On the Matter of the First Pitch

Back in 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays had a problem. They’d won the pennant, and tradition dictated that they have one of their greatest, most famous, most well-loved players throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the first World Series game in their home stadium.

But there was a bit of a catch. The franchise had only been in existence for ten years. They didn’t have any “famous” players they could call on. Heck, the best players they’d ever had were still playing for them!

What to do?

They went with Bob Stewart, the former Pinellas County Commissioner who was instrumental in bringing Major League Baseball to the Tampa Bay area. A very nice honor for the man.

I’ve wondered on occasion – who decides who gets the honor? It’s usually someone like the Greatest Living Player for the team. But that gets rather predictable after a while. I do know that Major League Baseball has to approve all the “first pitchers”, but they don’t make the selection. If I may, I’d like to make some guesses as to who we might see in the World Series – or some candidates whom it would be awesome to see…..

Astros: The normal call here is Nolan Ryan. He played nine years for Houston, more than he did for any other team in his career. But how about their most recent Hall of Famer (and Astros lifer) Craig Biggio? They can also call on the other “Killer B’s”: Lance Berkman and Jeff Bagwell.

Blue Jays: George Bell was the team’s first MVP (1987). They can also go with Pat Borders (the World Series MVP in 1992) or Paul Molitor (WS MVP, 1993), except that Molitor currently wears the uniform of a rival team – he manages the Twins. They’ll most likely go with Joe Carter because of this:

Cardinals: They’ll probably bring out Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, or Ozzie Smith. But now that he’s not in the TV booth for FOX, why not Tim McCarver, a key member of their 1964 and 1967 championship teams?

Cubs: Ryne Sandberg isn’t managing for the Phillies anymore, so he’s available. Or they can ask Billy Williams.

Dodgers: They’ll want to go with Sandy Koufax. How about Fernando Valenzuela (Rookie of the Year and Cy Young award in 1981 – would be a nice gesture to the Mexican community, too) or Kirk Gibson or Orel Hersheiser (the NL MVP and World Series MVP in 1988 – the last time the Dodgers won the WS?)

Mets: Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza are the usual choices. Can we see some love for those old Mets stalwarts and fan favorires Ed Kranepool, Bud Harrelson, and Jerry Koosman?

Rangers: Here’s another team that can claim Nolan Ryan. What about Jeff Burroughs (their first MVP, in 1974) or Juan Gonzales (two MVP awards, in 1996 and 1998)? Ivan Rodriguez wasn’t a lifelong Ranger, but he was a ten-time All-star (and MVP in 1999) with them, so he’d be a great choice.

Royals: George Brett comes immediately to mind. How about Bret Saberhagen, who won two Cy Young Awards with them (1985 and 1989)  and was the World Series MVP when they won in 1985? Also, it would be really, really awesome if the Royals organization could come to some sort of reconciliation with Frank White so that he could have the honor.

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