O's History: The Opening Day Starters

When Jeremy Guthrie takes the hill on April 6 against the Yankees, he'll be making his second consecutive Opening Day start for the Orioles. Here's a look back at everyone who has thrown the first ball for the Birds, from 1956-present (1954 and 1955 are mysteries to me).

1956: Bill "The Big Show" Wight

In '56, Wight was a journeyman, 34-year old lefty. He wound up going 9-12 with a 4.02 ERA and 1.55 WHIP (97 ERA+) for Baltimore. The Birds went 69-85 that season, a big part of that poor record being unreliable pitching. Connie Johnson was the team's best starter, but just about everyone that suited up as an O's pitcher got to start at some point.

1957: Hal Brown

Brown was nicknamed "Skinny," with a listed weight of 180 pounds at 6'2", which wasn't really that wildly uncommon, but he carried it really thin, particularly in his chest and abdomen. Brown went 7-8, 3.90/1.13 (92 ERA+) in 150 innings.

1958: Connie Johnson

Big guy for the time at 6'4", which is still pretty big. Connie went 6-9, 3.88/1.25 (92 ERA+), and it wound up being his final season at age 35.

1959: Jack Harshman

John Elvin "Jack" Harshman had (1) a cool name and (2) a horrible 1959 season. He was just 31, but it was his second-to-last year of Major League ball. After an 0-6 start with the Orioles (6.85/1.82, 55 ERA+), Harshman was sent to Boston for Billy Hoeft, who would have a great season in '61 in the O's bullpen. Hoeft had started the '59 season with Detroit, but was traded to Boston on May 2. On June 15, the Hoeft-for-Harshman exchange went down. On July 30, the Red Sox waived Harshman after he managed to put up a 6.57 ERA for Boston. Harshman was then claimed by the Indians, and in 66 innings with the Tribe, he posted a 2.59 ERA. Third team was a charm in '59 for Jack Harshman.

1960: Jerry Walker

Walker, just 21 at the time, had had a very nice season with the Orioles in '59, going 11-10 with a 2.92 ERA (130 ERA+) in 182 innings. The kid got the nod in '60, which was the first season of the end of his playing days. He was out of the league after his age 25 season in 1964. After the '60 season, the O's traded him to Cleveland for Dicks Hall and Williams.

1961: Milt Pappas

Had a nice '61 (13-9, 3.04/1.19) and won 110 games as an Oriole before the famous trade with the Reds that netted us Frank Robinson. His 110 wins as an Oriole places him seventh all time (1954-present) for the Birds.

1962: Billy Hoeft

Posted a 2.02 ERA mostly as a reliever in '61 (he made 12 starts), and got the Opening Day start in '62. He made just three more starts the entire rest of the season, and had a crummy year with an 80 ERA+ (111-point drop from the prior season). He was part of a package sent to the Giants for John Orsino, Stu Miller and Mike McCormick after the season.

1963: Steve Barber

Ah, what coulda been. Barber made the '63 All-Star team, and went 20-13 (2.75/1.33, 125). All things considered it was probably his best season, beating out '65 because he threw 40 more innings in '63.

1964: Pappas

1965-66: Barber

I hear Steve's arm is just a little sore, but getting better every day. He'll be back out there any day now.

1967: Dave McNally

In his fifth season as a regular for the O's, 24-year old lefty McNally got his first Opening Day start. It wouldn't be his last. '67 also happened to be by far McNally's worst year: 7-7, 119 IP, 70 ERA+. Just dismal all around. The collapse of the pitching staff, of course, is the reason that the '66 World Champions turned it around to go 76-85 the next year, which was a big reason Hank Bauer was replaced by Earl Weaver in '68.

1968: Tom Phoebus

His 15-15 record is one thing, but he put up a 2.62 ERA in '68. 2.62! Wow! Trouble is the league ERA -- THE LEAGUE ERA -- was 2.95 that season, the legendary summer of 31-win Denny McLain and other nasty pitching feats. The league come around and fixed that mess pretty fast. Phoebus only had a few more years before his early retirement at 30.

1969-71: McNally

McNally won 20, 24 and 21 games these three seasons, but he wasn't really that amazing, putting up ERA+ marks of 112, 113 and 116. Solid, yes, but McNally was around the top 15 for MVP votes every year and finished fourth, second and fourth in Cy Young balloting. Jim Perry's '71 Cy Young was a flub -- the award should have gone to either Jim Palmer (we'll get to him) or Sam McDowell, probably, but hey, Perry won 24 games and the Twins won the West.

1972: Pat Dobson

Dobson, 30, won 20 games for the '71 O's, and is probably best known now as a trivia answer. Despite going 16-18 in '72, he was just as good as he was in '71. The team was just a lot worse.

1973: McNally

Good to see you again, Dave.

1974-77: Jim Palmer

Jim Palmer was the ultimate pretty-boy athlete. Unnaturally handsome with clear blue eyes and a square, smiling face, he was also highly intelligent and articulate. In his articulate way he whined about the Cy Young voting every time he didn't win it, feuded with his manager, and pulled a face whenever teammates misplayed a ball behind him. He was sort of the exact opposite of Don Zimmer, who is ugly as boiled sin but solid, authentic, tough, and lovable.

-- Bill James

Jim Palmer is without question the greatest pitcher in Orioles history and one of the best of all-time. He was an anchor every single year, a workhorse, and a star.

1978: Mike Flanagan

Flanagan is fifth all-time in wins as an Oriole (141), but his big Opening Day debut stunk and so did his season. Flanny was chased after 2 2/3 innings (6 H, 4 ER) and while he did go 19-15, he also did so because of run support, as he put up an 87 ERA+ for the season.

1979-80: Palmer

1981: Steve Stone

A year following Stone's fluky 25-win season and genuinely undeserved Cy Young award (Mike Norris of Oakland was way better than Stoney and won 22 games himself), he started Opening Day for the Birds. His 1980 season was the result of throwing an insane amount of curveballs, which shredded his arm. The 1981 season was his last. Years later, Cubs players would be total babies and chase him out of the Cubbie broadcast booth, which was a rotten shame.

1982-83: Dennis Martinez

"El Presidente" won 245 games over his 23-year career but was really a late bloomer. He was decent at best as an Oriole, and blossomed with the Expos starting in 1987, when he was 32 years old. He stayed a front-line starter until he was 40 years old, when time and injuries started catching up with him. He pitched until 1998.

1984: Scott McGregor

McGregor was 30, coming off an 18-win season, and the obvious choice for the World Champion Orioles as Opening Day starter. Sadly he started falling apart in this very season, throwing about 65 less innings than the year before and watching his ERA+ dip from 125 to 98. He never had another good season, though he ate up 200 innings in both '85 and '86. He retired after a four-game 1988 season, having never thrown a pro pitch for anyone but the Orioles.

1985: Storm Davis

In the tradition of guys who just had a good year, got to start Opening Day, and then stunk comes 23-year old Storm Davis. Storm battled injuries and had an 89 ERA+, one year after a 124 and 14 wins. He got a career rebirth in 1989, which was all smoke and mirrors for a great A's team. He won 19 games but really was pretty damn bad. He wound up in Baltimore again in '92, and was finished after '94.

1986: Flanagan

1987-88: Mike Boddicker

Boddicker emerged big in 1982, was a key part of the '83 run even though he got hurt during the season, and then sort of flamed out. After two disappointing seasons in 85-86, he got to start two Opening Days for a couple of lousy teams. In '88 he got traded to Boston, where he contributed to the failed Red Sox pennant chase, pitching some of the best baseball of his life. Boston wound up getting swept in the ALCS against Oakland.

1989: Dave Schmidt

Yeah, they get kind of ugly around this time. Schmidt was a non-descript, solid reliever for years, then came to Baltimore and the O's tried to turn him into a starter at age 30. Schmidt went 10-13 with a dreadful 66 ERA+. That's about as lucky as you can get pitching that badly. He was granted free agency in November 1989.

1990: Bob Milacki

Milacki was another of the Why Not? O's that benefited from a ton of luck, going 14-12 as a very average starter in '89. His lack of actual talent caught up with him in '90. He went 5-8 with an 86 ERA+ in '90.

1991: Jeff Ballard

Just awful. Ballard somehow went 18-8 with a 110 ERA+ in '89, despite striking out 62 and walking 57 in 215 innings. Do you know how hard that is? Ballard's 18 wins in '89 are a more amazing accomplishment than anything Jim Palmer ever did. Seriously.

1992-93: Rick Sutcliffe

In all honesty, Sutcliffe was old (36 and 37 in these two seasons), clearly past his prime, and really hadn't been any good since 1987. But he marks a return to Opening Day Name Respectability after the Schmidt-Milacki-Ballard years. There's something to be said for having a washed-up former Cy Young winner going out there to throw the first pitch rather than some never-gonna-be.

1994-96: Mike Mussina

Mussina was the team's best pitcher in '92 and after a sophomore slump in '93 (when Ben McDonald was the team's best pitcher), he went on a run for the O's not seen since the heyday of Jim Palmer. Moose was the man. We can all say it now.

1997: Jimmy Key

Don't have a thing in the world against Jimmy Key. Not a single solitary thing. He spent his entire 15-year career in the AL East, mostly with Toronto, and also helped the Yankees win the Series in '96. He was a damn good pitcher who never had a truly bad season over his career, though his injury-plagued '95 wasn't good to be sure. Still, he made only five starts, so I count that more as a missed year than anything. Key won 186 games in his career, threw about 2600 innings, and had a career ERA+ of 122. He was a hell of a pitcher.

1998-2000: Mussina

And then...he was gone.

Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

It got fugly.

2001: Pat Hentgen

Had you forgotten Pat Hentgen: Oriole? Hentgen won the 1996 Cy Young with Toronto, then had one more good season and fell off a cliff. But he got lucky and won 15 games in 2000 with the Cardinals, so the Orioles signed him. After $10 million and three seasons, the Orioles had gotten a grand total of 245 innings of work out of Hentgen. Fantastic.

2002: Scott Erickson

Veteran remnant from the contending days who 20 games for the 1991 World Champion Twins when he was but 23 years old. He'd never have a season that good ever again, though he had some solid years. The problem came as the Orioles paid Erickson like he was one of the best pitchers in the league, and he was not, even when he wasn't terrible. In 2002, he was terrible. Still, I liked him, and I rooted for him during fruitless comeback attempts with the Rangers, Mets, Yankees and Dodgers.

2003: Rodrigo Lopez

Won 14 games in 2002, a nice rookie season. Was absolutely horrible in 2003.

2004: Sidney Ponson

The Orioles traded Ponson to the Giants during the 2003 stretch run. When he became a free agent they brought him back. This ranks among the top five f-ups in franchise history.

2005-06: Lopez

What I like to now refer to as "The Camden Chat Era" begins with two cruddy Roddy Lopez seasons.

2007: Erik Bedard

Wound up being Eazy E's final season in Baltimore (FOR NOW!), and he made it a good one: 221 Ks in 182 IP, 13-5, really one of the best pitchers on the planet. It's almost easy to forget already, but GOD he was nasty in '07.

2008-09: Jeremy Guthrie

And here we are with Guts.

Multiple Opening Day Starts:

  • Jim Palmer and Mike Mussina, 6
  • Dave McNally, 5
  • Steve Barber and Rodrigo Lopez, 3
  • Mile Pappas, Mike Flanagan, Dennis Martinez, Mike Boddicker and Rick Sutcliffe, 2
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