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First Designated Hitter to Bat: April 6, 1973

by Harvey Frommer

A young pitcher named Babe Ruth discovered his hitting prowess with the Boston Red Sox and later became a full-time outfielder with the New York Yankees. So it is with some irony that some 60 years later, a Red Sox-Yankees game on Opening Day of the 1973 at Fenway Park season inaugurated a new rule that would take the bats out of the hands of American League pitchers.

Yankee Ron Blomberg, a lifetime .293 hitter, was the first official "Designated Pinch Hitter," as the position was originally called. Before the game, he asked bench coach Elston Howard what to do as DH. "He said," Blomberg recalled, 'the only thing you do is go take batting practice and just hit.' "

"When it was my time to hit," Blomberg said, "the bases were loaded. I was batting sixth in the Yankee order against Luis Tiant. I walked and forced in a run." The DH

"I was left at first base," the brand-new first DH said. "And I was going to stay there because normally that was my position. Elston said 'Come on back to the bench, you aren't supposed to stay out here.' I went back and said, 'What do I do?' He said, 'You just sit here with me.'

Facing Luis Tiant, Blomberg went 1-for-3. Boston DH Orlando Cepeda was less successful, going 0-for-6, but the Red Sox had no need for extra DH firepower in this game. They cruised to a 15-5 victory on 20 hits, including two home runs by Carlton Fisk, one a grand slam.

Blomberg was a product of the awful, some would say, woeful Yankees of the mid-60s. New York chose him with the first pick in the 1967 free agent draft after finishing in last place the year before. Blomberg also had hundreds of scholarship offers to play football and basketball.

A first-baseman-outfielder, Blomberg went 3-for-6 in his major league debut on September 10, 1969. A very talented athlete, his lifetime batting average was just below .300. But by 1973, injuries had slowed him and limited his mobility, making him tailor-made for the new DH spot. While the DH is often associated with aging sluggers, this first designated hitter was only 24 years old.

"With Bobby Bonds in right field and three first basemen, I might as well have donated my glove to charity, "Blomberg joked.

After the game, Blomberg's bat was shipped off to the Baseball Hall of fame in Cooperstown. "I went into the Hall of Fame through the back door," Blomberg says. "Everywhere I go, people always talk about me being the first DH in baseball."

He went on to have his best season in 1973, hitting .329 with 12 homers and 57 RBIs. A sidebar to that game was that the first ball was thrown out by Ed Folger, a Red Sox minor leaguer who had his legs amputated following a farm accident the previous September.

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