For Ron Blomberg, making the Baseball Hall of Fame was literally a walk in the park.
On April 6, 1973, he was listed in the Yankees’ lineup as a batter without a position in the field, thus becoming the first designated hitter. Blomberg earned a base on balls in his first appearance as DH, an innovation the sport introduced to replace the typically poor-hitting pitcher with a stronger batsman.
The designation earned him (or at least his bat) a place in Cooperstown, the national pastime’s shrine in upstate New York.Hence the title for Blomberg’s autobiography, "Designated Hebrew," which was published this week by Sports Publishing L.L.C. to coincide with the start of the 2006 season.
"When I was a kid, most of my friends did not believe that a Jewish player could make it in the major leagues," writes Blomberg (pronounced Bloomberg), who played seven injury-shortened seasons with the Yankees before finishing his career with the Chicago White Sox in 1978.
Blomberg grew up in Atlanta, where he returned to enter private business after he retired from baseball.
In high school, he says in a telephone interview, "half my teammates were in the KKK. It was very difficult." His prowess in those days made him the first player picked in the 1967 draft.
"I was a chosen person," he says. "I lived my dream."
Blomberg’s book, written with veteran author Dan Schlossberg, tells of his playing days under manager Billy Martin and owner George Steinbrenner, his minor encounters with anti-Semitism, his immediate attraction for Jewish sports fans, his decision to walk off the field at sundown during a game that ran into Rosh HaShanah, and the injuries that cut short his promising career. A solidly built outfielder-first baseman before his DH days, the lefty swinger finished with 52 home runs.
Raised with a passing interest in Judaism, he became an identified MOT (Member of the Tribe) while playing before New York’s legion of Jewish fans and living in the heavily Jewish Riverdale neighborhood.
His book describes an encounter with Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax at an Old Timers Day at Yankee Stadium. Blomberg introduced himself to the legendary Dodgers’ lefty, but Koufax already knew who Blomberg was.
"He reminded me to always wear my chai around my neck with respect: and that’s exactly what I did," Blomberg writes.
Once a year he visits the Hall of Fame and sees his bat.
"It’s the only bat that’s there because of a base on balls," Blomberg writes, adding later, "It’s also probably the only bat there that has the Star of David scrawled into the knob."