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After his MVP season in 1987, George Bell of the Blue Jays was shifted to DH to make room in the outfield for rookie sensation Sil Campusano. On March 17, 1988, in what came to be known as the St. Patrick's Day Massacre, Bell refused to bat in the first inning of an exhibition game against the Red Sox. As Willie Upshaw hurriedly grabbed a bat to pinch-hit, Toronto manager Jimy Williams popped out of the dugout and ran down the left-field line to confront Bell, who was sitting in a lotus position, Gandhi-like, on the bullpen pitching mound. Williams ordered Mahatma Bell into the clubhouse and fined him $1,000 for his passive resistance. Left with little choice, Bell agreed to become the designated hitter, and as such he became the first player ever to hit three home runs on Opening Day. However, Campusano was a bust, and Bell was soon back in leftfield. He is now the White Sox DH, and contrite. "I was 28 and coming off an MVP year," Bell says. "I wasn't ready to come off the field."
The DH hasn't put everyone's nose out of joint. Easier, now the Red Sox hitting coach, says, "Being the DH is an honor. It's not for everybody. It's for guys who have a high intensity level, who stay in the game mentally and can come off the pine and swing the bat with authority. Something Dave Winfield said to me when we were with the Yankees bothered me more than anything I ever heard from a fan. He said one time when he was tired, These DHs have to play sometime. Give us every-day players a break.' I wonder how Dave feels now." Winfield, of course, is now the Twins' DH.
No designated hitter took his job more seriously than did Kansas City's Hal McRae, who is now the Royals' manager. He stayed in shape by working out with the pitchers before the game. Once the game started, he says, "I would sit in the dugout for three innings, studying the opposing pitcher. Then I would go to the clubhouse, talk to Al Zych, the equipment guy, stretch, watch the game on TV, talk, stretch some more, never losing track of the game. I wouldn't go down to the dugout until it was maybe two batters from my turn.
"But I never felt like an incomplete player. If anything, the DH is more of a team player. I was proud to help the club on offense and not hurt it on defense."
McRae's remarks are reminiscent of something someone said, oh, about 20 years ago. "If Ralph thinks I can help most by being the DH, then it's all right with me," said Ron Blomberg. "I love to play, but I know that I'm a better hitter than anything else."
DH Trivia Question No. 5: Who was the major leagues' first designated hitter?
(a) Ron Blomberg
"I always liked that kid," says Houk. "I still think Ronnie could've been the best designated hitter ever if he hadn't gotten hurt. Great swing. What's he doing now?"
Well, he runs a career counseling service in Roswell, Ga., just north of Atlanta, but he also has a nice sideline going as the answer to a trivia question. Blomberg can be seen on cable-TV commercials for Ron Blomberg's Autograph Collector's Club of America: "Hi, do you know me? I'm Ron Blomberg, the first designated hitter...." The club offers collectors a relatively inexpensive way of acquiring autographs. Blomberg also does the odd wedding or bar mitzvah as a featured guest.
In '73 Blomberg was hitting .400 when he appeared on an SI cover ("Pride of the New Yankees," July 2) along with Bobby Murcer. Blomberg ended up hitting .329 in 301 at bats. But after that year he was beset by knee and shoulder injuries, and the Yankees released him after the '76 season. He tried to come back with the White Sox in '78, after a one-year layoff, but his body wouldn't allow it. Blomberg hit .231 (dropping his career average from .301 to .293), with five homers and 22 RBIs in 156 at bats, and never played again.