Rick Bladt’s major league career got off to an auspicious start on June 15, 1969, when he debuted by pinch running for future Hall of Fame player Billy Williams. It was a tough first act to live up to, and Bladt was not able to translate it into a sustained big league career. However, he did enjoy a 12 year professional career, and spent enough time in the majors for people to remember him years later.
Bladt, a slender outfielder, was signed by the Chicago Cubs in 1966. He had some solid, yet unspectacular years in the minors. He was not a major prospect and with the Cubs having a solid outfield, led by Williams, it was a tough situation for Bladt to break into. Finally, in 1969, he hit .312 for Triple-A Tacoma, and earned a call-up to Chicago.
While in Chicago, Bladt appeared in just 10 games, producing 2 hits in 13 at bats, with 1 RBI. It was not enough to earn him a place in the Cubs future plans and during that off-season he was sent to the New York Yankees as the player to be named in a deal that had occurred earlier in the year.
Although the Yankees of the early 1970’s were not powerhouse teams, Bladt still could not crack the big league roster. He played six consecutive seasons for Syracuse, the franchise’s Triple-A affiliate. He always put up solid, but unspectacular numbers, making himself a valuable insurance policy that could be called upon if a pressing need ever came in the Yankee outfield.
Bladt finally got an opportunity with the Yankees in 1976 when starting outfielder Elliott Maddox suffered a number of injuries. Bladt appeared in 52 games for New York, hitting .222 with a home run, 11 RBI, and 6 stolen bases. His home run was a two run shot of the California Angels’ Andy Hassler, and was one of the highlights of his time in the majors.
Although Maddox appeared in just 18 games in 1976, the hole in centerfield was made obsolete when the Yankees traded in the off-season for mercurial Mickey Rivers. Bladt played the entire 1976 season in Syracuse, hitting .285, but never got called up. After the season he was traded with Maddox to the Baltimore Orioles for Paul Blair.
Bladt played one final professional season in 1977, spending the entire year with Baltimore’s Triple-A team. He batted only .226 and was never part of the Orioles’ big league plans, so he called it quits after the season. He retired with a .215 career average in 62 major league games and hit .268 with 1,252 hits in 1,371 minor league games. More information about his career statistics is available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/bladtri01.shtml.
Bladt made a career as a classic 4-A guy; possessing enough talent to play effectively at the top levels of the minors, but never being able to experience sustained success in the majors. Nonetheless, from the interview he recently did with me, it’s obvious that he enjoyed his career in professional baseball.
Rick Bladt Interview:
What is your favorite moment from your playing career?: I suppose looking at my mom’s face when she saw me with a Yankee uniform in Oakland. She was just beaming with pride, and tears, and all of those things that moms do.
What was the strangest play you ever saw as a baseball player?: The Memphis Lost Ball. (More information about this play is here: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0FCI/is_4_60/ai_71556904/).
What was that like?: That was in Memphis, Tennessee, I don’t remember exactly which year. Denny McLain was the general manager. He was the last 30 game winner in the bigs.
For some reason they didn’t mow the grass against the outfield fence, for like 18 inches out. Maybe the mowers in those days didn’t get that close. They had no warning track. So, the ball from the guy who didn’t have much power, got into one and got it over my head. It went into that tall grass in the dim light of the outfield. I was sweeping my hands through the grass, trying to find the ball, but I never found it.
Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Bobby Cox and Frank Verdi.
Did you ever get another player’s autograph when you were a player?: Just a ’69 Cubs ball.
If you could do anything differently about your playing career, what would that be?: Probably nothing-Life after the game has been fulfilling.
What have you been up to since you stopped playing?: Just like anybody else, you have to make a living. I’m in the construction trades. I stayed with what I knew before I was in the game. I still do it; I’m only semi-retired.
You can follow me on Facebook by going to http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Baseball-Historian/138174109591660 or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew