Opening Day Throwback: The First Oakland Athletics’ Opening Night

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From Swining A’s Jan 2015 post “Life With Reggie’s Regiment, The Mustache Gang & Billy Ball”The Oakland Athletics line up along the third baseline before their first home game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, April 17, 1968. 50,164 fans along with Hall of Famer A’s coach Joe DiMaggio (far left) were in attendance as the A's lost to the Baltimore Orioles 4-1. (photo permission by Ron Riesterer/Oakland Tribune
From Swining A’s Jan 2015 post “Life With Reggie’s Regiment, The Mustache Gang & Billy Ball”The Oakland Athletics line up along the third baseline before their first home game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, April 17, 1968. 50,164 fans along with Hall of Famer A’s coach Joe DiMaggio (far left) were in attendance as the A's lost to the Baltimore Orioles 4-1. (photo permission by Ron Riesterer/Oakland Tribune /
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Throwback Thursday Monday: 50,219 Oakland Athletics Fans Come Out To See the New Kids in Town

The Oakland Athletics open their 2016 season on Monday night, just two weeks shy of the 48th anniversary of their first opening night at the then brand-new Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

On April 17, 1968, the Athletics played their first game in Oakland against the Baltimore Orioles in front of 50,219 fans packing the latest three-tiered stadium in baseball. With a circular shape, seats were stretched from foul pole to foul pole – actually a little beyond, no different than today. Bleachers – real ones made of wood planks before the Mt. Davis monstrosity – were beyond the wood outfield fence that stood 8-feet high and, in those days, had no padding. A distinctive thump sound can still be recalled of balls bouncing off the wall.

The latest in technology, two “Million Dollar Scoreboards” bearing the Atlantic Richfield logo with an eagle, were located high above both the left and right field bleachers between the sight of the ice plant stadium landscaping and breathtaking view of the then-developing Oakland Hills. One electronic scoreboard displayed game information, including up-to-date batting averages of players at the plate – a feature that wasn’t available at the majority of other ballparks. The other showed messages such as “CHARGE” after an electronic cavalry bugle call or “BEEP-BEEP” when Bert ‘The Roadrunner’ Campaneris was on the base paths.

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Bob Kennedy was the manager for the A’s and former Kansas City Athletic Hank Bauer was the manager for Orioles, as the A’s had Lew Krausse on the mound and the Orioles started Dave McNally.

In the second inning, Baltimore first baseman Boog Powell recorded the first home run in Coliseum history with a one-out solo shot to right field to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead as the Birds would score in three straight innings. In the following inning, Mark Belanger hit a solo home run to increase the Orioles’ lead by two. In the third, Krausse was rocked with a Dave Johnson RBI single to drive in Frank Robinson, putting the Orioles up 3-0. Krausse was taken out in the sixth following a Brooks Robinson home run and a walk to Powell.

April 17 box score, A's vs. Orioles.
April 17 box score, A’s vs. Orioles. /

The A’s first and only run off of McNally, who went the full nine innings, was a lead-off Rick Monday solo shot in the bottom of the sixth, marking the first Oakland Athletic home run in Coliseum history. The HR not only broke McNally’s bid for a shutout but was the A’s first hit of the game. Interestingly, the only other Oakland hit that night was a ninth inning pinch-hit single by back-up infielder Tony La Russa. The hit would be La Russa’s only hit of a brief 1968 campaign.

In total, McNally pitched a complete game two-hitter in a 4-1 Oriole victory and allowed the A’s to reach base just three times in the game – the other being a third inning walk to Krausse. He struck out six batters, with half of them being Reggie Jackson.

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The following night, only 5,304 fans would show to see the A’s get their first Oakland win, a 4-3 13-inning walk-off (even though they weren’t called “walk-offs” then) on a John Donaldson sacrifice fly that scored Jackson, who had led off the bottom of the thirteenth with a single.

Fans would get a thrill exactly three weeks from their opening night experience when on May 9, Jim “Catfish” Hunter would throw only the ninth perfect game in MLB history – a 4-0 win against the Minnesota Twins in front of a mere 6,298 in attendance.

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