Results tagged ‘ Ron Blomberg ’

Heroes welcome

By Craig Muder

The telltale signs were all there on Thursday.

Former major leaguers Paul Blair and Ron Blomberg, signing autographs along Main Street.

SUVs streaming in and out of the village, carrying the likes of Bill Mazeroski, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan as they arrive for their annual July visit to Central New York.

Fans craning their necks on the sidewalks, hoping for a glimpse of greatness.

Hall of Fame Weekend is here. Let the celebration begin.

By night’s end on Thursday, almost all of the 50-plus Hall of Famers scheduled to return to Hall of Fame Weekend will have arrived in Cooperstown. On the hottest day of the year in Otsego County, the “cool” factor was in full force as the game’s greatest stars made their way back to the home of baseball.

On Friday, the action begins in earnest as Ozzie Smith hosts the annual PLAY Ball Museum fundraiser with his Hall of Fame friends Rod Carew, Andre Dawson and Whitey Herzog. Saturday features the new Hall of Fame Spotlight Series from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. at Doubleday Field, followed by the new Awards Presentation at 4:30 p.m. The Parade of Legends wraps up a full day of fun at 6 p.m. on Main Street.

Then, the feature attraction: The 2011 Induction Ceremony at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday at the Clark Sports Center. Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven and Pat Gillick – the Class of 2011 – arrived in town midweek to soak in every minute. In just three days, they will have experienced the crowning moment of their professional careers.

It will be over in a heartbeat, baseball’s best weekend. But today, it’s all about anticipation.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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.

The new Yankee Stadium takes its bow

Appel_90.jpgBy Marty Appel

On Opening Day of the refurbished Yankee Stadium, April 15, 1976, it was nearly 90 degrees and of course, I had overdressed, deeming it appropriate to wear a suit and tie on this formal occasion. I was the PR director; I was the guy on the field trying to make order out of 50 photographers and a long list of VIPs, coordinating the introductions with hand signals to Bob Sheppard in the PA booth. All of my “assistance” from stadium security had vanished, dispatched to Mr. Steinbrenner’s office for his pregame party.

So there I was, alone on the field with Joe Louis, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Frank Gifford, Kyle Rote, Johnny Unitas, Weeb Ewbank and others with Stadium pedigrees. 4-17-09-Appel_OldYankeeStadium.jpgBob Shawkey, who pitched the 1923 opener, was on hand to throw out the first pitch, and he was surrounded on the mound by Mel Allen, the legendary “Voice of the Yankees;” by Pete Sheehy, the kindly clubhouse manager who had been there since 1927; by Toots Shor, the restaurateur whose eatery had been a second home to so many athletes; and by James Farley, former postmaster general, head of the Democratic Party, Haverstraw, N.Y. amateur baseball player, and season-ticket holder since ’23. Whitey Witt stood at the plate — he was the first Yankees batter in ’23.

Although recent publicity has called the remodeled Yankee Stadium inferior to the original, at the time, almost everyone had glowing approval for the project. Escalators, a video-replay scoreboard (which didn’t work on Opening Day), no obstructed-view seating, modern-dining facilities, luxury boxes and a new sound system all had kicked the aging park into modern times. The faade design, not yet held in iconic status as it is today, graced the top of the bleacher billboards. There wasn’t seating in the left-field bleachers until it was hastily installed prior to the ’76 ALCS, and thus the attendance of 54,010 was less than the eventual capacity.

These thoughts were in my mind as I boarded the crowded D train at Columbus Circle for the 15-minute trip to the Bronx. Today, you can always tell when it’s the right train, because everyone is wearing Yankees clothing — caps, Jeter T-shirts, etc. I always remember George Weiss, the GM in the ’50s, supposedly pounding on his desk in front of a promotion man who was touting Cap Day and saying, “Do you think I want every kid in this town walking around in a Yankees cap?” As if it would be sacrilegious.

Upon emerging from the subway Thursday, I the first view is not of the beautiful new Stadium, but of the old one, over there to the left, experiencing the early stages of demolition. I was very emotional when I attended the final game last September, and this is yet another tug at my heartstrings. Sledgehammers are doing their jobs along the bleacher walls, and within the next few months, the concrete will be down, and the reality will really set in. I’ve been going there since 1956. This is tough to see.

I was early enough to take a full walk around the new park. There are no statues, as other teams have included, but plenty of signage and banners remembering great Yankees: Ruth to Gehrig to DiMaggio to Mantle to Munson to Murcer to Jackson to Mattingly to O’Neill to Williams to Jeter to Rivera to Sabathia. Yes, to CC. Hey, he was going for his second Yankees win Thursday! And the first rule of promoting your product is to promote the current product more than the old.

It’s nice that Babe Ruth Plaza not only remains, but is also enhanced. It used to be just three words in broken tile in a patch of concrete breaking up traffic flow on 161st Street. Now it has a more formal presence, as the outside of the first-base/right-field side of the stadium. The inside complement is called the Great Hall. (I might have named it the Grand Concourse, after the nearby Bronx street.)

Everyone is in a festive mood, and there had been rumors in the last 24 hours of not Yogi, but of President Obama — or of Archbishop Dolan, newly installed just Wednesday, handling the honors. The paper this morning said it would be Yogi, which is just fine. He has been a loveable figure in this town since his 1946 debut 63 years ago. How do you stay so lovable so long? You have to be the real deal, and he is. He’s the most honorable, honest and genuine person you could ever know. It is wonderful that he is still with us, just short of 84, to perform this honor. Although he does move closer to home plate with each ceremonial toss!

I arrived about two hours early and spent a lot of time photographing exterior shots. I decided that the crossing of 161st Street by hundreds of fans coming off the subway will take on the look of a Yankees fashion parade in no time. And just a few days after New York’s traditional Easter Parade! It’s quite a sight to see this sea of Yankees blue swarm across the street towards Babe Ruth Plaza.

I’m in Section 212, sitting with Jeff Idelson, my pal for almost 20 years and the president of the Hall of Fame. Like me, Jeff is a former Yankees PR director. The late Anne Mileo was secretary to us both, and it’s a good day to remember Anne as well.

4-17-09-Appel_Berra.jpgAfter receiving an Opening Day pin (sure to be a collectors item), I continued taking photos inside, thinking, “What would we be wanting to see of 1923′s opener if we could?”

So I shot concession-stand price signs, the restaurants, the signage and the museum, complete with all its signed baseballs, statues of Yogi and Larsen and the World Series trophies since 1977. I took a photo of the signed baseball of journeyman catcher Sal Fasano, one of my son’s favorite players, and wondered why I have no recollection of Frank Tanana ever being a Yankee.

The opening ceremonies were less tear-evoking than the final game last year, but still a marvel. John Fogerty sang “Centerfield” (love it), Bernie Williams did “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” on guitar (love him) and Kelly Clarkson performed the national anthem. (She is a different person than Carrie Underwood, right?)

The old timers introduced were a mixed bag of memories — good for the Yankees to invite the much-maligned Horace Clark, and how good it was to see Jerry Coleman, Whitey Ford and Bobby Brown, who, beside Mr. Berra, were the senior citizens. The biggest hands were for the more recent players — Williams, O’Neill, Tino Martinez, David Cone, etc., probably because younger fans cheer louder. Some of my favorites were there: Bobby Richardson, Moose Skowron, Ron Blomberg, Luis Arroyo, Ralph Terry and Bob Turley. (I guess we’ll never see Jim Bouton at such a gathering.) I wish Gene Michael had received a louder ovation, if only for what he meant as a super scout in the early ’90s, building the Yankees dynasty of that decade.

To me, with a public-relations background, much of a fan’s experience should be about how many cheer moments their day at the ballpark provides. 4-17-09-Appel_Posada.jpgFor example, I was at the first exhibition game on April 3 against the Cubs. Jackson threw out the first pitch. I think the fans would have gotten a chill if the PA announcer had said, “And joining Reggie for the ceremonial first pitch … one of his teammates from those great Yankees teams of the ’70s … one of the most popular players to ever wear the Yankees uniform … here today as the manager of the Chicago Cubs … a warm Yankee Stadium welcome for … Lou Piniella!” It would have been a terrific moment.

Jeff and I then sat back and enjoyed a baseball game as two old friends should. We commented on Sabathia’s high pitch count and rolled our eyes at the leather-lunged fan ahead of us who chose to stand and yell “hip hip …” on every pitch to Jorge Posada, so that everyone would follow with “Hor-HAY!” Wasn’t it a supernatural act, that when Posada hit the first home run in the new ballpark, our hero was off in the men’s room or somewhere and missed it?

Jeff and I shared a lot of observations about the minutiae of the place — the placement of the monuments, the retired numbers, the out-of-town scoreboard, even whether the PR department was correct to omit the 1974 opener at Shea Stadium in the media packet that included Hilltop Park, the Polo Grounds, the original Yankee Stadium and the remodeled Yankee Stadium. (We thought Shea belonged.)

When the Indians got nine runs in one inning, the fans started to yell “We want Swisher!” after Nick had pitched a shutout inning in the 15-5 loss Monday. That was pretty funny, and I hope Nick heard it in right field.

Yankee Stadium traditions continued — YMCA, three-card monte, the subway race, Ronan Tynan doing “God Bless America,” the bleacher bums’ roll call, and of course, the captain, Derek Jeter, being The Man. The fans love him, and he’s worthy of it. As Mantle had been a hero to me, and then 4-17-09-Appel_Jeter.jpgDon Mattingly to my son, it’s wonderful that someone like Jeter has come along for this generation. Baseball perpetuates itself.

It was a Yankees loss, but every team is going to lose 60 games, so you sort of put that aside and move on if you’re a Yankees fan. Posada hitting the first home run was big. The ballpark is a winner. And watching the game with a friend is the best part of it all.

After the opener at new Yankee Stadium, the following items were donated to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and will soon be on display in Cooperstown: a game-used ball signed by Indians starting pitcher Cliff Lee, the spikes worn by Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia and the bat used by Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore to hit a seventh-inning grand slam.

Marty Appel is a special contributor to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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