It began as it always begins, with a ritual which might be ridiculous if it were not so strangely exciting. The man, young for a President, old for a pitcher, shed his overcoat and picked up a new ball and glove. He examined both for a moment, as most men might, finally putting aside the glove. Then he reared back vigorously and hurled the ball over a bank of photographers and into the rear ranks of the players gathered before him. With this act, baseball began again in America.
In some respects it seemed on Opening Day that nothing in baseball had changed from the year before. Pittsburgh won its opener with a typical ninth-inning rally, beating the Giants, who have been known to fold. Milwaukee's Warren Spahn pitched well, losing only because Ernie Broglio and Lindy McDaniel of the Cardinals combined to pitch a little better. Robin Roberts was back on the mound for Philadelphia, pitching in his 12th opener. Cleveland's Jim Piersall made headlines, getting bombarded by golf balls and other refuse from peculiar Detroit fans and rising to the occasion with four base hits. Boston's batting champion Pete Runnels made three hits, but Boston's infield made four errors to blow the game.
Some things had changed. Ted Williams was gone and so was Casey Stengel. Stengel's replacement, Ralph Houk, saw his New York Yankees shut out on three hits by Pedro Ramos, representing Minnesota, a new franchise. But nothing in baseball on Opening Day 1961 was quite as new or the subject of so much curiosity as the American League's ninth and 10th teams, the new Washington Senators (the old Senators are now the Minnesota Twins) and the Los Angeles Angels. Composed of rejects? True. Doomed to finish historically deep in the cellar? Maybe. But the opening games of the Senators and Angels were important nonetheless, for they marked the birth of expansion, the first change in the numerical structure of major league baseball in 60 years.
Washington was in a jubilant, holiday mood for the opener between the Senators and the Chicago White Sox. Congress convened at noon, then adjourned 10 minutes later and left for the ball park. Outside the main entrance to the stadium a fiveman combo in candy-cane shirts played Alexander's Ragtime Band. Vendors, dressed in wild red-and-blue blouses and pantaloons, did a brisk business. The crowd seemed anxious to welcome the new team, eager to love and support the players—if only out of resentment at Calvin Griffith who had moved the old Senators away.
Before the game each member of the Senators was introduced to the crowd. Unknowns like Chester Boak and Ed Hobaugh received polite applause. Dale Long and Gene Woodling got genuine roars. But the big noise, the hero's welcome, was given to Mickey Vernon, the manager. For Vernon, an oldtime Washington player, this was his 12th presidential opener, and John F. Kennedy would be the fourth President he had seen throw out the first ball.
"My favorite opener was 1954," Vernon had said earlier. "I hit a home run in the 10th inning to win the game. When I reached home plate there was a Secret Service man waiting for me. He took me over to President Eisenhower, who shook my hand."
After the introductions came the President's throw (a distance record, said old hands) and the national anthem. Then a voice boomed out over the public-address system. "Ladies and gentlemen," it said, "here comes your New Frontier Senators." With that, nine players, unwanted by the rest of the American League last winter, charged out across the field to a pennant-winning roar.
Historians may wish to record that the first pitch of the expansion era was thrown by Dick Donovan of the Senators and was taken for a ball by Luis Aparicio of Chicago. (So were pitches two, three and four.) The first hit was made by the Senators' Coot Veal, a dribbler up the third-base line. Minutes later he scored the first run, driven home on a triple by Gene Woodling. When Willie Tasby dropped a simple fly ball in the fifth inning, it was the first error, for which Tasby received the first boo.
Washington should have won the first game, too, but it did not. Donovan, drafted from the White Sox, pitched with bitter determination, anxious to prove Chicago's mistake at letting him go. His teammates got him an early lead, two runs in the first on Woodling's triple and another in the second to lead 3-1. Then, one by one, Chicago got the runs back as the Washington defense fell apart.
Pop flies dropped in front of Left Fielder Woodling for doubles in the second and third innings. The ground was soggy, making running difficult, but a faster man would have caught both. The first double didn't hurt, but the second cost a run. That made it 3-2. Donovan pitched superbly through the fourth, fifth and sixth, apparently unshaken when Tasby carelessly dropped the easy fly ball. Then, with one man out in the seventh, Jim Landis hit a long fly to left. Woodling moved back on his 38-year-old legs, turned one way and then the other. The ball fell over his head and Landis was at third with a triple. Donovan struck out his old catcher Sherm Lollar, and made pinch hitter Earl Torgeson ground a ball toward first base. But Dale Long bobbled the ball, sprawled after it and then threw it wildly to let in the tying run.