number one prospect in the game according to Baseball America as both an 18- and a 19-year-old, Harper's reputation preceded him by the time he took the stage at Dodger Stadium. He didn't disappoint in his first game, though it took until the seventh inning to make his mark. Having gone 0-for-2 prior, he stroked a double off Chad Billingsley for his first hit, and in the bottom of the frame, threw a perfect peg home from leftfield to try to nail Jerry Hairston Jr., who managed to swipe the ball out of catcher Wilson Ramos' glove before he established possession.
Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox: April 1, 2013Like Puig, Bradley was the talk of spring training, and much debate out of the Red Sox camp centered around whether to start him on the major league roster. David Ortiz's trip to the disabled list sealed the deal, and so the 2011 supplemental first-round pick out of the University of South Carolina was in the Opening Day lineup — in Yankee Stadium, no less. Though he went hitless, Bradley collected three walks and scored two runs, the first coming amid four-run second-inning rally against CC Sabathia, the last during a three-run ninth-inning rally against Joba Chamberlain. He also drove in a run via a groundout, and made an outstanding over-the-shoulder grab of a Robinson Cano drive just prior to crashing into the leftfield wall.