Great bit of baseball trivia for you. In 1940 the Chicago White Sox played a game and lost. At the end of the game every White Sox player had exactly the same batting average as he had when the game started. How’s this possible? OK, take a second and figure it out. Now, the answer. On Opening Day 16 April 1940, Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians threw a no-hitter against Chicago. When the game began every White Sox player had a batting average of .000. At the end of the game every White Sox player still had a batting average of .000. Feller’s 1940 Opening Day gets my vote as the finest Opening Day performance ever.
By 1940, Feller was no longer the fresh-faced kid from Iowa. He’d played for four years, had won two strikeout (and two walk) titles, finished as high as third in the MVP voting, and led the American League with 24 wins in 1939. The White Sox were, however, in the midst of a long slide, but by 1940 were beginning to show improvement. In 1939 they’d finished in the first division (4th), so Opening Day at home in 1940 held the promise of continued improvement.
Facing Feller was left-hander Eddie Smith. Smith had come to Chicago from the A’s in 1939 and gone 9-11 with an ERA in the mid-threes, had given up more walks than strikeouts, but had more innings pitched than hits allowed. I have no idea why he started game one over Ted Lyons or Johnny Rigney (1939’s aces).
Smith gave up one run in the fourth inning when Cleveland strung together singles to score left fielder Jeff Heath for the sole run of the game. In eight innings he gave up six hits, walked two, and struck out five. Reliever Clint Brown pitched a perfect ninth. Feller, of course, was even better. He pitched a fairly typical Feller game (except for not giving up a hit). He struck out eight and walked five (one man reached on an error for six total baserunners).
Smith went on to a 14-9 season and the ChiSox finished fourth again. Feller led the AL in wins with 27. He also led the league in shutouts (4), strikeouts (261), ERA (2.61), and innings pitched. His WHIP was 1.133 and 1940 became his only pitching triple crown (it was his only ERA title). He went on to 266 wins and the Hall of Fame. Smith finished his career 73-113.
There have been a lot of great Opening Day performances. A lot of guys have hit big home runs, or pitched shutouts. For my money, Feller tops them all.