Baseball's latest expansion was an early success. Seattle (3-1), beginning like a Northwest cloudburst, won its opener at Anaheim from the Angels as Tommy Harper led off with a double and Mike Hegan followed with a homer. For the home opener, workmen at Sicks' Stadium finally laid aside their tools, but hundreds of them had the prescience to stay for the game, which was fortunate since the center-field fence collapsed in the third inning. After a hasty repair job, the Pilots beat the White Sox 7-0. Kids, parents, cops, ushers and even the construction workers—who had built themselves a bench atop the stadium roof—stood for a lingering ovation. Kansas City (3-1) returned to the majors and began winning, thanks to timely hits by Lou Piniella (below) and a bullpen that went 24‚Öì innings without allowing a run. Tied with the expansion teams for the lead in the Western Division was California (3-1). Two new Angels were up to old tricks: Reliever Hoyt Wilhelm pitched hitless ball and earned three saves and First Baseman Dick Stuart erred in his first game. Arm troubles plagued Dean Chance and Jim Kaat of Minnesota (0-4). Tommy John of Chicago (1-3) beat the A's 3-0 on a four-hitter. When the A's did score, the new $1 million scoreboard in Oakland (2-2) said ZIP-ZAP-ZOOWIE-ZAM. In the Eastern Division, President Nixon made the first error of the season—he dropped the ball before making the traditional Opening Day toss—but for once Washington (3-2) players were not doing the same. Manager Ted Williams gave a rare tip of his cap to the fans and Frank Howard hit four home runs. Even Ed Brinkman, a .187 hitter a year ago, was caught up in the Williams aura, collecting his second homer in three years and batting .400. New York (3-2) was also off to a zippy start, leading the majors in stolen bases (12) and tying for the lead in homers (eight). Mel Stottlemyre won twice—on a 14-hitter against the Senators and on a one-hitter against Detroit (2-2). Denny McLain, with a shot of cortisone in his aching shoulder, stopped the Indians with a three-hitter. In all, Cleveland (0-4) batted just .167. Fans in Baltimore (2-2) moaned about the high cost of hot dogs (40¢) and about the scoreboard, which was rendered inoperative. They rejoiced, though, when Dave McNally blanked the Senators 9-0 and Frank Robinson homered twice. The most poignant home run of the year, though, was hit by Tony Conigliaro of Boston (3-1), the man doctors said would never play again after being skulled in 1967.
The second most popular song in Montreal (2-3) was Les Expos Sont L√† (Montreal being Montreal, No. 1 on the hit parade was still Les Canadiens Sont L√†) and the team kept its followers singing by beating the Mets 11-10 in the first international major league game. Reliever Dan McGinn, once a left-footed kicker for Notre Dame, hit the first Expo homer, and the winning pitcher was Don Shaw, a former Met. Strong pitching by Gary Gentry and Reliever Tug McGraw, plus two homers by Tommie Agee, enabled New York (2-3) to win its next two games from the Expos. Tied for the lead in the Eastern Division were Pittsburgh and Chicago (both 4-1). The Pirates took over where the Tigers left off last fall, beating the Cardinals three straight. Pitching turned the trick. Bob Veale, despite fogged glasses and an uncomfortable stomach—he swallowed his cud of tobacco—won 6-1, and so did stylish Dock Ellis, who sports lavender shoes and Edwardian jackets, 3-2. When the Pirates returned home they were greeted by hundreds of fans carrying Beat 'em Bucs signs, circa 1960. Daily rations of beef noodle soup allegedly made winners out of the Cubs. More vital, though, was the relief work of Phil Regan and Ted Abernathy and wall-rattling hits by Billy Williams (a record-tying four doubles in one game), Ernie Banks and Ron Santo (two homers each). Philadelphia (1-4) players were glad to leave Chicago, where Outfielder Ron Stone was pelted with "a salt shaker, a hard-boiled egg and lots of paper cups." St. Louis (2-3), hitting a scant .212, struggled past the Mets 6-5 on Joe Torre's home run and 1-0 on Dave Giusti's six-hitter. Excellent pitching gave San Diego (3-2) wins in its first three games against the Astros in the Western Division. Dick Selma took the opener 2-1 and then Johnny Podres and Dick Kelley each won 2-0. Houston (0-5) continued to flounder against the Dodgers, spoiling Owner Roy Hofheinz's wedding party at the Astrodome. Rookies Bill Russell (.500) and Ted Sizemore (.385) perked up the Los Angeles (3-1) offense. Don Drysdale gave up homers to the first two men he faced this season—Pete Rose and Bobby Tolan of the Reds—then settled down to win 3-2. Tommy Helms of Cincinnati (2-2) also had a bumpy start. He went 0 for 8, missed the team plane and was ejected from a game before going 4 for 5 against the Braves. San Francisco (2-3, page 32) stopped the Padres twice after losing three to Atlanta (4-1). The rallying Braves got game-winning hits from Mike Lum and Orlando Cepeda, a grand slam homer from Felix Millan and .370 hitting from Sonny Jackson.
April 21, 1969
It is a good thing for Kansas City that the newest Royal, Centerfielder Lou Piniella, has a short memory. Piniella (pronounced pin-ella) was so nervous on Opening Day in Kansas City that he asked the trainer for a tranquilizer—then forgot to take it. This at first might have seemed a cardinal sin, considering that the Royals are owned by drug man Ewing Kauffman, who made his fortune by reminding people to take pills. But all was soon forgiven as Piniella, leading off, got the first hit in Royal history, a double. Moments later he became the first Royal ever to score. What is more, Piniella got hits in his next three at bats and drove in a run for a 4-3 win over the Twins. When he finally flied deep to right field his last time up, Piniella was given a standing ovation by the fans. A day later, with two out in the 17th inning, he brought them to their feet again with a game-winning single. Piniella's showing was not entirely unexpected. In his first time up for the Royals in spring training he led off the game with a home run—and the love affair with the Kansas City fans was ignited. Piniella, who is just 16 hours short of a degree from home-town Tampa University, hit .289, .308 and .317 during the past three seasons with Portland in the Pacific Coast League. He came from Seattle in exchange for Outfielder Steve Whitaker and Pitcher John Gelnar on April 1. It was the sort of trade that might have stifled a lesser man, made as it was on April Fool's Day and marking the fourth time the 25-year-old Piniella had been swapped on his way to a starting assignment in the majors. But Piniella rationalized by saying, "I always figured somebody wanted me because they kept trading for me."