CHICAGO – It wasn’t going to be an opener at Wrigley Field, but another baseball season was all set to begin for the Cubs on Thursday in Milwaukee.
But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Major League Baseball season is on hold for the foreseeable future, leaving fans of the north siders to wait for their team to take the field.
So without an opening day to remember, here’s a look back at some memorable first games for the Cubs through the years. For clarification, these are all first games of the seasons, not necessarily opening games at Wrigley Field, so the 2017 Cubs’ trophy ceremony isn’t on this list since the team opened on the road.
1969 – Willie Smith’s Homer Starts A Memorable Season
The 1969 season for the Cubs is iconic for a number of reasons, and while the team’s loss of the National League East lead down the stretch is what’s remembered most, it was a fun campaign for the most talented team in a generation for the franchise.
It’s beginning signaled what was ahead that season, and the Cubs had Willie Smith to thank for that. On April 8, 1969, the Cubs led the Phillies 6-3 in the ninth inning at Wrigley Field but watched the visitors put up three to tie the game. In the 11th inning, Philadelphia grabbed the lead as they looked poised to steal an opening day victory.
But the Cubs had some fight left in them, and after a Randy Hundley single, manager Leo Durocher sent up Smith to pinch hit for Jim Hickman. Right on cue, he sent Barry Lersch’s pitch into the right field bleachers, setting off a huge celebration as the Cubs won it 7-6.
1989: “Wild Thing” Has A Wild Finish
In one of the bigger trades in Cubs’ history in the offseason between 1988 and 1989, young star Rafael Palmeiro was dealt to the Texas Rangers in a major trade that sent six players to the north side.
One of those was closer Mitch Williams, and over the years he’d develop the “Wild Thing” nickname for his pitching style and sometimes tend to make things interesting on the mound.
That was the case in his first Cubs’ game on April 4, 1989, when he came into close against the Phillies at Wrigley Field.
With the Cubs leading by one in the ninth, Williams promptly served up three consecutive hits to start the inning to Bob Dernier, Tom Herr, and Von Hayes to load the bases.
How did he follow that? With three-straight strikeouts, of course.
Williams fanned Mike Schmidt in five pitches, then Chris James in seven, getting him swinging on a 3-2 count. To finish it off, he got his third-straight strikeout, this time against Mark Ryal, to seal a 4-3 win.
In his first season with the Cubs, Williams would have 36 saves, including the NL East-clinching one in Montreal on September 26th of that year to put the Cubs in the playoffs for the second time in five years.
1994: Tuffy’s Trio
In what was a lost season for the Cubs and all of Major League Baseball, an opening day legend was born on a sunny day at Wrigley Field.
Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes played in 20 total games for the Cubs (15) and the Astros (5) in 1993, but earned a spot in the starting lineup to begin 1994. On April 4th against the New York Mets, he made some MLB history and did so quickly.
In his first three at-bats, Rhodes took veteran Dwight Gooden deep each time, becoming the first National League player in history to pull off this home run feat. He also became the first in MLB history to hit a long ball in his first three trips to the plate of the season.
These at-bats would truly be the highlight of a difficult season for the Cubs. They’d lose that game 12-8, were swept by the Mets in the opening series, and lost their first 12 contests at Wrigley Field. The wouldn’t pick up a win at home that season until May 4th as they were 6-15 in April.
As for Rhodes, he’d homer just five more times in the next 94 games before a player’s strike put an end to the season. After playing for the Red Sox in 1995, Rhodes would go onto have immense success in Japan, where he hit 464 career homers.
2003: Corey’s Day at Shea
Speaking of Cubs’ outfielders have great days to start the season, Corey Patterson’s performance on March 31, 2003 might have been even better.
The young centerfielder, who was entering his fourth season with the Cubs and second where he saw major playing time, went 4-of-7 with two homers and seven RBI against the Mets at Shea Stadium.
It was one of the greatest single performances on opening day in Cubs’ history and helped the team to a 15-2 victory in the managerial debut of Dusty Baker. Patterson had an incredible start to the 2003 season, hitting .298 with 13 homers and 55 RBI in 83 games before a knee injury ended his season early.
As for the Cubs, the opening day win started one of the most memorable seasons in team history. They’d go onto win their first playoff series since 1908 that October in the NLDS against the Braves before falling in epic fashion to the Marlins in the NLCS in seven games.
2008: Kosuke Says Hello
After making the playoffs in 2007, the Cubs were poised to make a run at their first World Series title in 100 years in 2008, and the made an acquisition to help do so in the offseason.
The Cubs landed Japanese outfielder Kosuke Fukudome in the offseason and he was expected to contribute to a team many favored to make the playoffs for a second-straight season. In his debut, he set the bar pretty high.
With the Cubs down 3-0 to the Brewers at Wrigley Field in the ninth with two out and two on, the outfielder took an Eric Gagne pitch to right-center and out for the game-tying homer. The Cubs would lose 4-3 in extra innings, but Fukudome’s 3-for-4 performance would be part of a fast start that would earn the outfielder a start in the All-Star Game.
While his performance at the plate slid over the course of the season, Fukudome helped the Cubs to a 97-win season and their first back-to-back playoff appearances in a century. But for a second-straight year, the team flamed out in the playoffs as they were swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS.
2016: The Start of Something Special
It was obvious from the first day that 2016 was going to be something special for the Cubs – and their domination showed what was to come over the next seven months.
Opening the season against the Angels in Anaheim, the Cubs got the lead in the first inning and never stopped in a 9-0 victory that would be the first of 103 during the regular season.
Reigning Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta threw seven shutout innings, allowing just two hits while striking out six while allowing just one walk. Miguel Montero and Matt Szczur each drove in three runs with Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Jorge Soler each adding an RBI to the 11-hit effort.
Later that year, the Cubs would win their first World Series in 108 years.