Ron Blomberg didn’t expect to make history heading into the 1973 season.
But coming off a hamstring injury suffered during spring training, Yankees manager Ralph Houk penciled Blomberg in as the DH in the team’s Opening Day lineup on April 6 in Boston.
“I saw my name with ‘DH’ next to it and I still wasn’t really sure what it was,’’ Blomberg said by phone from Atlanta. “Mel Stottlemyre, who was pitching that day, said, ‘How in the world are you hitting for me?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ ”
And only because of a two-out rally against Luis Tiant in the top of the first, Blomberg became the first player to take an at-bat as a designated hitter.
“I was a DH by necessity because of the injury, but I got very lucky,’’ Blomberg said. “Thank God Nettles got on for me to get an at-bat. If I didn’t get it, [Boston’s] Orlando Cepeda would have gotten it. I see Cepeda all the time and tell him, ‘You’ve got too many accolades, I’m so happy I got one.’ ”
And it’s the reason why the 74-year-old Blomberg will throw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium on Monday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his historic April 6, 1973, at-bat.
Even after he beat Cepeda to the honor, Blomberg didn’t think the position would last and people still would be talking about it half a century later.
“Who knew the DH was going to last 50 years?” Blomberg said. “I never thought it was gonna last three months. I looked at it as being a pinch-hitter.”
It took Blomberg a while to believe the DH was something that was going to stick around.
“A lot of us were waiting for baseball to get rid of it, probably for about five years,’’ Blomberg said. “Because every single year, people would talk about getting rid of it because the National League wasn’t using it.”
It wasn’t until the new collective bargaining agreement was finalized last year that the NL finally instituted the DH permanently after using it on a temporary basis during the COVID-shortened 2020 season.
“The DH position changed the whole game and it still took almost 50 years for the NL to adopt it,’’ Blomberg said. “Some people still hate it, but I think it’s great.”
He noted he’s got plenty of good company now.
“Whether it’s Derek Jeter or Aaron Judge or any guy coming back from injury, all great players have been a DH at some point,’’ Blomberg said. “Pitchers hitting has become an obsolete thing.”
Blomberg, the top overall pick in the 1967 amateur draft, was once expected to be the Yankees’ next huge star, following in the footsteps of Mickey Mantle.
Instead, injuries derailed his career and he never played more than 107 games in a season.
When he was able to get on the field, the lefty-swinging Blomberg produced, finishing with an OPS of .832 over parts of eight seasons.
“I remember being at Yankee Stadium and seeing Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio throwing out the first pitch and thinking how cool that would be,’’ Blomberg said. “I never reached the level they did, obviously, but I’m very proud of this and that people still remember me.”