MLB

Ron Blomberg Became Baseball’s First Designated Hitter on This Day in 1973

Ron Blomberg was expected to carve a role in New York Yankees history when the franchise selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1967 MLB draft. What no one expected, though, was just how the 6-foot-1 first baseman would seal his place in baseball history.

On April 6, 1973, the 24-year-old Blomberg became the first player to play a game as a designated hitter. Unless Ron Blomberg was at the plate or on the bases, he’d spend the entire game watching from the dugout.

What happened in Ron Blomberg’s designated hitter debut, and what did the new position mean for baseball’s future? Let’s take a look back through time.

Ron Blomberg enjoyed a historic day as baseball’s first designated hitter

Major League Baseball owners approved a three-year trial run for the designated hitter in January 1973. This wasn’t the first time the league changed rules to create more offense. Baseball lowered the pitching mound from 15 to 10 inches after the 1968 season and tightened the strike zone.

As a young first baseman and right fielder, Ron Blomberg didn’t fit the trope of unathletic players or aging veterans who would spend time at designated hitter. Blomberg and the Yankees played the Boston Red Sox, who employed 34-year-old Orlando Cepeda as that day’s designated hitter. Facing All-Star pitcher Luis Tiant, Blomberg drew a walk in his first at-bat. From there, the designated hitter concept was a permanent part of baseball history.

Two innings later, Ron Blomberg became the first DH to record a hit. Blomberg went 1-for-3 with a walk and an RBI in a 15-5 loss to the rival Red Sox. Blomberg hit .265 with seven home runs and 27 RBIs in 56 games at designated hitter in 1973.

Ron Blomberg and the designated hitter unknowingly saved hundreds of MLB careers

New York Yankees first baseman Ron Blomberg was the No. 1 overall pick in 1967. Blomberg also became the first designated history in MLB history on April 6, 1973.
New York Yankees first baseman Ron Blomberg was the No. 1 overall pick in 1967. Blomberg also became the first designated history in MLB history on April 6, 1973. | Diamond Images/Getty Images

Although more credit should rightfully go to the owners who approved the designated hitter idea, Ron Blomberg’s name is forever linked to a position that extended plenty of players’ careers. The likes of David Ortiz, Edgar Martinez, and Frank Thomas would not have lasted as long as they did if not for the designated hitter.

The New York Yankees moved left fielder Hideki Matsui to designated hitter when knee injuries halted Matsui’s career. Without Matsui’s presence on the 2009 Yankees, the Bronx Bombers may not have won the World Series. Minnesota’s Nelson Cruz and Tampa Bay’s Edwin Encarnacion are two current players who are still playing because of the DH.

What else happened in baseball on April 6?

  • The Seattle Mariners opened play on April 6, 1977, with a 7-0 loss to the California Angels. That set the stage for a Mariners franchise that doesn’t post its first winning record until 1991.
  • April 6, 2004, was a good day to be Luis Gonzalez. Diamondbacks outfielder Luis Gonzalez and Rockies second baseman Luis Gonzalez homered in the same game, a 6-2 Rockies victory. It was the first time in history that two players who aren’t related homered in the same game.
  • April 6, 2009, was a packed day for MLB highlights. Diamondbacks teammates Felipe Lopez and Tony Clark became the first set of teammates to homer from both sides of the plate on Opening Day. Florida Marlins third baseman Emilio Bonifacio became the first player to hit an inside-the-park-home run on Opening Day. Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia allowed six earned runs and first baseman Mark Teixeira went 0-for-4 in their Yankee debuts after signing large contracts that offseason.
  • The San Diego Padres became the first team to be shut out in their first three games on April 6, 2016. The Padres were outscored 25-0 in three losses to the Los Angeles Dodgers.