Opening Day in Chicago is special. When the Cubs play their first game at historic Wrigley Field it doesn’t matter how good the team is supposed to be or what the expectations are, it’s exciting.
The 1994 opener may have been the most exciting in franchise history. On April 4, 1994, the Cubs hosted their rivals, the New York Mets, who had ace Dwight Gooden on the mound. But Gooden’s pitching wasn’t the story that day, it was the unlikely home run show put on by a player making his first appearance in a Cubs’ uniform.
Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes had been acquired the previous season from the Houston Astros in a deal that barely drew attention. He spent the balance of 1993 with the Cubs’ top minor league team in Iowa. On Opening Day he was in center field and leading off, but most Chicago fans were unfamiliar with him. That didn’t last long.
Rhodes hit three home runs off Gooden, thrilling a standing-room only crowd at Wrigley. See all three homers in the short video clip below.
Tuffy Rhodes in Japan
Incredibly, Rhodes hit only 13 home runs in his major league career, but in addition to the three on opening day in 1994, he hit six of the 13 in a 24-day stretch in April. On April 28 against the Houston Astros, Rhodes hit two home runs off Darryl Kile. He hit only two more in 1994, finishing with eight.
Only a few years after his opening day home run binge at Wrigley, Tuffy was out of Major League Baseball. Prior to the 1996 season he signed a free agent contract with the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes of the Japan Pacific League. On that island nation, Rhodes found his power stroke. Batting against a little easier competition, Rhodes hit 27 homers for the Buffaloes in 1996. But he was just getting started. In 1999 he hit 40 home runs for Osaka, and two years after that he belted 55. He topped 50 homers once more, finishing his 13-year Japanese baseball career with 464 home runs.
But in the United States, Tuffy Rhodes is remembered for hitting three unlikely (but thrilling) home runs on opening day for the Cubs. Not for all the home runs he smacked in Japan. Perhaps fittingly, the Cubs lost to Gooden and the Mets in that ’94 opener. Tuffy’s homers were for naught.