Blomberg relishes being first DH in baseball

Former Yankees slugger originated role in 1973

April 27th, 2017
The Yankees' Ron Blomberg became the first designated hitter in 1973. (AP)

NEW YORK -- Ron Blomberg is best known for playing with the Yankees and becoming the first designated hitter in 1973. But before anyone in baseball heard of him, Blomberg signed a letter of intent to play college basketball for head coach John Wooden at UCLA.

Even though he agreed to attend UCLA, Blomberg knew he wasn't going to play a single minute for Wooden and participate in the dynasty that was starting at the school. He had already made up his mind that he wanted to have a career in baseball. When he was in the 10th grade at Druid Hills (Ga.) High School, he felt if he continued to progress on the diamond, he was going to make a living playing on it.

Ten days before the 1967 MLB Draft, his favorite team -- the Yankees -- went to Atlanta and paid Blomberg a visit, informing him that he would be the first overall pick. New York was looking for him to be the next Mickey Mantle, and Blomberg was a left-handed power hitter who played the outfield.

"It was one of my greatest achievements," Blomberg said on the podcast, Newsmakers. "What do I do? Do I play basketball with [Kareem Abdul-] Jabbar … or do I play with the New York Yankees? That was an easy choice. … Having an opportunity to play for the Yankees -- they were always my favorite team. It was a dream of mine that came true. I lived a great dream. I lived the fantasy of my life."

Blomberg, now 68, did not live up to be the next Mantle. He was often injured and didn't face many left-handers during his eight-year career. To this day, he doesn't understand the reasons he didn't face many southpaws. Blomberg points out that he wouldn't have been a No. 1 Draft pick if he couldn't hit lefties.

Blomberg played most of big league career as either a first baseman or a designated hitter, finishing with a .293 career average and a .360 on-base percentage.

Little did Blomberg know that he would be the first DH in 1973. In fact, there was a possibility he wouldn't play the first game of the regular season against the Red Sox. Blomberg didn't play the final few games of Spring Training because of a hamstring injury. It wasn't until he was on the team charter to Boston that he was informed by his manager, Ralph Houk, and coaches Elston Howard and Dick Howser that he was going to be the DH on Opening Day against Red Sox right-hander Luis Tiant.

Blomberg didn't know what the job of a DH entailed. He had spent all of camp playing first base. Houk told him to just hit and come back on the bench. It was April 6 and 55 degrees. Blomberg went 1-for-3 with a walk in the Yankees' 15-5 loss to the Red Sox, but it took a while for him to get accustom to the DH role.

After Graig Nettles homered with two outs in the third inning, Blomberg followed and reached base on an infield single. After Thurman Munson grounded out for the final out of the inning, Blomberg stayed on the field, expecting to play first base.

"I forgot I was the DH and Elston Howard said, 'Come on back with me.' I said, 'No, I have to play first base.' He said, 'No, you are the DH.' So I go back on the bench, I'm sitting there and I say, 'This is boring.' I'm just sitting here, everybody is playing baseball. I was able to get one at-bat, and now I have to wait two more innings to get my next at-bat. So I go in the clubhouse where I could get warm."

After the game, Blomberg was surrounded by reporters asking him about being the first DH. Then, according to Blomberg, Yankees public relations director Marty Appel took his bat and explained that the Baseball Hall of Fame wanted the lumber to display in Cooperstown, N.Y. Blomberg was not happy, feeling he had a lot of hits coming in that bat. Plus, he had a limited amount of baseball bats. Today, he is proud that the bat is on display in Cooperstown, and he loves it that it's a DH coming to the plate.

"I love the DH. I hate to watch the pitchers hit. It's the most boring thing in the world, even in batting practice," Blomberg said. "The DH is like the three-point [shot] in the NBA and college basketball. It brought a lot of excitement to the game."

Although Blomberg spent a lot of time on the disabled list, he doesn't have any bitterness about his career being cut short because of injuries.

"I have no bitterness at all," Blomberg said. "I lived my dream. I lived my fantasy. I was drafted by the New York Yankees. I got to wear the pinstripes. I got to play in the greatest city in the world. I played for the greatest fans in the world."