Today is March 30, and after a long winter of cold, rain, economic turmoil, war, COVID issues, and political bickering and squabbling, today will mark the start of the 2023 baseball season, aka OPENING DAY. As we know, sports are a healthy diversion, especially in difficult times such as now.

For the first time since 1968 all 30 MLB teams will open on the same day. Typically, many early season (and late season) games are played in weather more suitable for football. Why? We know why – M O N E Y. If MLB persists in playing games in March, April and November why doesn’t it mandate domed stadiums in cold weather locales? Probably, too logical for the Lords of Baseball.

In some years MLB has scheduled “pre-opening” games before the official OD. The initial “pre-opener” was played in 1999 in Monterey, Mexico. Other “pre-openers” have been played in San Juan, Sydney and Tokyo. Opening in these distant locales may be inconvenient for the players, but MLB does it to broaden the exposure and appeal of the game. Indeed, MLB rosters are chock full of players from countries in the Caribbean, Central America, South America and Asia. According to MLB 27% of MLB players are foreign-born.

MLB does not consider these “pre-openers” to mark the official start of the season. It has always considered OD to be the first date when a full slate of games was scheduled. Got it?

For many years, MLB had scheduled the very first game of the season in Cincinnati, usually on the first Monday in April, with a full slate of games the next day. This was in recognition of the fact that the Reds were the first professional baseball team. In fact, the Reds are the only team that has always been scheduled to play its first game at home. There have only been three years when they opened on the road – 1966, when the home opener was rained out and 1990 and 2022 when those seasons were delayed due to lockouts. The team was formed in 1869 as the Red Stockings. It has undergone various name changes and is now known as the “Reds.” Incidentally, for you trivia buffs, they went 65-0 that first year, the only perfect season in baseball history.

The National League was organized in 1876, and the American League in 1901. For many years there were 16 teams – eight teams in each league, all in the northeast, with no team being located west of St. Louis. With the advent of air travel in the late 1950s it became feasible to add franchises in other sectors of the country. Presently, there are 30 teams – 15 in each league.

Despite the often inclement weather, OD holds a special meaning. Mention those words to any sports fan, and, immediately, he or she knows what it means and to which sport it pertains. Not football, not basketball, not hockey. OD means that another season of Major League Baseball is beginning. Baseball fans look forward to OD every year. Local newspapers step up their coverage of the local team in anticipation. Many of them even print a daily countdown of the number of days remaining until OD. In addition, OD occurs in the Spring, a season that symbolizes a new beginning and one which most people anticipate every year.

Most fans will acknowledge that baseball is no longer the most popular sport. In fact, according to TV ratings, betting interest and most fan polls, football has superseded baseball. Perhaps, basketball has as well, particularly among younger fans. However, baseball, which has been played in the US in some form since the 1840s, is part of the social fabric of America.

Most men (and women) remember their first game of “catch” with their father and their first baseball game. For most it is a “rite of passage” as uniquely American as the flag. In fact, I have a more detailed recall of a World Series game I saw with my father in 1956 than I do of ballgames I saw last year.

Every fan is optimistic on OD. Every team starts with the same 0-0 record. None has lost a game yet. Every team still has a chance to make the playoffs (at least in theory), and as we have seen in recent years, once you make the playoffs anything can happen. For example, in 2016 the Chicago Cubs won it all for the first time since 1908. Think about that for a minute. That meant that, at the time, no Cubs fan, and virtually none of their fathers, had even been born the previous time the Cubs had won. In 2017 the Houston Astros won their first WS after having languished near the bottom of the league for many years.

Unlike other sports, very often the team with the best regular season record does not win the World Series or even get there. Even the best baseball teams generally lose about 40% of their games. If those losses come at the wrong time, it’s sayonara.

Five wild card teams have actually won the World Series, most recently, the Washington Nationals, in 2019. Furthermore, in 2002 and 2014 both WS participants were wild cards (the Angels beat the Giants in 2002, and the Giants beat the Royals in 2014). Six teams – the Padres, Mariners, Brewers, Rays, Rangers and Rockies – have never won a WS, and the Mariners have never even appeared in one.

Many fans, and even some reporters, place undue emphasis on the opener forgetting or ignoring the fact that the season consists of 162 games. To many fans, a win OD means the season will be outstanding; a loss means the team “stinks.”

Down through the years, OD has produced some memorable events, such as:

1. In 1907, the NY Giants, forerunner of the San Francisco Giants, forfeited the opener after rowdy fans began throwing snowballs at the players and umpires. There were not enough police on hand to restore order, so the umpires forfeited the game to the visiting Phillies.
2. In 1910 President Taft became the first President to throw out the “first ball.” In 1950 President Truman threw out the “first pitch” twice, as a righty and a lefty. Over the years nearly every president has done so, and the practice has evolved from a perfunctory toss from the stands to a more elaborate ceremonial toss from the mound. Will we see President Biden follow tradition this year? Your guess is as good as mine. Can you imagine him doing the “wave?”
3. In 1940, Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians, known as “Rapid Robert” because of his high velocity fast ball, threw the only OD day no-hitter in baseball history. As an aside, there were no radar guns in Feller’s day, so one day some officials attempted to “time” his fastball by having him throw a pitch against a speeding motorcycle.
4. In 1947 Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers on OD becoming the first African American to play in the major leagues since the 19th Century.
5. In 1975 Frank Robinson became the first African American to manage in the Major Leagues. Later, he became the first AA manager to be “fired.”
6. In 1996, John McSherry, an umpire, suffered a fatal heart attack near home plate.
7. Early in the 20th Century teams would, on occasion, open with a doubleheader. Doubleheaders used to be quite common, particularly on Sundays and holidays. Now, they are rare, and when they do occur it is usually the result of adding an extra game to make up for a rain-out. The reason? Money, of course.
8. In 1946 Boston Braves fans attending the game got an unpleasant surprise. It seems that the Braves’ management had had the stands freshly painted, and the paint had not completely dried. Many fans got red paint all over their clothes. The embarrassed management issued a public apology and paid the fans’ cleaning bills.
9. Tom Seaver started the most openers – 16. Walter Johnson pitched the most OD shutouts – nine, including a 1-0 victory in which he pitched 15 innings. No chance of that happening today.
10. In 1974 Henry Aaron clouted his 714th homerun tying Babe Ruth’s all-time record for career homers.
11. In 1968 Angels minor leaguer Greg Washburn became the only pitcher to appear in two OD games in the same year. Huh? How did he do that? First, he pitched the opener for the San Jose Bees of the California League and then for the Quad City Angels of the Midwest League. (He won both games 2-0).

12. Some of the individual OD records we may see broken today are most home runs (3), most hits (5) most RBIs (7) and most strikeouts (15). Maybe, we will see another no-hitter, although the way the game is played today any no-hitter would be a group effort.

This year MLB will institute various rules changes, which have already been tried out in the minor leagues and MLB exhibition games this year. Generally, these rules changes are designed to appeal to fans by enhancing the action on the field, decreasing the length of games, and increasing the pace, which has often slowed to a crawl. In 1980 the average game took two hours and 33 minutes; last year the average game lasted almost four hours.

Below please find a brief summary of the aforementioned rules changes:

  1. Pitch timer. There will be a time limit between batters and between individual pitches. The penalty for failure to comply will be an automatic “ball” or “strike.” No more pitchers’ interminable dawdling on the mound between pitches and batters continually stepping in and out of the “box” and/or adjusting their equipment.
  2. Pickoff throws/Step-offs. Pitchers will only be allowed two “disengagements” per batter. A failed third attempt to pickoff the runner will result in a balk advancing the runner.
  3. Defensive shifts. The team in the field is required to position at least four defenders in the infield at least two of which must be on either side of second base. There is no restriction on the placement of outfielders. The goal is to produce more offense since players can’t or won’t beat the shifts by bunting or hitting to the opposite field.
  4. The size of the bases has been increased by three inches. The goal here is to increase stolen bases and reduce injuries around the bases.
  5. More balanced schedule. For the first time teams will play at least one series against every opponent. There are pros and cons to this rule change, but with three wild card teams in each league it was deemed to be unfair that a wild card contender in a weak division would have a scheduling advantage over one in a strong division.
  6. Faster replays. Managers will have less time in which to request a replay. Fine, but will the actual reviews still take several minutes? Most of the time, tv viewers can ascertain the correct call right away. Why can’t the tv replay guys?
  7. Position players pitching. The proliferation of this tactic has made a mockery of the game. There will be various restrictions of this. Basically, a position player will only be permitted to pitch in a “blowout” or an extra innings game.
  8. The PitchCom system will be used to enhance communication between pitchers and catchers, which is expected to speed up the time between pitches.
  9. Automatic runner at second base in extra innings. This controversial rule has been made permanent except in postseason games.


As I said, weather is often an issue on OD, especially in the northern cities where it is not unusual to have cold, damp, rainy weather in early April that is more suitable for football than baseball. It reminds me of one of the major criticisms of baseball, that the season is too long. We all know the reason – tv money. The owners like it, because it makes them rich and less dependent on attendance for revenues. The players tolerate it, because it helps fuel their astronomic salaries. As for the fans, well, they will just have to grin and bear it.

Hall of Fame pitcher, Early Wynn sagaciously summed up the essence of OD thusly: “An opener is not like any other game. You have that anxiety to get off to a good start, for yourself and for the team. You know that when you win the first one you can’t lose them all.” Joe DiMaggio, always looked forward to OD. He felt “you think something wonderful is going to happen.” Finally, I am reminded of that renowned philosopher Yogi Berra, who could turn a phrase with the best of them, who is reputed to have said: “A home opener is always exciting, no matter if it’s home or on the road.”

So, which teams will reach the World Series? Which team will win? Most of the “experts” that I have heard are predicting the Houston Astros will repeat as champions. I, of course, will root for the Dodgers. In any event, it’s a long season , and anything can happen. I think the TV networks would like to see a Dodgers-Yankees World Series. I think that would generate the most interest and the highest TV ratings. They used to meet on what seemed like a regular basis back in the 1950s, but they have not met since 1981.

What is your favorite OD memory? Please share.




He was one of the best basketball players of his generation. Among the many highlights in his ten-year career he won one MVP, was a seven-time All-Star with one All-Star MVP, and led his team to two championships with two finals MVPs. But, his true value to the Knicks transcended his physical talent on the court. In addition to his talent he was one of the best leaders the game has ever seen. He didn’t merely lead by example; as you will see below, he also led by the force of his character and personality. He led a group of mostly good, but not great, players [with the notable exception of Walt (Clyde) Frazier] to two championships over more talented teams. How did they accomplish this? Simple. They played as a unit, a classic example of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. The team mantra was play ferocious defense and “hit the open man.” Sublimate your individual talents for the good of the team. Many teams preach this, but very few actually do it consistently. It requires strong leadership to keep everyone in line, leadership that must come from the players, not just the coach.

Willis Reed, Jr. was born on June 25, 1942 in tiny Hico, LA, which is located in Lincoln Parish. Hico was so small that Reed often joked that “they don’t even have a population.” He grew up in nearby Bernice, LA. He attended college at Grambling State University, one of the many historically black colleges in the segregated South, which, at the time, afforded southern Blacks one of the few paths to a higher education. In four years he led Grambling to three Southwestern Athletic Conference titles and one NAIA title.

He was particularly dominant in his senior year averaging 26.6 points and 21.3 rebounds per game. In those days before national tv and the internet it was not easy for a player from a small school, especially a small black school, to attract the attention of the NBA. This may have been the reason why Reed lasted until the 2nd round of the draft (8th overall pick). Nevertheless, it was the Knicks’ good fortune to draft him in the second round in 1964. [Quiz question #1: can you name who the Knicks took in the first round that year? See answer below.]

Reed was an instant star. He was Rookie of the Year and made the All-Rookie First Team. In an era in which centers routinely stood 7 feet or more he was an undersized center at 6’10”. He started out playing power forward, which was not his natural position, while Walt Bellamy played center. The Knicks mostly struggled in Reed’s first few years. Then, on December 19, 1968 they made the blockbuster trade with Detroit – Bellamy and Butch Komives for Dave DeDebusschere. Arguably, this was one of the most dynamic and one-sided trades in NBA history.

It enabled Reed to shift over to center, his natural position. As I said, Reed, at 6’10”, was a little undersized, but he made up for it with his strength, toughness, determination and defensive prowess. He could also shoot and score, both inside and outside. Literally overnight, the Knicks were transformed into a dominant team, especially defensively. They went on to lead the league in defense for five of the next six years. They routinely held the opposition to fewer than 100 points. The savvy NY fans appreciated their efforts. They began to chant “deefense, clap clap deefense clap clap,” a chant that has persisted to this day at Knicks games. The Knicks became a perennial playoff team and won championships in 1970 (the franchise’s first) and 1973. Reed was Finals MVP in both. The 1970 team won a league best 60 games, including a record 18 straight.

Game # 7 of the 1970 finals was a game Knicks fans will never forget. It was one of if not the most iconic and dramatic games in NY sports history. And, it played out before a national tv audience. Ironically, in accordance with NBA policy at that time the game was blacked out in NYC and its suburbs, which was a huge injustice to long-suffering Knicks fans. (Nancy and I were visiting her family in PA, so we did get to see it.)

In any event, Reed had been injured during Game # 5, which the Knicks managed to win. He was unable to play in Game #6, a Lakers blowout. That set up a decisive winner-take-all Game #7 in NY. Reed was doubtful for the game, and the consensus was that if he didn’t play the Knicks had virtually no chance. He did not appear on the court during the warmups, and it looked like he would not play. And then, in dramatic fashion he emerged from the tunnel accompanied by a tremendous roar of the sellout MSG crowd. In Frazier’s words, all the Lakers “stopped what they were doing [to look]. I said to myself, ‘man we got these guys.’ ” Bill Bradley remembers that “when he [Reed] came out it was like electricity coursed through the whole arena.” Longtime broadcaster, Marv Albert, recalls that during a pregame interview Reed had told him “I’m gonna play tonight.” But, most of the players on both teams did not know. When he came limping out the Knicks players were elated; the Lakers players were stunned.

It might be an exaggeration to say that the Knicks won the game right then and there, but that’s how it felt. Reed scored the first two baskets, and the Knicks took off from there. Frazier played the game of his life scoring 36 points with 19 assists and seven rebounds. The Knicks jumped out to a huge lead, and they were never threatened.

Reed became the first player to win the All-Star Game MVP, the regular season MVP, and the Finals MVP in the same year. [Quiz question #2 – Can you name the other two who have done so?] See below.

Reed was the captain and undisputed leader of the Knicks. Several of the players have stated that they don’t remember any vote or official designation. He just assumed the job and responsibilities, and beginning in 1966 everyone recognized him as such. As Walt Frazier said “I don’t ever remember anyone ever telling me Willis was the captain. He just was the captain.”

Reed could and did provide leadership physically, mentally and emotionally. Bradley said he was not afraid to take the last shot (as many players are), and if someone else took the last shot and missed he was the first one to console him. In addition, the players knew that if any of them “got into trouble out there on the court for any reason Willis had [their] back.” For example during one game with the LA Lakers some of the players started pushing and shoving, and a big scuffle ensued. Reed defended his teammates by challenging the entire Lakers team to a fight. No one would take him on, and the matter was resolved peacefully. Moreover, Reed would not hesitate to “call out” a teammate who was not giving 100%.

Reed played ten seasons until injuries forced him to retire in 1974. However, he remained active in the game. He served as head coach of the Knicks, the Nets and Creighton University. Furthermore, he worked as General Manager of both the Nets and the New Orleans Hornets. Finally, he mentored various players such as Patrick Ewing.


Some of the many honors he earned:

  1. He was the first Knick to have his number (19) retired.
  2. He was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1982.
  3. He was named one of the “50 Greatest Players in NBA History.”
  4. He was named to the NBA 75th Anniversary Team.

Since his passing Reed has been eulogized by many, many former players, teammates and outside observers, too many to include all of them. For example:

  1. Frazier recalled how Reed took him and other rookies under his wing and helped them acclimate to NY and the NBA. Furthermore, Frazier said that as great a player as he was “he was even a better person.”
  2. Bradley stated “I was lucky to know him. Forget the championship(s), just as a human being.” He added, “he was the backbone of the team. He was the guy that took us to the first championship by his courage and by his unselfishness.”
  3. Longtime Knicks broadcaster Marv Albert remembers “he (Reed) was so well respected not only by his teammates but around the league.”
  4. Following the 1970 championship win the loquacious commentator, Howard Cosell told him on national tv “you exemplify the very best that the human spirit can offer.”
  5. Reed became so synonymous with playing through injury that NFL commentator, Cris Collinsworth once described NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers who at the time was having a good game while injured as “having a Willis Reed kind of night.”

Reed was married twice and had two children. He passed away on March 21, 2003 from heart failure.

Rest in peace “Cap.” You are gone, but your legacy will live on as long as basketball is played.

Answers to quiz questions:

1) Jim (Bad News) Barnes from Texas Western. Barnes’ parents had saddled him with the unusual first name of “Velvet.” Good thing for him he grew to be 6′ 8″ and 200 pounds. Barnes’ career was cut short by injuries, however, he eventually was part of the deal by which the Knicks acquired Walt Bellamy who, as we all know, later became the key piece in the deal for Dave DeBusschere.

2) Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal