Remembering First DH Ron Blomberg On 50th Anniversary Of His Famous Feat
PLUS: PICKING THIS YEAR'S AWARDS WINNERS
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Happy April Fools Day! Also the birthday of the late Hall of Famer Phil Niekro.
ON DISAPPEARING MEDIA GUIDES
“I enjoyed your recent article on the loss of media guides and pre-season annuals. I, like you, miss having them in hard-copy form. I was able to put my media guide collection (pretty much every one of them between 1970 to present, for all teams) to good use for a recent SABR initiative that is creating a database of major-league team employee information in media guides.
A dozen years ago, I wrote a piece for Sports Collectors Digest predicting we'd eventually see the end of printed team media guides. Here's the link: Baseball Media Guides a Nice a Collecting Niche - Sports Collectors Digest”
— Richard Cuicchi, New Orleans
ON PRESEASON PREDICTIONS
“I enjoyed your (predictions) article. The Red Sox in last place? Ouch! Yes on the Rangers escalation, with key off-season upgrades, other predictors missed the (obvious) boat on that. I am a fan of anyone who doesn’t choose the Dodgers. Are the Braves America’s team, if that’s still a thing? Go, Padres! All the pieces of the puzzle are in the clubhouse this year and (Bob) Melvin is just the guy to diffuse possible ego issues. So glad Judge stayed in New York.”
— Sarah Carney, Weed, CA
Editor’s Note: the writer is a Giants fan who actually lives in the Northern California town of Weed, which was reporting spring snow earlier this week. The predictions article generated lots of fan mail, not all of it friendly.
Did you know…
Justin Verlander, the oldest man on the Mets at age 40, is starting his first year with the team on the IL with a low-grade teres major strain . . .
San Diego third base coach Matt Williams, former manager of the Nationals, has taken a leave of absence after a colon cancer diagnosis and yielded his spot to Mike Shildt, former manager of the Cardinals . . .
Dansby Swanson, now with the Cubs, hit more home runs on high-velocity fastballs than any other player (including Aaron Judge) over the last four seasons . . .
Rookie shortstop Anthony Volpe, who made his debut yesterday, was the youngest player in a Yankees Opening Day lineup since Derek Jeter in 1996 . . .
Speaking of shortstops, Cleveland gave Ahmed Rosario, whom they acquired from the Mets in the Francisco Lindor trade, a six-year, $108 million extension . . .
Age (39) and injuries are working against injury-prone Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto, coming off the worst season of his career (.205 in 91 games), which ended with surgery to repair his rotator cuff and bicep in August and apparently hasn’t healed fully . . .
It wasn’t exactly a trade, but it will be interesting to see what happens now that comeback candidates Cody Bellinger (Cubs) and Jason Heyward (Dodgers) have switched places . . .
Julio Teheran, the erstwhile Atlanta starter, didn’t crack the San Diego roster but Cole Hamels, the 39-year-old lefty who’s pitched 3 1/3 innings since 2019, is still a Padres possibility for mid-season . . .
Thanks to a shoulder issue that required a cortisone shot, Kyle Wright (Braves) might be the first pitcher to lead the majors in wins (21) one year and open the next one in Triple-A.
Half a Century Has Elapsed Since Ron Blomberg Changed The Game
By Dan Schlossberg
It’s hard to believe nearly 50 years have come and gone since a blond first baseman from Georgia became the first designated hitter in baseball history.
When the Yankees made him the nation’s top amateur draft pick in 1967, they billed him as “the Jewish Mickey Mantle.”
Instead, he became their Designated Hebrew.
On April 6, 1973, Blomberg was listed sixth in the New York batting order at Fenway Park, fabled home of the Red Sox. Orlando Cepeda, batting third for Boston, figured he would become the first DH.
But the fickle finger of fate intervened.
The Yankees loaded the bases against Luis Tiant in the top of the first, allowing Blomberg to bat with the bases loaded. He drew a walk, so the at-bat wasn’t official, but it was a plate appearance and it plated a run.
As a result, the bat he carried found its way to Cooperstown, where it remains the only bat donated to the Hall of Fame because of a walk rather than a hit.
Years later, Dick Schaap said to Blomberg, “What was it like to be the first DH?”
His quick response: “Whaddya mean? Designated Hebrew?”
Schaap said, “That’s a book.”
And so it was; I served as Blomberg’s co-author.
The DH has come a long way since.
Frank Thomas became the first Hall of Famer to play the majority of his games as a DH. Five years later, Edgar Martinez and Harold Baines joined him in Cooperstown.
But the crowning moment came in 2022, when David (Big Papi) Ortiz became the first full-time DH elected to the Cooperstown gallery on the first ballot.
Ortiz not only played 88 per cent of his games (2,028 out of 2,306) as a DH but retired with all kinds of records, including most home runs by a designated hitter.
The muscular Dominican won the Edgar Martinez Award, created in 2004, a record eight times, five of them in succession. A 10-time All-Star with three World Series rings, he twice set single-season records for home runs by a DH: in 2005 (43) and again the following year (47). He also hit hit more homers in a season (54 in 2006) than any member of the Red Sox, including Ted Williams.
The first DH to win the MVP award for the AL Championship Series (2004), Ortiz later was won a World Series MVP too (2013). A great clutch hitter, he was the first man to hit two walk-off home runs in the same post-season (2004), against the Los Angeles Angels in the ALDS and against the New York Yankees in the Championship Series.
Three other designated hitters have been World Series MVP: Paul Molitor in 1993, Hideki Matsui in 2009, Jorge Soler in 2021. But the only regular DH to win MVP honors over the course of the regular season was two-way star Shohei Ohtani in 2021 (and his ability to pitch at a high level had a lot to do with it).
Originally implemented as a three-year experiment by the American League, the DH morphed into a regular rule. The National League tried it in 2020 as a Covid-era measure to recapture the interest of an injured nation, then brought it back in 2022 after the Players Association added it to the latest Basic Agreement.
That made Max Fried the answer to a trivia question: who was the last National League pitcher to win a Silver Slugger?
“I’m a whole person now,” Blomberg wrote in Designated Hebrew. “For way too long, people looked at the DH as half a player.
“The guys who made it to Cooperstown made me into a real DH and a real player. I’m a whole player now. Whenever they talk about me, I’m not half-a-player anymore.”
Blomberg will be honored by the Yankees next week at Yankee Stadium. He’ll have a suite full of family and friends to support him.
It couldn’t happen to a nicer, more deserving guy.
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ covers baseball for forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, and other outlets. He’s also the author of Baseball’s Memorable Misses and three-dozen other books. E.mail him at email@example.com.
Another Fearless Forecast: Picking the 2023 Baseball Award Winners
By Dan Schlossberg
Some people never learn.
After catching a lot of flak for picking the top teams of the year in this space last week, there’s never a time like the present to follow with predictions of this year’s awards winners.
Since repeats are rare for both teams and players, we’ve avoided them completely. That means no MVPs for Aaron Judge or Paul Goldschmidt and no Cy Youngs for Justin Verlander or Sandy Alcantara.
That being said, here’s how we see the awards races shaping up:
MVP — While the free-spending San Diego Padres lavished riches on Manny Machado, Fernando Tatís Jr., and Xander Bogaerts in recent winters, with Juan Soto waiting in the wings, the pick here is a kid: 22-year-old Michael Harris II of the Atlanta Braves. Called up from Double-A just before Memorial Day, the fleet lefty slugger won Rookie of the Year honors and should have taken a Gold Glove too. He’ll make up for that snub with a surprise MVP award this fall, when he outdistances the San Diego quartet, teammate Matt Olson (8 spring training home runs), and Dodger stars Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman — both former MVPs — in the voting.
Cy Young — At age 40, Verlander could join the small handful of pitchers to win Cy Young trophies in both leagues. Teammate Max Scherzer has already done that but he’s almost as old. So let’s go with a kid again and suggest Spencer Strider, who last year became the fastest pitcher to reach 200 strikeouts — topping Randy Johnson. Mets closer Edwin Diaz, who deserved the award last year, is out for the year, leaving Alcantara as a close-but-no-cigar pretender this time around.
Rookie of the Year — The trendy pick is Jordan Walker, the 6’5” third baseman whom the Cardinals are moving to the outfield. If he delivers on his speed-plus-power promise, he’ll give the Cards more thump to fill the Albert Pujols vacuum, along with free agent signee Willson Contreras. Southpaw Jared Shuster, Atlanta’s unexpected fifth starter, will be a distant second, followed by Arizona outfielder Corbin Carroll.
Manager of the Year — Buck Showalter has won this award four times without ever winning a pennant. More of the same for him this season, when Bob Melvin takes his Padres deep into October. If Rob Thomson gets his Phils top the finish line on fire again, he’ll get lots of support too.
Comeback of the Year — If Tatís even shows up, he should be a hands-down winner — especially if he recaptures his 42-homer swing of 2021 after sitting out all last summer with a fractured wrist followed by a PEDs suspension (which doesn’t end until April 20). Ozzie Albies, who missed 100 games with fractures of the leg and pinky, will challenge.
Most Valuable Player — Now that he’s in the walk year of his contract, Ohtani is out to recapture the MVP trophy he won two years ago. A right-handed pitcher and left-handed hitter, he can hit the ball out of the park or throw it by the best hitter (i.e. Mike Trout in the WBC). Look for Judge, Trout, and last year’s Rookie of the Year Julio Rodríguez as a supporting cast in the voting.
Cy Young Award — Oh no, not that Ohtani guy again. If he stays healthy, the Japanese star could lead the league in all three Triple Crown categories: wins, strikeouts, and ERA. Could he also become the first man to win the hitters’ Triple Crown too? With a $500 million payday in the offing after the season, don’t bet against him leading the league in home runs, runs batted in, and batting too. Maybe even stolen bases. Challengers? Gerrit Cole, last year’s strikeout king, and Shane Bieber of the Guardians (hate that nickname) are logical choices.
Rookie of the Year — With the Red Sox in rebuilding mode, rookies will get extra consideration this season from manager Alex Cora. Boston thinks it signed an Ichiro clone in Masataka Yoshida, an outfielder who starred in the Japanese majors but faces the enviable challenge of making fans forget J.D. Martinez. The Baltimore Orioles have a plethora of blue-chip possibilities headed by infielder Gunnar Henderson (no relation to Rickey).
Manager of the Year — Any team that dethrones the Houston Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series six years in a row, should have its manager rewarded with this trophy. That means Bruce Bochy, back in the dugout wars, could claim it for Texas. Or maybe Phil Nevin, if the Angels benefit from Ohtani’s walk year. Dusty Baker is the oldest active manager at age 74 but he’s finally earned his elusive World Series ring as a pilot (he had one as a player eons ago).
Comeback of the Year — Adam Duvall broke his wrist well before last season ended, then jumped league lines to take aim at the Green Monster in Fenway. That could be a match made in baseball heaven. Kenta Maeda might make noise in this category if he’s able to pitch well for Minnesota after a lost season.
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is on a book-signing tour. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s about time both leagues played under the same rules. It was ridiculous to use the DH only in games played in American League parks. People don’t buy tickets to see pitchers hit — even the ones who could hit like Rick Wise, Rick Rhoden, Don Drysdale, and Warren Spahn.”
— Ron Blomberg, the first DH, in his autobiography Designated Hebrew
Babe Ruth was suspended five times during the 1922 season . . .
Eddie Mathews found out he had been traded by the Braves to the Astros in 1966 when a newsman called to get his reaction to the deal . . .
If Nick Esasky wasn’t the worst free agent signing of all time, he was pretty darn close; after hitting 30 home runs and collecting 108 RBI for Boston in 1989, he signed with Atlanta, developed severe vertigo, and never knocked in a single run before he was forced to retire . . .
Darrin Ruf, released by the Mets, cost New York four players when he was acquired from San Francisco last summer.
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HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [email@example.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [firstname.lastname@example.org] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [email@example.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.
Amazing to me how many people still hate the DH. I grew up with it, rooting for an AL team, so it's just always been. I used to appreciate the NL style and could see the argument against it, but now with interleague play and so much specialization that pitchers weren't even trying to hit anymore, I can't see how anyone can make a strong case against it.