Biggest Surprises From Opening Day

ALSO: RON BLOMBERG HITS HOME RUN WITH NEW MUNSON BOOK

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Member Achievement

IBWAA member Jerry Manheim's new baseball-themed novel, This Never Happened: The Mystery Behind the Death of Christy Mathewson, will be published this month by Summer Game Books.

The book is based on two apparently authentic military documents from World War I that call into question what we think we know of the history surrounding Christy Mathewson's exposure to poison gas in France and his subsequent death. These records tell of a company comprising several future Hall of Famers -- Cobb, Wagner, Chance and others -- who were in Georgia training on handling chemical weapons during the summer of 1918, a story that has been entirely omitted from any known histories or biographies. And that is only the beginning of the mystery.

What if Mathewson's assignment to France were a mere ruse, a feint designed to draw attention away from events that, if revealed, could prove detrimental to the national war effort, and embarrassing to the Army and to Baseball? What if the coverup continues to this day?

The novel offers a fictional explanation for a seeming inconsistency in the historical record. But the inconsistency itself is real, and the book ultimately raises the question: If this never happened, what did?


Pregame Pepper

Did you know ...

Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews was the first man to start a season with consecutive two-homer games . . .

Bo Belinsky’s real first name was Robert . . .

Jim Kaat was the last active player from the original Washington Senators . . .

Kaat played so long that he pitched to both Ted Williams and Darryl Strawberry . .

Don Larsen was the last active player from the St. Louis Browns . . .

Wes Ferrell had 20 wins in each of his first four seasons but never reached Cooperstown.


Leading Off

Opening Day Is Totally Unpredictable — As Usual

By Dan Schlossberg

Baseball is full of surprises. Something memorable can happen in any game on any given day.

That’s especially true on Opening Day, which seldom sets the tone for an entire season.

This year, for example, teams that wound up in the losing column included the World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers as well as two perennial playoff participants, the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees. The New York Mets, anxious to show off newly-signed shortstop Francisco Lindor, were denied by a formidable foe too: the Covid-19 virus, which shortened last season to 60 games, canceled the first two Mets games against the suddenly-stricken Washington Nationals.

Games that were played contained a little bit of everything.

Former National League MVP Cody Bellinger was denied a two-run homer in Denver when he passed teammate Justin Turner on the bases between first and second. Los Angeles went on to lose, 8-5, to the weakest team in the NL West, hanging aging ace Clayton Kershaw with a rare Opening Day defeat.

Another former MVP, Buster Posey, also hit the ball over the fence Thursday in a game his team lost. San Francisco’s bullpen blew a 6-1, eighth-inning lead to Seattle, spoiling the return of Posey, a three-time world champion who sat out the 2020 season with Covid concerns. The M’s won the game on a walk-off walk in the 10th after starting the inning with an automatic runner on second base.

Several other Opening Day games also went extra innings but ended quickly because of the quirky rule, foolishly adopted last season as a pandemic-induced experiment.

Tampa Bay, last year’s American League champion, didn’t need extras to defeat the downstate Miami Marlins in an interleague match-up. Starter Tyler Glasnow, making fans forget the departed Blake Snell and Charlie Morton, worked six scoreless frames, allowing just one hit, as the Rays eked out the only 1-0 win of Opening Day 2021.

Another playoff team was less fortunate. The Minnesota Twins took a 5-2 lead into the last of the ninth at Milwaukee before bowing to the Brewers, 6-5 in 10 innings.

Weather was a factor in Detroit, where Miguel Cabrera inched closer to 500 homers when he connected against Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber of Cleveland. Making his first start at first base since June 18, 2019, Cabrera started his 19th season with a bang, helping the Tigers to a 3-2 win despite intermittent snow showers. The game-time temperature was a biting 32 degrees.

Cabrera didn’t care; he collected his first Opening Day homer since 2018, when he played his first game for Detroit. Hard to believe he’ll turn 38 on April 18.

A rising slugger, Pittsburgh third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, also homered Thursday – a two-run shot in his first trip to the plate. He could wind up as the best rookie position player in the bigs this season. The Pirates prevailed, ruining the home opener for the few Wrigley Field fans lucky enough to land tickets in a small stadium operating at limited capacity because of Covid.

Oh yes, Covid. A poorly-timed outbreak among the Washington Nationals forced the postponement of at least the first two games against the Mets, delaying the debut of Lindor and forcing Cy Young contender Jacob deGrom to wait a few extra days after a magnificent spring training.

A curse of another color chases the Houston Astros, forever tainted by the 2017 World Series scandal involving illegal electronic sign-stealing. Yet the Astros tied a major-league record Thursday by winning their ninth consecutive opener, 8-1 over the Oakland Athletics. Houston, which has not lost its first game since switching leagues in 2013, tied the Opening Day streak shared by the Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Browns, and New York Mets.

Also on Opening Day this year, both teams scored five runs in the first inning in a Texas-Kansas City slugfest, journeyman Pablo Sandoval picked All-Star Aaron Nola as the victim of his first home run with the Atlanta Braves, and the Yankees failed to generate their powerful offense behind Cy Young contender Gerrit Cole.

As a result, the Toronto Blue Jays took a 3-2, 10-inning win even after opening the season without star center-fielder George Springer (left oblique strain) or starting pitchers Nate Pearson (right abductor strain) and Robbie Ray (left elbow contusion).

Minnesota lost slugger Josh Donaldson, starting the second year of a four-year, $92 million deal when he reported right hamstring tightness after one at-bat on Opening Day. The veteran third baseman, who has a history of continuing calf problems, played just 28 games during the shortened 60-game season of 2020.

Also hurt on Opening Day were Oakland pitchers Mike Fiers and Trevor Rosenthal, both placed on the 10-day injured list, and Cincinnati outfielder Nick Senzel, who hurt his left shoulder on a diving attempt during the fourth inning at Great American Ballpark.

One game hardly makes a season, especially with the full 162-game sked back in play. As Whitey Herzog once said, every team wins 40 and loses 40. It’s what happens in the other 82 games that determines who gets to the postseason.

No wonder he’s in Cooperstown!

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg is weekend editor of Here’s The Pitch and contributor to USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, Latino Sports, forbes.com, and many others. Contact him at ballauthor@gmail.com.


Cleaning Up

Tuesday Marks 48 Years Since Ron Blomberg, The First DH, Changed The Game

By Dan Schlossberg

This coming Tuesday marks the 48th anniversary of the day Ron Blomberg changed baseball.

On April 6, 1973, on a rainy Opening Day at Boston’s Fenway Park, Yankees manager Ralph Houk listed him at the new position of designated hitter.

Blomberg, a 6'1" left-handed hitter who had once been billed as “the Jewish Mickey Mantle,” didn’t know what the job was or what he would have to do. But he was hobbled by a mild hamstring injury at the time and grateful to take his hacks and return to the dugout rather than stand at first base and shiver.

Today, he proudly calls himself “the guy who screwed up baseball.”

Originally created as a three-year experiment to boost lagging offense in the American League, the DH was never tried by more traditional National League owners until 2020, when the pandemic-shortened, 60-game season created the perfect time to try it out. Ironically, Atlanta’s Marcell Ozuna was named the DH on the All-MLB team announced after the season.

Though owners, players, and fans all want the DH to stay, it’s become a political football — a bargaining chip for owners in their upcoming negotiations with the union over a new Basic Agreement. The old one expires on Dec. 1.

Even though he’s long retired, Blomberg has made a second career out of it.

As he approaches his 73rd birthday, he still lives in Georgia, sounds like James Carville, and appreciates a good pastrami sandwich – even though he swears he’s never tasted chocolate-covered matzah.

He spends his days making public appearances, signing books, and projecting the most outgoing personality in the history of the Yankees (and that includes Mickey Rivers, Rickey Henderson, and Reggie Jackson).

He has never declined an autograph-hunter or a reporter in search of a few quotes. He even had a sandwich named after him at the late, great Stage Deli.

Like his close friend Art Shamsky, a fellow left-handed slugger who played for the Mets, Blomberg has made a smooth transition from ballplayer to author.

His first book, an autobiography called Designated Hebrew: the Ron Blomberg Story, came out in 2006 and quickly became a softcover in an updated edition. Asked where the name came from, he relates a story about Dick Schaap, the late baseball writer.

“One day, Dick asked me what its like to be the first DH,” Blomberg says. “I said the first thing that came to my mind. ‘Whaddya mean, Designated Hebrew?’”

Schaap’s response was instant. “That’s a book!”

That initial venture even includes intimate details of the day during 1973 spring training that Yankee pitchers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson traded families.

Now Blomberg is out with another book, called The Captain and Me, written with Dan Epstein.

It details his relationship as roommate and teammate of the late Thurman Munson. The foreword was written by Diane Munson, the catcher’s widow.

Blomberg’s family consists of Beth, his second wife, son Adam, and daughter Chesley. Though Blomberg’s education stopped at Druid Hills High School in suburban Atlanta, both his kids have college degrees. In fact, Adam is a Harvard-educated doctor.

Father Ron is still connected with baseball, coming to Old-Timers Day games at Yankee Stadium, accepting invitations to speak, joining baseball cruises, and wearing his Yankee hat wherever he goes. He loves to tease Shamsky, who is tied to the Mets, about which team is superior.

When the two of them managed in the Israel Baseball League, a six-team circuit that lasted only in 2007, Blomberg’s Bet Shemeth Blue Sox beat Shamsky’s team for the championship. Ken Holtzman, another Jewish major-leaguer, was also a manager in the league.

Blomberg broke into the big leagues on Sept. 10, 1969, and spent most of the next seven seasons with the Yankees – or on their disabled list. He had problems with his knees and shoulders, missing the 1976 World Series as a result. Blomberg later went to Bill Veeck’s Chicago White Sox as a free agent.

Often platooned or hurt, Blomberg hit just 52 home runs. But his victims included a Who’s Who of star pitchers, from Nolan Ryan to Jim Palmer.

He’s not in the Baseball Hall of Fame but his bat is; it’s the only one displayed in Cooperstown as the result of a walk.

Batting sixth in the Yankees lineup on April 6, 1973, Blomberg came to bat with the bases loaded in the top of the first inning. He walked against Luis Tiant on five pitches and the bat was immediately claimed by Jeff Idelson, then president of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Orlando Cepeda, batting third in the Boston lineup, thought he was going to be the first DH. But he hadn’t counted on a Yankee rally in the top of the inning.

To obtain a signed copy of The Captain and Me, order from ronblomberg.yankees.com. The signed book plus postage is $48.

Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ was co-author of Designated Hebrew: the Ron Blomberg Story and autobiographies written by Milo Hamilton and Al Clark. Now weekend editor of Here’s The Pitch, Dan can be contacted via e.mail address ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

Luke Easter, long gone from the major-league scene, lives on through a scholarship given annually by Cleveland State University . . .

Larry Doby, the first black player in the American League, worked for Bill Veeck when he owned the Cleveland Indians and when he owned the Chicago White Sox . . .

Umpire Nestor Chylak was actually blinded – for 10 days – by a German artillery shell during World War 2 . . .

Cal Ripken, Jr. grounded into more double plays than anyone else . . .

Lead-footed John Olerud hit the cycle twice – once with the Mets and once with the Mariners – but had no other triples during either of those two seasons.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.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.

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