Hitter to Bat: April 6, 1973
A young pitcher named Babe Ruth discovered his hitting prowess with the
Boston Red Sox and later became a full-time outfielder with the New York
Yankees. So it is with some irony that some 60 years later, a Red
Sox-Yankees game on Opening Day of the 1973 at Fenway Park season
inaugurated a new rule that would take the bats out of the hands of
American League pitchers.
Yankee Ron Blomberg, a lifetime .293 hitter, was the first official
"Designated Pinch Hitter," as the position was originally called. Before
the game, he asked bench coach Elston Howard what to do as DH. "He said,"
Blomberg recalled, 'the only thing you do is go take batting practice and
just hit.' "
"When it was my time to hit," Blomberg said, "the bases were loaded. I was
batting sixth in the Yankee order against Luis Tiant. I walked and forced
in a run." The DH
"I was left at first base," the brand-new first DH said. "And I was going
to stay there because normally that was my position. Elston said 'Come on
back to the bench, you aren't supposed to stay out here.' I went back and
said, 'What do I do?' He said, 'You just sit here with me.'
Facing Luis Tiant, Blomberg went 1-for-3. Boston DH Orlando Cepeda was
less successful, going 0-for-6, but the Red Sox had no need for extra DH
firepower in this game. They cruised to a 15-5 victory on 20 hits,
including two home runs by Carlton Fisk, one a grand slam.
Blomberg was a product of the awful, some would say, woeful Yankees of the
mid-60s. New York chose him with the first pick in the 1967 free agent
draft after finishing in last place the year before. Blomberg also had
hundreds of scholarship offers to play football and basketball.
A first-baseman-outfielder, Blomberg went 3-for-6 in his major league
debut on September 10, 1969. A very talented athlete, his lifetime batting
average was just below .300. But by 1973, injuries had slowed him and
limited his mobility, making him tailor-made for the new DH spot. While
the DH is often associated with aging sluggers, this first designated
hitter was only 24 years old.
"With Bobby Bonds in right field and three first basemen, I might as well
have donated my glove to charity, "Blomberg joked.
After the game, Blomberg's bat was shipped off to the Baseball Hall of
fame in Cooperstown. "I went into the Hall of Fame through the back door,"
Blomberg says. "Everywhere I go, people always talk about me being the
first DH in baseball."
He went on to have his best season in 1973, hitting .329 with 12 homers
and 57 RBIs. A sidebar to that game was that the first ball was thrown out
by Ed Folger, a Red Sox minor leaguer who had his legs amputated following
a farm accident the previous September.
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Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
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