Ron Blomberg, 1st DH & Yankees’ 1st Jewish player continues to share his stories for the next generation of Jewish athletes

The banners decorating the pavilions throughout the park read “1973 Israel Day at Yankee Stadium.” They dance in the wind as they mark the celebration of the unique and historic event. Beaming as he steps out of the dugout, Ron Blomberg hustles over to home plate to accept his award. Smiling back as they reach out their hands to greet him are Golda Meir, the Prime Minister of Israel, and Moshe Dayan, the Defense Minister of Israel. After a few kind words and rounds of applause are exchanged, Blomberg is handed a plaque, congratulating him on his achievement of becoming the first Jewish player for the New York Yankees. As the pregame ceremonies conclude, Meir and Dayan invite Blomberg to Israel to meet his extended Jewish family.

Blomberg reflects on the event with great pride, thrilled that his achievements were able to pave the way for the future of Jewish athletes, but also that he was fortunate to have this event lead to the turning point in the impact his Judaism has had on his life.

The Star of David that Blomberg always kept on his baseball hat and bat was more than just a symbol of his dedication to his Jewish faith. It guided him through his career as a reminder of his roots and the challenges he was able to overcome to succeed in his professional baseball career. “I’m very proud to be a Jew. I feel like the man up above is always looking after me,” says Blomberg. “I grew up near KKK activity in the South and saw a lot of anti-Semetic people, but I feel very lucky that I always knew how to stand up for myself.” Throughout the first years of his career, he was often looked down upon and not supported by some of his teammates and fans because he was Jewish. However, Blomberg took a great importance in responding to any negativity he faced with kindness and integrity, and looked at these incidents as opportunities for strength and growth rather than hardships.

As he moved through high school, Blomberg’s athleticism quickly gained him attention. He played multiple sports, receiving hundreds of scholarship opportunities for basketball, football, and baseball. Ultimately, he decided to stay true to his dreams of becoming a major league baseball player, and was selected by the New York Yankees with the first overall pick in the 1967 amateur draft. Blomberg had dreamed of playing for the Yankees since he was a young boy growing up in Georgia, and was ecstatic to finally get the opportunity. “I was very proud to play in New York City in front of the biggest Jewish community in the country,” he said.

Blomberg began with the club on a two-year stint in the minor leagues, from 1967 to 1969. During the 1969 season, he got the call to the majors, and made his debut towards the end of the season on September 10th. He played 4 games with the big league club that season, going 3-6. Injuries hindered him from playing the following season, but in 1971, Blomberg showed substantial improvement. In 199 at-bats for the Yankees, he scored 30 runs on 64 hits, logging 7 home runs and 32 RBIs while posting a batting average of .322.

He finished the 1971 season with the Yankees’ AAA affiliate, the Syracuse Chiefs, where he batted .326 with 45 hits, 6 home runs, and only 12 strikeouts in his 138 at-bats. Blomberg returned to the major league club in 1973, where he stayed for five outstanding seasons. The 1973 season, however, was the season that brought Blomberg his most well-known moments.

It wasn’t planned, but given Blomberg’s batting stats and the needs of the team, it happened to work out. When he learned he was going to be MLB’s first designated hitter, the team was already on their plane to Boston before Blomberg’s manager gave him the news. He would be the Yankees’ DH in their Opening Day game against the Red Sox.

After the plane touched down and the team started their game day preparations, Blomberg was still unsure of what the DH job entailed, as he had never heard of it before. “Nobody knew what the DH was back then, I considered it a glorified pinch hitter,” said Blomberg. It took some adjustments, given that Blomberg had played first base for the Yankees all of Spring Training, so his teammates had to remind him during the game to return to the dugout and wait to hit rather than run out to the field as the inning ended.

Blomberg recorded a walk, a hit, and an RBI in the historic game against Red Sox pitcher Luis Tiant. The bat he used in the game was later sent to Cooperstown to be displayed in the Baseball Hall of Fame. “I saw the initials DH for designated hitter, so instead I called myself the first Designated Hebrew,” Blomberg said, in a nod to his Jewish heritage.

Following his momentous first start at DH, he began to love the position, and played it regularly during his MLB career. He is now a strong advocate for the universal DH that MLB adopted for only one season (2020) as he dislikes watching pitchers hit, but is confident that the league will bring it back eventually.

Blomberg continued his MLB success during the following season, hitting .311 with 82 hits, 48 RBIs, and 39 runs over 264 at-bats, but injuries scattered throughout the rest of his career interrupted a chance at a regular spot in the starting lineup. However, Blomberg never let down his guard, and continued to stay positive and work through his setbacks.

When Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan visited him on that April day in 1973 to celebrate his achievements, Blomberg was honored to represent the Jewish community and set an example for aspiring Jewish athletes. When he was extended an offer to come to Israel, Blomberg was excited for a fulfilling, impactful trip of a lifetime, and to meet all of his “family” in Israel. “All Jews are my family! No matter if they’re Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, we are all the Chosen People!” said Blomberg. Unfortunately, he was unable to make the trip, as the Yom Kippur War was taking place during that time. He was disappointed, but knew he would get another chance to go in the future.

That chance came in 2007, when Blomberg was hired to be the manager of the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox in the inaugural season of the Israel Baseball League (IBL). “I had an unbelievable time in Israel,” Blomberg said of his first trip there. “The people were excellent to me. The greatest opportunity in the whole world is to be in the Holy Land and play baseball.”
That year, the Blue Sox were the best offensive team in the league and posted the best regular season record, and Blomberg was able to lead the team to a 3-0 win against the Modi’in Miracle in the IBL Championship game. “To be able to play in your country for your family and fans is a very religious feeling,” said Blomberg.

Blomberg’s connection to Team Israel, one of the exciting teams to watch at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics this summer, stems from the Blue Sox, where current Team Israel manager Eric Holtz was one of his fellow coaches. Blomberg has been following Team Israel for a long time, and is very excited to watch Team Israel’s Olympic run this year. “I feel like they have a good chance of winning,” Blomberg said. “They have a great team, great management, and the guy up above looking after them!” He is very involved with the team, and enjoys hosting Zoom calls to talk to current players about their hopes for the season and more.

Bloomberg’s most recent endeavors also include his two published books: Designated Hebrew: The Ron Blomberg Story, and his most recent book, The Captain & Me: On and Off The Field with Thurman Munson. The Captain & Me was released in April, and is a fascinating look into the friendship between the two Yankee stars. Munson was an outstanding catcher who helped the Yankees win championships, and along the way, earned baseball’s highest awards before tragically crash-landing his plane during the 1979 season. Blomberg details the unlikely bond he built with Munson, their favorite moments together, and the excitement that each of them brought every day to the game of baseball. “It’s not just a baseball book. It’s a book about family,” he said. The book was an instant hit, topping the charts at number one when it first was released. It sold hundreds of copies in the first week, and is a must-read for anyone interested. “Tell your friends to get the book, they’ll love it!” Blomberg said.

In addition to the recent release of his second book, Blomberg continues to stay involved with the Yankees and with many Jewish organizations throughout the country. After all, he’s the first DH and first Jewish Yankee in history! He still makes appearances on multiple radio shows and TV programs, which he thoroughly enjoys. The main focus in his life now, however, has been his newborn grandchildren. “I’m a big family man,” he says, “and with the Coronavirus, I haven’t had the opportunity to see my grandchildren.” He talks to his family daily, but can’t wait to see them in person when it is safe to do so.

Through it all, Blomberg’s dedication to his Jewish faith continues to guide him. “I’m very honored to be able to say that I’m a proud Jew,” he says. Just as Meir and Dayan did for him, Blomberg looks forward to continuing to celebrate Jewish athletes around the world, sharing their stories, and proving that they are some of the most talented athletes around.

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  1. Howard Mednick

    Great story! Thank you.

  2. Gary Drake

    Do you have the exact date of the 1973 Israel Day at Yankee Stadium?

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