Tragedy was at the heart of Opening Day in 1968. You have to go back that long -- 50 years -- to find the only other time every baseball team in the Majors opened on the same day. This will happen Thursday as a gigantic nationwide celebration of the game.
And it happened in 1968, because baseball opened in the heartbreaking days after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
Every American sport went silent after the shooting of Dr. King. NBA and NHL playoff games were postponed. The PGA Tour pushed back its final round of the Greater Greensboro Open.
"A virtual three-day moratorium on sports, unprecedented in American history, is being offered in tribute to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," United Press International reported.
But in 1968, it was one thing to postpone a golf tournament's final round. It was quite another to push back baseball's Opening Day, which was and is much closer to a national holiday. There was much discussion about what to do. Dr. King was shot Thursday evening, April 4, and President Lyndon Johnson declared Sunday a day of national mourning. Protest, looting and burning followed in numerous cities across America. Opening Day was scheduled in Washington and Cincinnati on Monday -- in those days, baseball always opened in Washington and Cincinnati -- but those were pushed back to Wednesday.
Tuesday was the day of Dr. King's funeral, and all the scheduled games except one were pushed back to Wednesday. Dodgers president Walter O'Malley almost until the final moment insisted that because their game began so late in the day for most of the country -- 11 p.m. ET -- there was enough separation from the funeral to make the game respectful. The game might have been played if not for the Philadelphia Phillies, the Dodgers' opponent, making it clear they would refuse to take the field and would forfeit the game. So O'Malley relented, and the Dodgers' opener joined the Wednesday slate.
"Mr. O'Malley is a man with tremendous ability," Jackie Robinson told a reporter, "but also a man with a total lack of knowledge of the frustration of the Negro community. It grieves me that Walter O'Malley did not understand the importance of the thing."
And so every team opened on April 10, 1968 -- the first time all 20 Major League teams opened the season together. It was a somber but unique day in baseball history. And looking back to Opening Day 1968 is a good way to see just how far baseball has come.