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Ron Blomberg the Hitter

On September 8th, 1976 the Yankees drubbed the Brewers 8-0. Ed Figueroa pitched a three hit shutout and was helped by home runs off the bats of Graig Nettles and Otto Velez. The win gave the Yankees an 11.5 game lead over the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East. They would go on to win the division by 10.5 games. In the bottom of the sixth inning with the Yankees already up by six runs, manager Billy Martin sent Ron Blomberg up to pinch hit for Cesar Tovar. Blomberg grounded out to second, but stayed in the game as the DH. Two innings later Blomberg grounded out again, this time to first. That was Blomberg’s only appearance in a big league uniform in 1976, and his last as a Yankee. He missed the rest of 1976 and all of 1977 due to injuries. He went on to play part of 1978 for the White Sox and then retired from the game.

Blomberg is now remembered, if at all, for two things. First, he was one of the few well known Jewish players in Yankees history and second he is the answer to the trivia question who was the first player to bat as a DH in a big league game. These two pieces of information lead to another great trivia question-who was the first gentile DH to bat in the big leagues. The answer to that is Orlando Cepeda as he was the Red Sox DH against the Yankees on Opening Day 1973.

There is one more thing baseball fans should remember about Ron Blomberg-he could hit. During a career that lasted parts of eight seasons, Blomberg batted .293/.360/.473 for an OPS+ of 140. From 1971-1975, when he had injury problems but still managed to play roughly half the time, Blomberg’s OPS+ of 148 was sixth best in all of baseball, behind only Willie Stargell, Dick Allen, Reggie Jackson, Hank Aaron and Joe Morgan. Even in those years, when he was among the best hitters in the game, Bloomberg had trouble staying healthy, coming to the plate only about 1,300 times and never playing more than 107 games in a single season.

Blomberg was the first pick in the draft in 1967 and is still one of two players ever drafted first in the country by the Yankees. The other, Brien Taylor, never made it to the big leagues at all. Blomberg was a left-handed hitter with power and plate discipline. He was the kind of player who, if he had managed to stay healthy, might have consistently been good for a .300 batting average and 25 home runs. In the 1970s, that would have made him a perennial All Star. Blomberg had holes in his game too. He was not much of a fielder and was below average both at first base and the outfield. It was therefore no accident that he was the first DH. Blomberg also never could hit left handed pitching. He rarely even played against southpaws, but in 180 plate appearances in 109 games, Blomberg only managed to hit .215/.306/.272 with just two home runs.

Other than that one game in 1976, Blomberg’s entire Yankees career occurred at a time when the Yankees were struggling to get, and remain, in contention. By the time they reemerged as the best team in the league from 1976-1978, Blomberg’s time with the Yankees was over. Had Blomberg managed to stay healthy his career would have been very different, and so would the Yankees history. During those years when the Yankees were winning three consecutive pennants in the 1970s, Blomberg was 27-29 years old so would have been in the prime of his career.

In 1976, the Yankees top left-handed DH was 28 year old journeyman named Carlos May who hit .278./358.361 in 333 trips to the plate for the Yankees. A healthy Blomberg would have taken almost all of May’s playing time and almost certainly hit better. A strong year from Blomberg in 1976 would have alleviated the need for a big left-handed at in the offseason. If that had happened, it is possible that the Yankees would have signed Bobby Grich, as general manager Gabe Paul wanted, instead of Reggie Jackson in that first big year of free agency. Grich would have moved to shortstop, so Bucky Dent would have never been a Yankee either. It is unknowable how this would have turned out for the Yankees, but in the middle of a pandemic, during Passover, with no real baseball, for truly obsessive Yankees fans like me, thinking about it for a few minutes is a fun distraction.


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