by Hap Rocketto
While leafing through an old Sports Illustrated magazine, as I waited for Dr. Ron Serra, my optometrist, to call me in for my annual pre-outdoor shooting season checkup. my eye caught an article celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the Designated Hitter by Steve Rushin. The minutia and out of the ordinary things that happen on the diamond are what makes baseball particularly interesting to me.
As an expatriate from Brooklyn the Dodgers were my team, until they tried to trade Jackie Robinson to the despised Giants and then, like the Arabs in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s verse “The Day is Done,” folded their tents and silently stole away.
The next abomination was Astroturf and then the designated hitter. Even though I am an American League team fan I find myself in agreement with the classic baseball film Bull Durham’s hero Crash Davis who felt that there should be a Constitutional amendment outlawing both.
History was made on a damp chill Opening Day at Fenway Park in 1973. An ailing Ron Blomberg, of the button down soulless corporate New York Yankees, stepped to the plate to face Luis Tiant in the first inning. Blomberg had been penciled in as the designated hitter by Yankee Manager Ralph Houk to protect the left handed slugger’s tender hamstrings. It was the first time such a position had ever been fielded and either Blomberg, or the Red Sox’s Orlando Cepeda, was going to become a historical footnote that day. Both would eventually find a niche in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Blomberg’s bat resides there while Cepeda’s visage adorns a bronze plaque indicating his place amongst the immortals.
Blomberg got to the plate first assuring his place in baseball trivia. With the bases loaded the first designated hitter in history was ignominiously walked by El Tiante, forcing in Matty Alou who was dancing about at third base. In the end the walk and the run mattered not as the Yankees lost 15-5.
He would spend most of the rest of his career as a DH, Designated Hebrew as the proudly Jewish Blomberg often noted. He hardly ever donned a mitt and headed to the field. If he wasn’t at the plate hitting he was in the dugout sitting, “riding the pine” in baseball parlance.
Ironically the first DH appeared at Fenway Park, the home of Ted Williams, who once said, “When I walk down the street and meet people, I just want them to think ‘There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived.” Rushin closed his article with a nice play on Williams’ comment, noting that, as Blomberg strode away from the interview,”…everyone within eyeshot is thinking the same thing: There goes the greatest sitter who ever lived.”
While Blomberg was the first, the greatest DH is probably Edgar Martinez, late of the Seattle Mariners. In his career Martinez was an All Star seven times, won five silver slugger awards and was twice the American League batting champion. Martinez’s only completion is Red Sox DH David Ortiz, an active player, who, also started with Seattle.
I identify with Blomberg as a great sitter. We are both Jewish and both journeymen at our sports. My claim is based upon the fact that I hold four National Rifle Association records in the sitting position, Open and Senior 20 shots any sights and Senior metallic sights at 50 yards indoors as well the senior 50 foot record.
However, the Edgar Martinez of shooting sitting is Edmund Jensen. Ed was a full timer with the “Happy Hooligans,” North Dakota Air National Guard’s 119th Fighter Group. He was Distinguished with both service and smallbore rifle and he liked to do two things, shoot and fly fixed wing aircraft
One cold March day in North Dakota, as if there could ever be another kind of March day in North Dakota, Ed stood up after shooting a 200X200 in the 1972 NRA Conventional Four Position Sectional. As he prepared for kneeling Ed took a peek at the posted National Record sheet which noted that, in April of 1959, a junior rifleman named H.M. Malick, Jr., of Washington, Pennsylvania set the National Sitting Record with a 200X200 with an additional 350 Xs.
One of our team mates was Dean Oakes who, like Malick, hailed from Washington, Pennsylvania. Oakes, a helicopter pilot who, like many of his ilk, suffers from an inferiority complex involving the revolving wings of his aircraft. Dean’s soto voce needling, an All Guard tradition, about the superiority of both rotary winged aircraft and junior shooters from Washington, Pennsylvania immediately drew Ed’s attention.
Ed directed a Cheshire cat grin toward Dean and ambled on over to the stat office. Picking up the gauntlet that Oakes had tossed down he announced that he would like to take a run at the sitting record. To that end, when the day’s shooting had concluded, Ed returned to the line with a stack of A-17 targets and a brick of Eley Tenex.
He folded himself into sitting and proceeded to shoot at a regular cadence, only interrupted by the whirring sound of the pulleys as he changed targets. He had been shooting quite awhile when the range crew pleaded with him to take a break and return the next day, after all, it had been a long day for all concerned. Ed genially agreed. The next day he picked up where he left off and rattled off ten after ten after ten after ten until he had accumulated a stack of 50 perfect sitting targets.
His record of 200X200, with an additional 500 tens, stands to this day. He stopped, he said, because he figured no one else would be crazy enough to try to beat him. Jensen, not Blomberg, is the greatest sitter who ever lived and he was right.