Designated history

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

Former big leaguer Ron Blomberg was reunited with an old friend on Tuesday afternoon – a bat that he jokes might have had 50 more hits in it.

05-27-10-Francis_Bloomberg.jpgBut for Blomberg, immortality at the Hall of Fame was well worth the trade.

Blomberg was in Cooperstown working with a film crew from the YES Network on a program involving the history of the designated hitter. Blomberg made history when his New York Yankees visited the Boston Red Sox for the season opener on April 6, 1973 and he became the first designated hitter used in a regular season game. After the game, he donated his bat to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

“People don’t realize when we played they gave us (only) two dozen bats right before the season,” said Blomberg in an interview soon after arriving. “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.”

Blomberg didn’t know what to expect when approached by the Yankees before the game about serving as a DH in the game.

“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.

05-27-10-Francis_BloombergAction.jpg“Unfortunately we lost 15-5, but I got to be the first designated hitter.”

Highly recruited in both football and basketball, Blomberg was drafted first overall out of his Georgia high school by the Yankees in the 1967 amateur draft. But injuries to his knees and shoulders ravaged what could have been a very successful career in the major leagues.

Looking back on his eight-year big league career, the lefty-swinging first baseman/right fielder/DH has 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,” said Blomberg, who does a lot of motivational and corporate speaking these days. “Everywhere I go two things happen – people know who I am because I was the first DH or they think I’m related to (New York City) Mayor Bloomberg.

“The funny part about it is to be able to be the first, and after 38 years people still remember. Fifty percent of the people love it but 50 percent of the people hate it,” Blomberg said of the designated hitter.

“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.”

Bill Francis is a library associate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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