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Best debuts in sports

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.

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 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.

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.

Orson Welles

Okay, we 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.

Allen Iverson

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

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.

Interview of the day

J.P. Peterson, the 1010-AM sports radio host and former Ch. 8 sports anchor, has an interesting two-part interview for his new television show over the next couple of weeks with former Bucs great Derrick Brooks. Peterson's new show is Tampa Bay Sports Central With JP, which can be seen every other Sunday at 11:30 a.m. on Ch. 44.

"I've interviewed Derrick probably 100 times in my life but clearly, without question, this is the most interesting interview he has ever done with me,'' Peterson said. "He talks about some things he hasn't really gotten into before.''

The first part of the interview will run this Sunday and include Brooks' thoughts on his alma mater, Florida State, possibly moving to the SEC and whether college athletes should be compensated. But the more intriguing part sounds like the portion that will air June 27 when Brooks discusses the sour ending he had with the Bucs.

"I wouldn't say he goes off on the Bucs,'' Peterson said, "but he's still clearly distressed at the way it was handled.''

Peterson said Brooks also talks about coaches Jon Gruden and Tony Dungy, and the Glazers' financial situation.

Three things that popped into my head

1 Who knows if Guy Boucher will be a good NHL coach, but this hire sounds better than pulling some retread veteran coach off the scrap heap.

2 We all knew Ben Roethlisberger was a first-grade creep, but did you catch any of those audio or video clips released from the investigation of his incident with a coed in a Georgia bar? After that, I'm sorry if I have hard time believing this guy is anywhere close to turning himself into a decent human being.

3 The Blackhawks win a Stanley Cup for the first time since 1961 and there were only a handful of arrests in Chicago after the game. That's how you're supposed to behave.

Gary Gaetti

Best debuts in sports 06/10/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 10, 2010 9:39pm]
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