With 2020 Opening Day delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sporting News employees remember their most memorable Opening Days of the past.
He knew Tuffy Rhodes was on his way to opening day 1994, which means he remembered opening baseball cards with his photo on them. I knew he had been a rookie with the Astros.
All of his cards had his first name, Karl, if I recall correctly, and were stored in the long 660-unit white cardboard boxes I used to store my collection's extras, not in the protective sleeves or plastic cases reserved for the cards "these are worth something,quot;.
However, it didn't take long after opening day 1994 for me to dive back into those boxes to get out as many Tuffys as I could find.
OPENING DAY MEMORIES
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April 4, 1994 was the day Karl Rhodes carved his name into baseball history, and on April 5, I wasn't the only one who sorted cardboard boxes full of baseball cards to find the guy named Tuffy. Rhodes hit three home runs that day, all three outside of Dwight Gooden.
If you want to see the entire game for yourself, it was one of "those,quot; afternoons at Wrigley, and the Mets ended up winning 12-8 – MLB Network is showing the game starting at midnight ET as part of its baseball marathon. It's something good
"We made him a legend today," Mets manager Dallas Green told reporters after the game.
So they did. Well, Gooden did it. Rhodes became the first player in MLB history to hit three consecutive home runs to start a season, and he also became the first player to hit three home runs in a game versus Gooden.
It would have been a great feat by anyone in the lineup that day, which included Ryne Sandberg and Sammy Sosa, but Rhodes, who had all five career MLB home runs in the game, was downright impressive. A bit of history: Rhodes soared through the Houston organization primarily as a stolen base threat: In his 19-year season in Class A, he stole 65 bases and hit only one home run, but was unable to reach base. regularly in the big leagues, posting a .219 average and .302 on-base percentage.
He was released in late April 1993 and signed with the Royals a few days later. He played well for the Kansas City Triple-A club: .318 average, 23 home runs, 10 stolen bases in 88 games, but never made it to the majors with the Royals. He was traded to the Cubs just before the July 31 deadline, as part of a three-team deal that led Paul Assenmacher to the Yankees and John Habyan to the Royals.
He played well for Triple-A Iowa – .320, 1,015 OPS – and hit three home runs and stole two bases when the Cubs called him to end the 1993 season. That led to Opening Day opening in 1994 as the starting hitter for the puppies.
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On his first at-bat, at the start of the first, Rhodes worked the full count and hit Gooden's sixth shot on the wall in center field.
In the third inning, Rhodes hit a 3-1 shot to the wall on the left, an opposite field goal. And in the fifth inning, Rhodes dropped a 1-0 pitch into the stands in the left center.
"After the first home run, it frustrated me. You know, geek. That's the jargon for excited," he told reporters, according to the Chicago Tribune.
"After the second, I was a little calmer. I never thought I could hit two home runs in one game. Then when I hit the third, I got scared."
The Tribune doesn't say why he was scared, so I can't help him answer that question.
Rhodes hit just five more home runs in his 94 final games that season, and was out of the majors at the end of the 1996 season. However, he was not done with baseball.
Rhodes experienced one of the great revivals of his career when he moved across the Pacific Ocean to play baseball in Japan. Rhodes hit 464 home runs in his 13 seasons in Japan, with 40 or more seven times and beating 50 twice.
Maybe we should have seen it coming.