Friday, March 18, 2011

#117 - Ron Blomberg

Back to the action shots, this one is of the first ever designated hitter. For a while it was a tossup. The Yanks played Boston at Fenway in the first AL Opening Day game and the first two guys went down in a double play. If Boston retired the side, Orlando Cepeda was due to bat fifth in the bottom half and judging by the boxscore - Boston would win 15-5 - there was a good shot he'd get up. But Ron Blomberg was batting sixth and after the next three guys loaded the bases (on a double and a couple walks), Blomberg walked to force in a run and his bat was headed to Cooperstown. But Ron wasn't a one-game wonder in '73. He was actually set to again platoon at first base with Felipe Alou and did not bat at all as a DH in spring training. But he then pulled a hamstring and couldn't play the field so he was asked to DH and history was made. He went one for three in that game and was booming early in the season so that by late June he was hitting over .400, the latest date that had been achieved in 25 years. By July he was still at .397 but after the All-Star break the Yanks slumped and he would finish hitting .329 with 12 homers and 56 RBIs in what amounted to just over half a season. Here it looks like he's wristing out a single at Yankee Stadium.

Ron Blomberg - pronounced Bloomberg - was a first rounder out of Georgia by the Yankees in '67. He was a wildly sought after kid since he was a star in football, basketball, and baseball. He was a big, solid prospect at 6 feet and 200 pounds and was of course compared to Mickey Mantle when he was signed for $90,000, a pretty big sum back then. In the minors he showed some good power that summer in Rookie ball but was building a reputation as a line drive high average guy and was moved from first to the outfield. Up for a couple games in '69 he arrived for good in '71 and hit .322 in about a third of a season, doing well enough to make Baseball Digest's - though not Topps' - rookie team. In '72 his average tumbled but Ron got more at bats and hit his peak in homers with 14. But '72 was the year he started being platooned and during the rest of his career he would rarely hit against lefties, limiting his at bats. But he was a crowd pleaser and although he would be hurt a bunch as well, he did fulfill one of the goals the Yanks had for him: bringing more Jewish people to the park (his autobiography is "DH - Designated Hebrew").

Blomberg continued hitting well in '74 - a .311 average with 48 RBI's in 264 at bats - but got hurt in the Shea outfield. In '75 more pain followed, this time I believe his knee, and he would post only 106 at bats that year and then just two in '76. By '77 spring training he was healthy again but before the season started he wrecked his shoulder running into an outfield wall. After a year on the DL he signed as a free agent with the White Sox. He saw limited action in '78 and was then done. He hit .293 with 52 homers and 224 RBIs in 449 games and unfortunately missed any NY post-season action.

After baseball, Boomer moved around a bit. He became a motivational speaker, using his Jewish heritage as a sort of schtick. He also ran a couple baseball camps and wrote his autobiography. In 2007 he was invited to Israel to coach a team there and ended up winning the league championship. He is currently a scout in the Atlanta area for the Yankees.

Pretty good numbers, Ron was one of a few AL guys with a lifetime .300 average. The cartoon is no surprise; back then the Hawks had the Pistol playing for them. I guess he was the top DH. Jim Ray Hart was the other one and outside of average their stats were pretty similar.

Boomer was one of the few Yankee stars of this era. Let's use another one:

1. Blomberg and Bobby Murcer '71 to '74 Yankees;
2. Murcer and Derrel Thomas '75 to '76 Giants;
3. Thomas and Jerry Reuss '79 to '83 Dodgers.

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