- Tim Burke
A Conversation With Baseball's First Designated Hitter: Ron Blomberg
To start off, I was wondering if you had any specific stories and memories from April 6th 1973, the day you made baseball history by becoming the first Designated Hitter in baseball history?
- I think my favorite story about being the first DH is that I made history against the Red Sox. It wasn’t a pretty game for the Yankees cause we lost I think 10-5, but being a Yankee, it's always nice to have something against the Red Sox. All jokes aside, having the opportunity to be the first DH in MLB history, it absolutely changed my life. I remember it was about 4 days before April 6, 1973 and I was dealing with a hamstring injury, but I didn’t say anything because I feared being on the DL list. Back then, we didn’t get monster multi- year contracts like today, we played year to year on single year contracts. Going on the DL list was bad news, especially for the Yankees. I knew if I spoke out about my hamstring, I’d be taken off the starting lineup for who knows how long! We got to Boston and it was freezing cold, not what you want for a hamstring. I’m 6th in the batting lineup and next to my name in big letters is “DH”. I got walked with bases loaded, but at that point I made history. I was a change in baseball, which we all know there's a limited amount of. That whole year of 1973, one of the best of my careers, and not only because of the DH. I was batting a little of .400 going into the month of July. I still remember so many great games and memories from that year, but April 6th, 1973 is definitely a day I will never forget.
From my experience, baseball players take pride in their ability to play defense, was not playing a position in the field a difficult adjustment for you?
- It definitely was, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little confused or upset when I was first taken off first base. When we played the Red Sox on April 6th, my spot on first was taken by Felipe Alou. Felipe was a cool guy, so I really didn’t want him to take it personally, but I definitely missed being on the field. After a few games that feeling went away when I realized what my role was. First of all, it is what it is. I still got to play baseball for a living, I was batting probably the best of my career, and I was a factor in the history of baseball. Second, I had a role and that’s why they had me at DH. The Yankees believed I was their guy for the job, so I showed up and I did my job. As a professional sports player, especially at that time, you didn’t really have a choice but to adjust. Not to say I wouldn’t have adjusted, but I had to develop into my role and quit worrying about what was going on out there on first base.
With baseball being a sport with a history of tradition reluctance to change their rules and traditions, I am sure being the first ever Designated Hitter was a controversial, bizarre and overall strange concept. What went through your mind when you found out you would be the first ever Designated Hitter and how did you feel about the role overall at that time?
- When I stepped up as the DH in 1973, I really didn’t quite understand the position. Like you said, baseball is known to stick to its traditions and never really change, so being told that I’m now a different part of the game that had never been there before was definitely a little head scratching at first. However, after my first game on April 6, I really understood the position and how it will change the game. I understood that the Association was now starting to incorporate ways for teams to strategize more instead of just playing classic baseball. I was 6th on the batting order after Graig Nettles who landed a base hit, and the only thing I had to do was play the game
The universal DH has taken effect with the National League adopting the position in 2022. Why do you feel that this is a step forward for baseball? - I like the fact the National League now has the DH position. What I really think about it is that it is nice to see a small change in the game, especially when it really isn’t going to completely shift anything. The National League really just caught up, and is now allowing for more strategy to be implemented by their teams. Unless you’re a really big fan of only National League teams, I doubt you notice a difference on screen. However, what is going on with the management and the decisions being made by your favorite NL teams sure has changed, and there is a new level of strategy for them to consider.
The Baseball Writers Association has finally inducted two Designated Hitters in the Hall of Fame with Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz. Previously, it was under debate among the Baseball Writers Association of America if Designated Hitters should be allowed in the Hall of Fame. Over the years, Writers have completely ignored players whose primary position is that of the Designated Hitter as MVP candidates. In fact, no DH has won the MVP. Do you feel the position should receive more attention and recognition by the BWAA for things like Most Valuable Player and the Hall of Fame?
- That’s a really good question- I think you have to look at it this way. I’ve talked about how the DH position is a strategic position, and strategy is used to beat your opponent and win. What defines a Hall of Famer, Someone who excelled at the sport, Someone who changed the game, Someone who contributed to winning within their organizations. If you are a DH, you are still able to excel, you are still able to change the game, you can still contribute to wins for your team. If you can do that, then yes, you should be credited and awarded, and that’s why Big Papi was able to get into the Hall of Fame. With baseball changing and traditions, old ways of thinking regarding the game being overcasted, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more get inducted and awarded over the next couple years.
To shift gears a little bit, I understand that Thurman Munson was not only a teammate of yours with the Yankees but a great friend. You have been a strong supporter of Munson’s case for being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Frankly, I do not understand why he was not inducted forty years ago. But I would like to just give you an opportunity to advocate Munson’s case as a Hall of Famer.
- Thurman Munson was more than a teammate and a friend, that man was like a brother to me. We came up around the same time, and we were lucky enough to play in the big leagues together. I think there are a few reasons why Thurman Munson was never in the Hall of Fame. First off, he was not the biggest fan of the media, doing interviews, poparazzis, etc. He just wanted to play baseball. Also, I think Thurman had some big shoes to fill. He had to follow up Yogi Berra and Elston Howard, but if you look at the stats, Munson was right there in the competition. He is easily one of the greatest catchers in baseball history. I just think Yogi and Elston were friendlier to the media than Thurman Munson, and sometimes that hurts your shot of being in the Hall of Fame. Regardless, the Hall of Fame should be about those who have given their all to the game and were statistically great at the game. He was a genuine ball player and was damn good at it. After what all he had done for the Yankees and the game of baseball, Thurman Munson should be in the Hall of Fame, no doubt. 100%.
Beyond being the first ever DH. what would you like to be remembered for in terms of baseball?
- I am very proud of my Jewish roots, and my credits for being a Jewish athlete. There aren’t many throughout sports history, so it is very rewarding to be one of them, and to have been a role model for many people. I remember when I was living in New York, many of the Jewish families would book me for events; weddings, bar mitzvahs, holidays, etc. I was a big name figure in my community, and to be in that position is an indescribable feeling. Other than that, I would just love to be known for being Ron Blomberg. I’m a storyteller, I love fans and meeting fans, and I always remember how blessed I am to have received the many opportunities to play baseball.