As a relatively young person following what seems to be a generation of nostalgic individuals, I often push back on some accepted truths, as growing up, it’s easy to pick up that everyone tends to romanticize the past in some way or another. That’s not to say that there weren’t many wonderful things in the past, but problems existed just like they do today, and all wasn’t inherently better.
Bringing that conversation to baseball, there is plenty to talk about from the game back in the day, and there’s certainly a feeling of nostalgia. After all, for past generations, baseball was the biggest sport in the United States; it ruled the land like the NFL does today. However, it isn’t as easy as looking back at how and where it went wrong for the sport to be where it is today — while one could easily highlight several aspects that were better in the past like pace of play, day games, starting pitching deeper into games, baseball in the past century wasn’t without its problems. The game really evolved in ways that should and deserve to be acknowledged.
One of the major points that work better in the present is the professionalism behind player development, and how even from a very young age, the organization as a whole is thinking about the long-term development of its young players. It wasn’t exactly the wild west in the past, but some situations seem mind-boggling today.
To that point, one player who suffered plenty because of the difference of the era is our next selection for the All-Supernova Team. All eight position players are set, and to complete our lineup, the designated hitter will be baseball’s first, friend of the blog Ron Blomberg.
Career NYY stats: .302/.370/.486, 400 Games, 47 HR, 202 RBI, 140 OPS+
First and foremost, if you haven’t read Jon Rimmer’s article about Blomberg, I highly recommend that you do that. He did an excellent job of covering most of the behind-the-scenes with Blomberg’s development and the challenges he endured. There’s also a very lovely chat with him about his book “The Captain and Me”.
After the Yankees finished in last place in 1966, Blomberg became the first overall pick in the 1967 MLB Draft out of Druid Hills High School in Atlanta. Nowadays, we know all about the subsequent preparation and handling that goes into any high draft pick, let alone the first overall.
However back in the late 1960s, despite tearing through right-handed pitching in the minors from day one, Blomberg didn’t get the chance to develop an ability to hit against southpaws. Instead, he was passed over in a platoon system that even in the minors, prioritized winning in the moment — just like it was a Major League pennant race.
A fan of the team could argue that the manager of the minor league affiliate has no right to jeopardize the long-term development of a player with such a big investment, but I don’t see it that way. Minor league employees don’t make a ton now, let alone then, and since teams were mostly independently run, the managers had an even more legitimate stake in the team’s success. They had to think about job security, and it’s up to the GM and owner to give out proper instructions that serve to benefit the team, long-term.
Ron Blomberg is primarily remembered for being the first DH in MLB history and also for a career that was curtailed early by chronic injuries. Nonetheless, he remained a major force at the plate in the early 1970s. He might have been unfairly forced into a platoon role early on due to his minor league use, but pitchers did not enjoy facing him.
From 1971 through 1974, Blomberg averaged essentially 300 plate appearances per season with the following slash line:
.306/.373/.487, 150 OPS+
There were exactly four hitters ahead of him in OPS+ (min. 300 games) throughout that stretch. All of them were either Hall of Famers or should-be Hall of Famers: Willie Stargell, Dick Allen, Henry Aaron, and Reggie Jackson.
Blomberg was injured in 1975 and got sidelined until 1977 when in an exhibition game he suffered another devastating knee injury that virtually ended his career. Blomberg came back for a final campaign in 1978 with the White Sox, but didn’t have much success, and soon retired at the age of 30.
Ron Blomberg is in the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Due to his lack of playing time, he never accumulated individual accolades as a player, but during the early 1970s, he was irrefutably one of the better hitters in baseball, and the numbers back that up