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Tom Jones' Two Cents

Sports analysis, perspective and more.

Best sports debuts



Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg had a debut Tuesday that exceeded even the most grand expectations. The first pick in the 2009 baseball draft, Strasburg threw seven innings with 14 strikeouts, no walks and only two runs allowed. So it got us thinking about  some of the most memorable debuts in sports.

Robinson Jackie Robinson
Let's just settle this now. This is the best debut in sports history. Doesn't even matter what he did on the field. (He went 0-for-4, by the way.) On April 15, 1947, Robinson broke baseball's color barrier and cemented his place in history as having the best and most memorable debut in sports history. Nothing can or will ever compare.

Billy Rohr
While Strasburg's debut was impressive, a little-known pitcher on the 1967 "Impossible Dream'' Red Sox had what we consider the best debut for a pitcher in the history of the majors. The 21-year-old lefty was one strike away from a no-hitter -- against the hated Yankees, no less. Elston Howard broke up the no-no with a soft single, but Rohr retired the next batter  for a one-hit, complete-game, 3-0 shutout. Interestingly, he would win only two more games the rest of his big-league career.

Karl Spooner and J.R. Richard
While Strasburg's 14 strikeouts were eye-popping, two other pitchers struck out more in their debuts. Karl Spooner, a lefty for the Brooklyn Dodgers, struck out 15 against a New York Giants team that would go on to win the World Series in 1954. Meantime, the mountain-sized J.R. Richard struck out 15 in his debut for the Astros against the Giants in 1971.

Mario Mario Lemieux
When the most-anticipated NHL player since Wayne Gretzky came along, an 18-year-old Mario Lemieux did not disappoint in his pro debut in 1984. On his very first shift in the NHL, Lemieux stole the puck from legendary Bruins defenseman Ray Bourque, skated in on a breakaway and scored. A goal in his first game on his first shift on his first shot. How could it get better than that?

Baseball sluggers
In the history of the majors, 105 players have homered in their first big-league at-bats, including former Rays outfielder Elijah Dukes. Also homering in the first at-bats? Pitchers Dave Eiland, a former USF standout and now the Yankees' pitching coach, and the great Hoyt Wilhelm, who never hit another major-league homer. Chuck Tanner, known more for being a manager than a player, homered in his first at-bat. Only two went on to hit more than 300 homers in their careers -- Gary Gaetti (360) and Jermaine Dye (325). But as far as debuts, we would have to go with a guy named Bob Nieman, who played for the St. Louis Browns when he made his MLB debut on Sept. 14, 1951, at Fenway Park at Boston. Nieman is just one of two players to hit homers in his first two at-bats. The other was Keith McDonald in 2000, but his homers were spread over two games. Two others -- Kansas City A's Bert Campaneris  in 1964 and the Royals' Mark Quinn in 1999 -- homered twice in their first games.

Citizen Orson Welles
Okay, I know, this has nothing to do with sports. But you can't have a best-ever debut list about any topic without recognizing Welles. He was 26 and had never directed a movie before when he pounded out Citizen Kane in 1941. To make what we consider the greatest movie ever your first time out? That's why he appears on this list, sports or no sports.

Juan Marichal
One could make a case this is the greatest pitching debut ever. Marichal was only 19 on July 19, 1960, when he took the mound for the Giants against the Phillies. Marichal, a future Hall of Famer and one of the best pitchers of his or any generation, allowed only one hit while striking out 12 for a complete-game victory.

Lebron LeBron James
Just a few months out of high school in 2003, James showed he had the steak to go along with the sizzle. In his NBA debut against Sacramento, the Cavs star torched the Kings for 25 points, nine  assists, six rebounds and four steals.

Allen Iverson
Practice? Who needs practice when you make your NBA debut and score 30? That's what the 76ers guard did in 1996.

[Last modified: Thursday, July 8, 2010 3:17pm]


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