The legend of Tuffy Rhodes

  • Senior writer ESPN Magazine/
  • Analyst/reporter ESPN television
  • Has covered baseball since 1981

You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.

ON THIS DATE IN 1988, an Opening Day trend started.

Three home runs by one player in a game used to be a big deal. Hank Aaron did it once. Babe Ruth did it twice (in the regular season). David Ortiz, Rafael Palmeiro and Gary Sheffield never did it, and they all hit at least 500 homers. The past four years, there have been 69 times that someone hit three in a game. That’s more times than the first 28 years (66) of the live ball era (1920-1947) combined.

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No one had ever hit three homers on Opening Day until this date in 1988 when Blue Jays outfielder George Bell hit three off Royals’ ace Bret Saberhagen. (Bell, by the way, was great at stealing signs, using only his eyes, and he often sent teammates information during at-bats. But Bell didn’t want the signs; he didn’t trust anyone after he got hit in the face with a fastball when he was told a curveball was coming).

Then on this date in 1994, the Cubs’ Tuffy Rhodes, who had five homers in 105 games, hit three (in his first three at-bats) off Mets’ star Dwight Gooden.

“And all three homers were missiles,” said pitcher Dan Plesac, then a teammate of Rhodes. “I remember thinking, ‘Who in the hell is Tuffy Rhodes?’ I drove home that night thinking, ‘Damn, this guy might be better than [Darryl] Strawberry or [Barry] Bonds.”’

Rhodes would finish his career with 13 home runs.

Then, on this date in 2005, the Reds’ Dmitri Young, hit three homers on Opening Day. And on March 29, 2018, the White Sox’s Matt Davidson hit three homers on Opening Day. So, it had never been done in baseball history until 1988, then it was done four times in 30 years. Johnny Bench hit 389 homers without one on Opening Day, Adrian Beltre hit the most homers (477) of any player without one on Opening Day, but Bell, Rhodes, Young and Davidson did it. And they combined for 498 homers.

Other baseball notes from April 4

  • In 1948, A’s manager Connie Mack, 84, challenged Senators manager Clark Griffith, 78, to a race to first base. It ended in a tie. How would it go if Tito Francona and Bruce Bochy, each in their 60s, raced to first base? “That would be R-rated,” Francona said. “Bochy’s legs are way better than mine, they are just on backwards. But he’d have a huge advantage,”

  • In 2005, Mark Buehrle beat the Indians 1-0. The game took 1 hour, 51 minutes.

  • In 1974, the Braves planned to sit Hank Aaron for the first three games of the season in Cincinnati. But Commissioner Bowie Kuhn ordered them to play him. Aaron hit a three-run homer off Jack Billingham for No. 714, tying Babe Ruth for the most in baseball history.

  • In 1888, Tris Speaker was born. He is one of the five greatest center fielders ever. He was brilliant defensively, he took part in 138 double plays as an outfielder; next most is 87 by Max Carey. Speaker holds the record for most unassisted double plays by an outfielder (six).

  • In 1987, pitcher Odrisamer Despaigne was born. He pitched for several teams, first for the Padres (2014-15). Using the letters from his name, you can spell San Diego Padres.

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