He was the ‘accidental DH’ –

He was the ‘accidental DH’ –

4:26 AM UTC

Before there was the Big Hurt, Edgar, Baines and Big Papi, there was “Boomer,” the Jewish slugger from Georgia who stepped into baseball immortality, however unintentionally.

Drafted out of high school with the No. 1 overall pick by the Yankees in 1967, Blomberg was heralded by many as the heir to Mickey Mantle and embraced in New York as the club’s first prominent Jewish player.

Though knee and shoulder injuries cut his career short, Blomberg’s unique place in the record (and trivia) books as Major League Baseball’s first designated hitter in 1973 is forever secure.

It nearly didn’t happen. His small corner in Cooperstown may have belonged to someone else. He was, in his own words, “an accidental DH.”

“One at-bat changed the game — and my life — forever,” Blomberg wrote in his 2006 memoir “Designated Hebrew: The Ron Blomberg Story.” “Some say the designated hitter rule screwed up the game, but I’d rather be associated with a controversial rule than be forgotten.”

He thought the DH would just be a “short-term fix”. But forty-nine years later, the DH — initially called the “designated pinch-hitter” or “DPH” — was implemented universally in 2022, a position clubs plan for now in both the American and National Leagues.

Ron Blomberg signed with the Yankees, forgoing a commitment to play basketball at UCLA under the legendary John Wooden.Major League Baseball

But it wasn’t always so. Adopted only by the AL as a three-year trial in 1973, the DH rule marked a radical shift for the game. Charlie Finley, the colorful former owner of the A’s, advocated for it as a way to improve offense, excitement and, by extension, attendance.

The concept of replacing the pitcher in the batting order wasn’t exactly new; it has roots in the 19th century. One proposal suggested skipping the pitcher entirely and letting just eight men hit.

It seems the hurlers of yore were a bore — at least with the bat. Arguments about pitchers hitting have been a constant since time immemorial. Here’s an unsparing snippet from the Dec. 19, 1891, edition of the Sporting Life: “Every patron of the game is conversant with the utter worthlessness of the average pitcher when he goes up to try and hit the ball.”

Enter Blomberg, the outfielder/first baseman who hobbled out of spring camp in 1973 with a hamstring injury. That eliminated his chance of playing in the field for Opening Day on April 6, especially with frigid temperatures in the forecast at Fenway Park.

The newly implemented DH spot let the Yanks keep his bat in the lineup, though Blomberg was “a little dumbfounded” when manager Ralph Houk asked him about it the day before the season opener.

“Skipper, I really don’t know too much about it,” Blomberg recalled in his memoir. “What do I have to do?”

Houk’s reply: “You get up to bat, you take four swings, you drive in runs, you come back to the bench, and you keep loose in the runway.”

As it turns out, Blomberg didn’t even have to swing to make history.

Thanks to a two-out rally in the top of the first, Blomberg — batting sixth — got to the plate. He drew a bases-loaded walk off Luis Tiant, plating the first run of the game and denying Boston’s Orlando Cepeda the title of MLB’s first DH. Blomberg also singled and finished 1-for-3 in the Yankees’ 15-5 loss.

Ron Blomberg finished his career with a .293 average. The last of his 52 HRs was his only grand slam.Getty Images

(It wasn’t a total wash for Cepeda, who went 0-for-6 that day. He extended his Hall of Fame career and played all of his 142 games in ’73 as the DH, winning the first Outstanding Designated Hitter Award, now named after Edgar Martinez.)

After the game, Blomberg was greeted by about 40 reporters at his locker.

“That was the first time I sensed that I was part of history,” Blomberg wrote in his book. “Up until then, the significance of being Major League Baseball’s first DH was totally lost on me.”

Blomberg finished the ’73 season hitting .329 with 12 homers and 57 RBIs in 100 games, and his star was on the rise. That summer, he appeared on the covers of the Sporting News (“Sizzling Bat”) and Sports Illustrated (“Pride of the New Yankees,” with Bobby Murcer).

Blomberg was hitting .394 at the end of June, but the club’s insistence on sitting him against lefties became a frustrating reality for “the Yiddish Yankee,” as did injuries.

Shoulder and biceps injuries wiped away nearly all of his 1975 and ’76 seasons. Then, in a Spring Training game in 1977, Blomberg ran full speed after a ball in left field and slammed into the concrete wall, shattering his left kneecap and tearing cartilage.

That ended his ‘77 season before it began — and his seven seasons in the Bronx. Struggling physically, Blomberg spent 1978 with the White Sox before he was released the next spring.

His career, at just 30 years old, was over, but Blomberg’s claim to fame endures. “Fans remember me as not just someone who played baseball,” he wrote, “but as a guy who changed baseball.”

The proof is in Cooperstown. The bat that never touched the ball in Blomberg’s historic plate appearance was sent to the National Baseball Hall of Fame after that historic game, though “Boomer” once joked it still had 50 hits left in it.

In ’73, Blomberg could not have predicted the polarizing nature of the DH in the years to come, though the Hall inductions of bat-first greats like David Ortiz, Edgar Martinez, Harold Baines and more have surely legitimized the position’s place in history. Blomberg relishes his role in all of it.

“I think the honor of being the first DH is far more special than I did on Opening Day in 1973,” Blomberg wrote in his book. “I may have made it into the Hall of Fame through the back door, but I’m still there. Looking back, I always thought baseball would eventually abolish the DH rule after a year or so. But the rule outlasted my career — and then some.”

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