First DH Blomberg thankful for his place in history
First DH Blomberg thankful for his place in history
By Marty Noble
The moments of acknowledgement stay with him these days even more than the long-ago event that prompted the moments. He is routinely recognized and thanked for a speck of serendipity that forever changed his identity, enhanced his celebrity and made him a "Jeopardy" response as well -- Who is Ron Blomberg?
A moment of recognition happened most recently at the Yankees' Old Timers' Day celebration last month. White Sox slugger Paul Konerko approached Blomberg in the visiting clubhouse and acknowledged Blomberg's contribution to American League baseball.
"Thank you for four more good years," Konerko said, as if Blomberg had extended his contract when all he had done -- and quite indirectly -- was extend Konerko's career. Sort of.
Join Blomberg, Rivers for Damon Runyon 5K run at Yankee Stadium on Sunday
Ron Blomberg, the former Yankees designated hitter, hit baseballs to faraway points at Yankee Stadium, but he never ran for distance. Nonetheless, he and former Yankees center fielder Mickey Rivers, a man of sprinter speed, are to serve as the official starters for the fourth Damon Runyon 5K run at Yankee Stadium on Sunday.
The charitable run/walk is the only one staged at the Yankees' home. Participants will use the ballpark's concourses, climb stairs between levels, appear on the video board and follow in the footsteps of players by taking their own victory laps on the warning track.
Since its inception in 2009, the run has raised more than $1.4 million to fund groundbreaking cancer research by the nation's most innovative young scientists.
The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation was established in 1946. Based in New York City, it has a long-standing connection with the Yankees. Joe DiMaggio was on its Board of Directors. Runyon was a New York writer who began his career as a baseball journalist, often covering Yankees games.
Last year's event raised more than $730,000 and drew a crowd of 4,000 participants -- from ages 5-76 years old and from 30 states. The Delta Suites entrance to the left of Gate 4 will open at about 9 a.m. ET on Sunday. The first heat goes off at 9:30 a.m.
Almost no cause and effect exist in this 39-year-old equation. Konerko occasionally serves as Chicago's designated hitter, and, in 1973, Blomberg was the first DH. Even stretching it, the two are no more connected than Ty Cobb and Miguel Cabrera. Nonetheless, Konerko felt a sense of obligation and expressed his gratitude.
"The White Sox trainer is Hermie Schneider, who was with the Yankees," Blomberg said Thursday. "He told Konerko he knew me. [Konerko] told Hermie he wanted to meet me. Wow! You know, it was just one at-bat.
"It could have been anyone else in the American League. I was the first because we scored in the first inning, and I got to bat."
Blomberg was the sixth hitter when the Yankees played the Red Sox at Fenway Park on April 6, Opening Day, 1973. He walked with the bases loaded against Luis Tiant in the Yankees' three-run rally in the first inning. Other developments in the inning faded into statistical meaningless when Boston won, 15-5. But history had happened, and Blomberg took his place with the other first folks -- Washington, Armstrong, Ruth, Bannister, Lindbergh and Chamberlain.
"Just one at-bat," Blomberg said, minimizing his deed. "At least I drove in a run. What would have happened if I struck out?"
Probably nothing would have changed other than the final score.
Had Blomberg grounded into a double play that afternoon, he still would have been acknowledged decades later by former Giants and Rangers first baseman Will Cark. Blomberg was at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg for his 2010 induction into a Jewish Hall of Fame, and Clark was there for another event. Clark sought him out to deliver a message similar to what Konerko would express two years later. "I've never met you, but I want to thank you."
"Both those guys had better careers than I had, and they're thanking me?" Blomberg said. "Pretty cool. Jason Giambi said something to me once, and I saw Buck Showalter at a 'meet a greet,' and he says, 'Boomer, the first DH.'"
And so his celebrity persists. It is bound to grow as the 40th anniversary of his first approaches. Blomberg's place in the game's history is distinct. Orlando Cepeda was the Red Sox's DH that day -- in his six at-bats, Cepeda produced none of Boston's 20 hits. He didn't bat until the second inning.
"If we opened at home that year, someone else might be the guy," Blomberg said.
"Any time I see Orlando, I tell him, 'You got into the Hall of Fame the right way, through the front door.' I never got in like him, but I'm in there through the back door for what I did one day. ... But I'm first forever. Nobody can take that away from me."
Blomberg's career, once so promising, fell to injury and the belief of Yankees manager Ralph Houk that Blomberg couldn't hit left-handed pitching. His left-handed swing worked in Yankee Stadium and anywhere a right-handed pitcher was throwing. But after injuries limited Blomberg to 108 at-bats over three seasons from 1975-77, he became a free agent and took his career to the White Sox in '78. A .307 career hitter through '74, he batted .231 in 156 at-bats with Chicago and retired.
"It could have been a better career," Blomberg said, "but I'm happy. I got to play for a great team. And one at-bat has kept me involved in baseball for all these years. Someone's even putting out a baseball card of me next year for 40 years after.
"I was so lucky. Being Jewish and playing in New York, it all worked out well. And people remember so nicely. I've been mentioned on 'Jeopardy' and in 'Trivial Pursuit.' Pretty cool.''
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.