The Palm court, the Tony restaurant in the lobby of the Plaza Hotel in New York City, is a place frequented by legends. The Beatles, Princess Grace of Monaco, Eloise of fiction and Macaulay Culkin of filmdom have all dined in this elegant setting. Who knows whom one might see sitting behind one of the palm fronds? Why, that man shuffling toward a table, isn't that...yes, it is, Mickey Rivers.
"Hey, Mick the Quick!" shouts a big guy sitting at another table. "How's it goin'?" Rivers smiles faintly in acknowledgment. "Great ballplayer, Mickey Rivers," the man says to his teenage son and a guest. "Better than I was. But was he a first? No. Ron Guidry, over there, was a Hall of Fame pitcher in my book. Old White Lightning. [Uh, that was Louisiana Lightning.] But was he a first? No. Was Mickey Mantle a first? No. But I was. Me, Ron Blomberg, the Boomer. By a stroke of fate, I was a first. The first designated hitter."
Blomberg, Guidry and Rivers are part of a contingent of New York Yankees, past and present, who are staying at the Plaza this February weekend to take part in a Yankee Fan Fest. The years have not been kind to Blomberg's hairline, and his waistline has expanded a little, but his essential sweet nature hasn't changed. He was a good ol' Jewish boy from Georgia back then, and he is a good older Jewish boy from Georgia now. He was prone to errors then, and he is prone to errors now. And as always, he can talk a blue pinstripe.
"I called up the Palm restaurant last night for a reservation—fancy place, right? (Right.] 'The name is Ron Blomberg,' I said. The maître d' said, 'Ron Blomberg? The first designated hitter?' Same thing happened when I called the Atrium Health Club. The guy said, 'Ron Blomberg? The first DH?' It's incredible. I was an answer in Trivial Pursuit. I was an answer [actually, a question] on Jeopardy! The guy on ESPN, Steve Berman [uh, Chris Berman], mentions me all the time. And all because I pulled my hamstring in spring training 20 years ago."
Designated-Hitter Trivia Question No. 1
: What did New York Yankee Ron Blomberg say on April 6, 1973, the day he became the first designated hitter to bat in a major league game, when he walked with the bases loaded against Luis Tiant of the Boston Red Sox in the first inning?
(a) "It was one small walk for a man, one giant walk for mankind."
(b) "The DH rule will turn American League managers into robots with no discernible decisions to make."
(c) "Was Mickey Mantle a first? No. But I was. Me, Ron Blomberg."
(d) "I don't know how I'll make out as a designated hitter. I've never done it before."
The answer is (d). Blomberg really did utter that Berraism when asked how he liked being the DH. The funny thing was, Yankee manager Ralph Houk had never once used Blomberg, a first baseman, as a DH in spring training. But just before the season began, Blomberg slightly pulled a hamstring in his right leg. "Ralph told me that if it was cold in Boston on Opening Day, he might put me in the lineup as the DH to keep me from really hurting myself," says Blomberg. So if Blomberg hadn't strained his leg. or if the weather had been warmer, Felipe Alou or Johnny Callison, the other Yankee DH candidates, might have been the first designee.