Ron Blomberg continuing a lifelong baseball legacy

First-ever designated hitter still enjoying life in baseball spotlight
07/22/2013 9:58 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

One at-bat in 1973 gave Ron Blomberg a lifelong baseball legacy.(New York Times)
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the advent of the designated hitter, and while the position today is loaded with veteran sluggers and some serious home run threats, the man you can thank for revolutionizing baseball – or “screwing it up,” if you ask him – is a man who was just 24 years old when he took the first turn as a “professional hitter” and finished his career with only 52 home runs.

That would be Ron Blomberg, who made four Opening Day starts for the Yankees, but none more memorable than the one he made on April 6, 1973 in Boston.

“They did a feature on me in Sports Illustrated this year, and I told them: in one at-bat, I screwed up the game of baseball,” Blomberg joked during a visit to Old-timers Day last month. “Seriously, though, it’s great to have been the first DH, and to do it in pinstripes was amazing.”

There is one similarity between that day and the modern day, however: Blomberg’s DH opportunity came about not because of his hitting prowess so much, but because it was the best way to let him nurse an injury.

Blomberg was battling balky hamstrings at the time, so he was slotted in for a “half-day off” as the No. 6 hitter that day. As luck would have it, the Yankees loaded the bases with two outs, and Blomberg ended up getting an at-bat that made history.

"If we opened at home that year, someone else might be the guy," Blomberg told last year. Blomberg drew a walk in that at-bat to notch the first of his 57 RBI in what would be a career season; he hit .329 with 12 homers and those 57 RBI in 100 games in 1973, but injuries limited him to just 186 more games over the next five seasons before he retired at age 30.

Still, to this day, he wouldn’t change a thing.

“A lot of people forget players a lot of players,” he said on Old-Timers’ Day, “but wherever I go, good or bad, people recognize me because I have that place in history.”

Over the last 35 years, Blomberg has stayed busy, as his place in history has led to numerous speaking engagements and even the release of a book, “Designated Hebrew: The Ron Blomberg Story,” in 2002.

But he’s also led a life filled with baseball, as he still works with the Yankees doing meet and greet events and has become even more of a celebrity for his altruism than he ever was for his athleticism.

“I run a baseball camp in Milford, Pennsylvania, and it’s the largest Jewish sleep-away camp in the country – I have 4000 kids,” he revealed, “and every year I bring them to Yankee Stadium to see the history…it’s a wonderful trip.”

Blomberg also works with the Prostate Cancer Foundation, which sees him spend a lot of time at events with colleagues like Joe Torre and Tommy LaSorda, and of course, every year, the original “Boomer” also tries to make it back to the Bronx for Old-Timers’ Day – but not for the main reason you’d think.

“I’m back here working with the Steinbrenners a lot during the season, and I see a lot of players at events in the offseason,” he said, “but to see the fans…that’s the best. It’s the greatest thing in the whole world to be part of the Yankees organization, and seeing the fans and being part of this is great.”

And as for the evolution of the designated hitter?

"I never thought it would last," he said in an interview with USA Today earlier this year. “When it first came out, nobody had any idea what it was; everybody thought it was a glorified pinch-hitter. But it got stronger and stronger, more and more popular. Now, the majority of people who go to games in American League cities love the DH because they know they will see a guy hit the ball hard.”

Because of that, Blomberg has gone from the answer to an obscure trivia question to a cultural phenomenon, and that’s a legacy that’s a-ok with him.

“I've been an answer on Jeopardy…how awesome is that?”

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