Ex-Yankee slugger Ron Blomberg on deck for Men’s Night Out

Ron Blomberg
Ron Blomberg

Former New York Yankee first baseman Ron Blomberg made history as the first designated hitter in the major leagues.

“In 1973 I screwed up the game of baseball and I’m very proud of it, and having a Jew to do it is great,” he told the AJP in a recent telephone interview.

Blomberg — pronounced with a long “oo” despite the single “o” — explains that he’d pulled a hamstring muscle as spring training was ending. On the plane going up to Boston, manager Ralph Houk and coaches Dick Howser and Elston Howard asked if he wanted to go on the disabled list or be the designated hitter — the player who bats for the pitcher, a rule the American League adopted that year. “I told them I wanted to be the DH,” says Blomberg, who drew a walk — with the bases loaded — in his first appearance as the designated hitter at Fenway Park.

Blomberg, a member of the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, will tell more tales of his years as a Yankee slugger, as well as his stint managing the Israel Baseball League’s Beit Shemesh Blue Sox, at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Men’s Night Out event on Thursday, April 25 at 6 p.m. at the Tucson Jewish Community Center.

For Blomberg, who grew up in Atlanta, Ga., a witness to discrimination against Jews, blacks and other minorities, playing for the Yankees was “the greatest thing in the whole world.”

He was a high school all-star in baseball, football and basketball, and had a basketball scholarship to UCLA, but then the Yankees chose him as the number one pick of the 1967 amateur draft.

“It was a no-brainer when I got drafted by them. Do I want to go up to New York, where all the Jews were, to go up there to play and feel like a role model to all the Jews? That was a very easy decision to make,” he says.

Although he experienced anti-Semitism from some major league players, and even some of the fans, Blomberg would rather talk about the joys of baseball.

His book, “Designated Hebrew,” as told to Dan Schlossberg, was published in 2006. A year later he managed the Beit Shemesh Blue Sox, taking them to the Israel Baseball League’s championship. “I won the World Series against Art Shamsky,” who managed the Modi’in Miracles, he says, still clearly delighted. “Art Shamsky was with the Mets, I was with the Yankees, and the Yankees beat the Mets.”

Israelis enjoyed the IBL, “but unfortunately it was under-capitalized and didn’t last long enough,” he says. Blomberg’s own career as a player — he also spent a year with the Chicago White Sox — was cut short due to injuries.

These days, he keeps busy with a show on New York’s WFAN radio station, a baseball camp in the Poconos, and speaking tours on behalf of the Yankees. His book is available at www.ronblombergyankees.com.

The fourth annual Men’s Night Out event also will include the presentation of the 2013 MENtor Award to Gerry Tumarkin.

“Gerry is one of those people who is always there for our community. Whether it’s in leadership for the JCC or Federation — Gerry was actually board chair of the JCC at the same time that his wife, Linda, was board chair of the Federation — through all of his years in Tucson, Gerry has always made the Jewish community a top priority in his life. Add that to the fact that he’s just a whole lot of fun to be around. It’s no surprise that the committee chose him as this year’s MENtor of the Year,” says JFSA President and CEO Stuart Mellan.

A deli dinner and beer will be served, with a vegetarian option available. Admission is $36, plus a minimum pledge of $180 to the 2013 Federation Community Campaign for men ages 30 and up. For men under 30, the minimum pledge is $36 and for students it is $18. Donations are tax-deductible. Reservations can be made at www.jewishtucson.org/mensnightout, or contact Karen Graham at 577-9393, ext. 118.