This day in baseball history: Washington’s last opener of the century

April 5, 1971 was baseball’s Opening Day. As was the tradition back then, Washington played the only American League game of the day.

Normally, the U.S. President threw the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day in D.C. Some years, the Vice President filled in. But on this day, former Vietnam prisoner of war Master Sergeant Daniel Lee Pitzer did the honors.

Manager Ted Williams selected Dick Bosman to pitch for the Senators. Bosman was the obvious choice. His combined record the two previous seasons was 30-17. In 1969, he had the lowest ERA in the American League (2.19). Denny McLain, newly acquired by Washington, would have to wait.

The opposition, Oakland, went with Vida Blue. The 21 year-old had only ten previous career starts. However, his record in 1970 was 2-0 with a 2.09 ERA. Established ace Jim “Catfish” Hunter, would have to wait.

Blue was considered the game’s next great pitcher. He would more than live up to that billing in 1971.

However, Blue had a short, unhappy outing on this day.

The Senators scored four runs in the first two innings. Only one of them was earned. A pair of errors by Bert Campanaris contributed to the other three.

Even so, A’s manager Dick Williams gave Blue the hook after only an inning and two-thirds. It was deserved. Blue had already allowed three hits and walked four.

Two of the five outs Blue managed to chalk up were by strikeout. He would go on to strike out 301 batters in 1971.

Two of Blue’s walks were issued to Curt Flood. Later, Flood would add a hit. The controversial centerfielder, who sat out the 1970 season while challenging baseball’s reserve clause, was attempting a comeback with the Senators. It lasted only 13 games.

The Senators went on to win their opener 8-0. Bosman pitched a complete game, allowing only six hits, including two by Rick Monday and two by Dave Duncan.

For the Senators, rookie Toby Harrah and Paul Casanova had two hits each. Frank Howard and Mike Epstein both drove in two runs.

In early May, the Senators traded Epstein, along with star relief pitcher Darold Knowles, to Oakland. Both would play important roles in the A’s championship season the following year.

At the end of the 1971 season, owner Bob Short moved the team to Texas, where they became the Texas Rangers. Thus, the 1971 opener was the last played in Washington during the 20th century. The next one didn’t happen until April 14, 2005.

* Although I’m boycotting Major League Baseball due to its decision to weigh in on the Democrats’ side of a political issue, there’s no reason not to continue writing about baseball history. My “this day in baseball history” posts do not benefit the current game. Fifty years ago, baseball wasn’t “woke.” It did not take the left’s side on any controversial issue of which I’m aware.

The achievements of the players back then deserve to recognized and fans of that era deserve to be reminded of them.

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