Early-seventies New York Yankees rosters are littered with the names of the forgotten: Fred Beene, Steve Blateric, etc. But the name Ron Blomberg stands out. Picked No. 1 overall in the 1967 draft, Blomberg was touted as the next Mickey Mantle. Injuries wrecked his career, but he did, by the luck of the draw, gain distinction as the first designated hitter in major-league history. “I was the DH, all right,” Blomberg says, “Designated Hebrew”—which happens to be the title of his recently published autobiography. He spoke to Mark Jacobson.
What was it like growing up as a Jewish athlete in the Deep South during the fifties?
Sometimes it seemed like half my teammates were in the KKK. They had their robes, and after the games they did their cross-burnings.
You always wanted to be a Yankee?
We had the minor-league Atlanta Crackers, which was really their name, but the Yankees were always on the Game of the Week. I fell in love with the pinstripes back then.
How did the Jewish community react when you first got to New York?
To be able to play in front of 8 million Jews! Can’t beat it. I lit everyone’s candles for every bar mitzvah in the city. It was like I was related to everyone. They named a sandwich after me at the Stage Deli.
What were the guys like back then?
There were definitely some anti-Semites on those teams, believe me. But we had crazy times, like when Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson switched families, wives, kids, the whole thing. Then Reggie came. Even now, at Old Timers’ Day, guys don’t talk to Reggie. But I liked him. [In spring training] he hit fourth, and sometimes I’d be fifth. He’d hit a homer and make a big deal out of it. So I knew I was going to get drilled. I lived in Riverdale, in the same building with Willie Mays. Since I was a Jewish guy, I knew people in the garment center. Willie and I went down there in his pink Caddy with the say hey written on the side, and we got some free clothes. I took three, four suits. But Willie took 300, 400. All polyester. Orange and purple. He looked like a Goodwill explosion.
How do you feel about the game now?
Everyone’s making so much money, but it’s so corporate, I don’t think they’re having fun like we did. Next: Artists Leave Work Outside for the Birds