In the case of Willie Stargell, it was not only a big smile that appeared on his face, but it followed with light chuckle as he recalled his first hit as a 22-year old rookie September call up. “It was in old Forbes Field in Pittsburgh,” Stargell said. “It was on September 20, 1962. We were playing Cincinnati and Bob Purkey was pitching for the Reds. He was a good right-hander who won 23 games that season. I was batting cleanup and I struck out against Purkey in my first at-bat, but when the Reds were leading, 1-0, in the fourth inning, I came up with no outs and Bob Skinner on second after he hit a double to left field. Purkey came at me with a fastball and I drove it to deep center over Vada Pinson’s head. Once I hit the ball and saw it was going to the wall, I took off running around the bases. As I was coming into third base hard, Frank Oceak, our third base coach, was waving me in to give me a shot at an inside-the-park homer on my first career hit,” Stargell continued. “But Pinson made a good relay throw to shortstop Leo Cardenas, who then made a strong throw to catcher Johnny Edwards for an easy out. An RBI triple for my first major league hit. That was pretty cool.”
At the 1990 Hall of Fame induction ceremony, inquisitive reporters surrounded Ted Williams during a rain interruption and he got on the topic of hitting before one writer asked about the memories he had regarding his first major league hit.
“I was nervous as hell in my first at-bat,” he said. “I knew I belonged and could hit major league pitching. But in that first at-bat, I was a little nerved and struck out against Red Ruffing. My next time up, I was ready for a fastball and when I got it, I hit it to deep right-center field at Yankee Stadium for a double. I knew then and there, I belonged.”
For Willie Mays, he went 0-for-12 before he could experience the joy of getting a hit against a major league pitcher. And for the young, fleet-footed center fielder his first hit didn’t come against just any big league hurler, it came off one of the top pitchers in the game in Boston Braves left-hander Warren Spahn at the Polo Grounds.
“He got the first two hitters in the first inning, and then I was up,” Mays recalled in his autobiography “Say Hey” published by Simon & Schuster. “What did he throw me? I don’t think I ever knew. All I know is I swung at it and hit it to the top of the left field roof. Finally, my first major league hit, and a homer at that. My slump was over.”
Unlike Mays, recently elected Hall of Famer Mike Piazza didn’t have to wait long for his first major league hit, or for that matter his first three. In his big league debut on Sept. 1, 1992, the right-handed slugging catcher went 3-for-3 with a walk. His first hit was a double in his second plate appearance off Cubs pitcher Mike Harkey at Wrigley Field.
In his book “Long Shot” by Lonnie Wheeler, Piazza described his first game in The Show.
“Determined not to make an out on the first pitch I ever saw in the major leagues—which came with one out in the second inning and (Eric) Karros on first base with a single—I took strike one right down the middle. Ended up walking, anyway. The next time up, I did swing at the first pitch, and stroked a double to right-center. I followed that with two singles; I was three for three altogether, until Eric Young pinch-ran for me in the eighth. Before Eric got out there, Mark Grace, the Cubs’ first baseman, leaned toward me and said, “Hey, it ain’t that f___in’ easy.”
Following is a chart listing the first major league hit by 113 Hall of Fame players. Among this group, five hit home runs, 10 raced around the bases for a triple, 17 registered a double and the remaining 81 were credited with a single.
There are eight pitchers who surrendered the first major league hit to two future Hall of Famers—Vinegar Bend Mizell (Ernie Banks/Frank Robinson), Robin Roberts (Lou Brock/Willie McCovey), Dave McNally (Rod Carew/Robin Yount), Elam Vangilder (Lou Gehrig/Heinie Manush), Si Johnson (Billy Herman/Duke Snider), Dana Fillingim (Sam Rice/Pie Traynor), Jesse Barnes (Bill Terry/Hack Wilson) and one of the more interesting anecdotes is that Hall of Fame brothers Paul and Lloyd Waner of the Pirates collected their first major league hit almost one year apart for the same team in the same ballpark and against the same pitcher.
Paul collected a single off Reds pitcher Pete Donohue at Cincinnati’s Redland Field on April 17, 1926. Lloyd did the same on April 12, 1927.
New York Giants teammates Bill Terry and Hack Wilson collected their first career hits on the same day—Sept. 30, 1923 against the Boston Braves. Duke Snider and Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers duplicated the feat on April 17, 1947 also against the Braves.
For any player, the first hit in a major league career is special and for Hall of Famers, it becomes the first of many memorable achievements.