Chicago Cubs’ fans – do you have Opening Day fever? I know I do. I agree with Ozzie Smith that Opening Day should be considered a national holiday. Smith in an MLB.com interview talked about his idea. “The Wizard” was simply saying that people already call-in sick from school and work, so why not just put the day on hold anyway. Opening Day is a special time of the year. It has also had a few special moments in Cubs history in particular. Opening Day 1994. Not a great year for the Cubs, but a memorable Opening Day.
“There are 22 million people who have, some point in time, played hooky from work or school, so it’s already an unofficial holiday,” – Ozzie Smith
The 1994 season was a tough one for Cubs fans who saw the team lose its first 12 home games to start the season. The season was also a rough one for all baseball fans. The season would be cut short due to a work stoppage on August 11th. The season would be canceled on September 14 due to the players’ strike. Even though the season started and ended badly – there were some special moments. One that sticks out in my mind is Opening Day versus the New York Mets, and an unknown player named Tuffy Rhodes.
Rhodes was traded to the Cubs in 1993 in a three team trade with the Yankees and the Royals. He would start the season with the Cubs – being named the Opening Day starter in center field. Not only would he be starting in center – he would bat leadoff for the Cubs. The Mets had veteran All-Star Dwight Gooden on the mound. In his first at-bat, in the first game of the season – Rhodes would take Gooden deep for a leadoff home run. He wouldn’t be done. In his next at-bat he would again homer off Gooden – this time with two out and the bags empty – a three-one pitch to deep left-center field for his second home run of the day. And just when you thought it couldn’t get better – Rhodes would come up again in the fifth inning, again versus “Doc”, and collect his third round-tripper of the day.
Rhodes would finish the day going 4-for-4, being walked in the sixth, and getting a single in the bottom on the ninth. Though he would finish with a career day, the Cubs would go on and lose to New York 12-8. With hopes of carrying this start over toward the rest of the year, Rhodes would not be able to continue his hot streak. It was another 15 games before Rhodes hit another home run. And they weren’t as plentiful the rest of the season, finishing with a .234 average, eight home runs, and 19 RBIs.
He would be placed on waivers by the Cubs in May of 1995. Then picked up by the Red Sox off waivers – before eventually moving on to play in Japan. Although his ’94 Opening Day may have been a flash in the pan, Rhodes would have a great deal of success in Japan – finishing his career in Japan with 474 home runs.
Rhodes may not be remembered as a good baseball player while in the Major Leagues – he will however be remembered as putting up one of the most exciting Opening Day performances in MLB history with this three home run day. That can never be taken away.