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Designated for change (cont.)

Posted: Friday March 21, 2008 12:57PM; Updated: Friday March 21, 2008 12:57PM
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By Larry Burke and Peter Thomas Fornatale with Jim Baker

Ron Blomberg
Ron Blomberg earned a spot in baseball history as the game's first designated hitter.
National Baseball Hall of Fame Library
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Ralph Houk: I was thinking of [Blomberg as a DH] but I hadn't decided, and I think it's true that his injury made up my mind. Honestly, I don't know who I would have used. If you look at my best hitters, Bobby Murcer, Roy White, and Graig Nettles, they were all excellent defensive players. Thurman Munson was another great hitter, but he was our catcher and he was too valuable behind the plate, although you could DH him once in a while to give him a rest and keep his bat in the lineup.

Ron Blomberg: I had hurt myself down in Fort Lauderdale, pulled a hamstring during spring training. After we broke camp and were coming up to Boston, Ralph Houk came up to me and said, "I'd really like to get you four or five ABs against Luis Tiant in that opener. Can you hit?" And I said, "Of course, I can hit." When we got up to Boston, I saw the Opening Day lineups in the paper, the Boston Globe or the Boston Herald, and there was my name next to DH. I go to the ballpark, I take some swings and it's like 25 degrees out and I'm thinking, You know, maybe this is a great position for me. After the AB I can go back in the clubhouse, stay warm, and grab a snack. I forgot that the clubhouse guy in Boston had the worst food in the American League. Just awful.

It was hard to stay loose. Bobby Murcer had two things I remember him for, besides being a great player: His rocking chair in the clubhouse and his hot-water bottle. On cold days he took that bottle everywhere with him. I didn't have that. Now I'm doing something I've not done my whole life, DH-ing, and all of a sudden you have to make this adjustment. I was very muscular and it took a long while for me to stretch, especially in cold weather. The runway from the dugout to the clubhouse in Boston was tiny, so there wasn't much room to run. I went to the clubhouse and listened to the game to follow it and I ran in there. Stretched a lot, too.

I walked my first time up, and when we made the third out of the inning, I stood on first, waiting for someone to throw me my glove. [Coach] Ellie Howard finally came over and said, "Come back to the dugout, you can't stay out here." I didn't know what to do with myself. He said, "Just sit next to me and watch the game."

Ralph Houk: Well, you know Ronnie was Ronnie. I remember times with men on base, a spot where you would look to him to drive them in, and he'd unexpectedly bunt, so he had his own way of doing things. Whether he would have developed into a better first baseman, I'm not sure. But he fit in as a DH right away. He didn't play against left-handers, though, and we brought in Jim Ray Hart to platoon with him and that move worked out very well for us. Hart was a veteran with power who could hit left-handers, and he geared himself to being a DH right away. It really is a tough position from the mental standpoint.

Luis Tiant: I just wanted to get him out and he got away from me [Blomberg walked] and there's nothing I could do. I tip my hat to him, and good for him. If he's in the Hall of Fame for that, good for him.

Ron Blomberg: I was not only the first DH, I was the first DH to get on base, the first to drive in a run, and the first to get a base hit. A few years back, Dick Schaap came up to me and said, "Bloomie, you have a record no one in baseball can ever break, being the first designated hitter." And you know, he's right. Think of it. You add up my career at bats and it comes to maybe three seasons' worth, but here it is 35 years later and people still know my name. They ask for autographs, I give speeches. And now I'm one of the first managers in the new Israeli baseball league. Why? Because I'm an outgoing guy and I was the first to do something that made baseball history.

Doc Medich: I read a blurb a couple weeks ago by Blomberg about how he got a base hit with this particular bat and it went to Cooperstown, but that's not what I remember. This was my first game after having made the team, so I remember what was going on. We were in Boston, two guys are standing in the runway behind the bench, two little guys from the Hall of Fame. Our manager was Ralph Houk, and Ralph didn't like anyone in the dugout who wasn't part of the team. He didn't like these guys being around, and I could tell he was annoyed. So Blomberg comes up in the bottom of the first, and these guys from the Hall of Fame are waiting to get the bat. Tiant pitches to Bloomie and Bloomie's bat just explodes into a million pieces, the kind of fracture that no doctor could put back together. These guys from the Hall of Fame have this look on their faces that's one of total dejection, like, What are we going to do now? We can't go back to the Hall empty-handed. Ralph turns around and grabs one of Blomberg's bats off the rack and says, "Now here's the bat, get the f--- out of here!" I can't forget that, I mean that was so funny, and I knew it was serious, but I was trying not to laugh, and later I saw a twinkle in Ralph's eye.

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