#Shortstops: Opening Day Batman
In a sense, Blomberg (pronounced BLOOM-berg) was “designated for assignment” on April 6, 1973. That was the day he made history when his New York Yankees visited the Boston Red Sox for the season opener and he became the first DH used in a regular season game. Afterward, he donated his prized bat to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
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A total of 132 DHs were used by the 12 AL teams in 1973, ranging from seven by Cleveland to 19 by Oakland. While the AL had a .239 cumulative batting average in 1972, it improved to .259 in ’73 (DHs combining to hit .259 overall).
Back in 2010, Blomberg visited the Hall of Fame and was reunited with an old friend he joked might have had 50 more hits left in it.
“People don’t realize when we played, they gave us two dozen bats right before the season,” Blomberg said. “And that was a bat that I knew was going to have a lot of hits in it. But it’s great to give back to the game of baseball.”
According to Blomberg, he didn’t know what to expect when approached by the Yankees before the game about serving as the DH.
“It was a very unusual day because in 1972 I was coming off a pretty good year, and then in 1973 I pulled a hamstring down in Spring Training,” Blomberg said. “Our manager, Ralph Houk, and coaches Dick Howser and Elston Howard, asked me on the flight from Fort Lauderdale up to Boston if instead of going out on the field could I, because of the pulled hamstring, be the DH. I said, ‘What is it?’ I thought it was a glorified pinch hitter to be honest with you. They said just go up to bat four or five times, try and knock in a few runs.
“Unfortunately we lost 15-5 but I got to be the first designated hitter.”
Though injuries to his knees and shoulders ravaged what could have been a very successful career in the major leagues, Blomberg looks back with no regrets.
“I got lucky. One AB (at bat) got me into the Hall, one AB got me into every newspaper and magazine in the country,” Blomberg said. “The funny part about it is people still remember. Fifty percent of the people love it, but 50 percent of the people hate it. It’s really been a fun ride, I really enjoy it.
“I got in the Hall of Fame the back door rather than the front door.”
The bat Blomberg donated as the game’s first DH – and currently on display at the Hall of Fame’s Whole New Ballgame exhibit – is a 36-inch, 35-ounce Louisville Slugger. The knob end has a hand drawn five-point star drawn in black marker.
“Ron Blomberg, upon receiving a new shipment of bats, promptly had a five-point star painted on the bottom of each knob for quick identification in the bat rack,” it explained in a June 1975 issue of the Sporting News. “Somebody asked, ‘Why not a six-point star?’ He said, ‘I still have to earn that. When I’m a real headliner, I’ll make it six points.”
In 1993, Blomberg told the Sporting News: “After the game, I had what seemed like 100 reporters asking me about the experience as the game’s first designated hitter. Then our P.R. guy, Marty Appel, came to my locker and took my bat. I said, ‘Marty, what the heck are you doing?’ He said that (Hall of Fame Director) Ken Smith called and wanted it for an exhibit.”
Blomberg, who was forced to retire in 1978 at the age of 30 because of injuries, had hoped his bat would one day land at the Hall of Fame with a bronze plaque. Instead, his bat made it instead of him.
“When you’re young, you always dream of making it to Cooperstown,” Blomberg told the Sporting News in 1997. “Well, even though I made it through the backdoor, I couldn’t be prouder. The great thing about being the first to do something is that nobody can ever take it away from you. That’s kind of nice.”
Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum