Richard Alan Scheinblum
- Bats Both, Throws Right
- Height 6' 1", Weight 180 lb.
- School Long Island University, C.W. Post Campus
- High School Dwight Morrow High School
- Debut September 1, 1965
- Final Game September 21, 1974
- Born November 5, 1942 in New York, NY USA
- Died May 10, 2021 in Palm Harbor, FL USA
In 1972, Richie Scheinblum became the only Jewish switch-hitter (and 7th switch-hitter total) to bat .300 during a full season. It was Scheinblum's sole season as a regular in the majors. He led the AL in pinch-hit appearances (54) in 1969.
Richie Scheinblum was born in the south Bronx and grew up in difficult circumstances. His mother was hospitalized shortly after his birth and he and his older brother Bob lived with foster families while seeing his father only on week-ends. His mother had been born in Ukraine and was related to Moe Berg and poet Allen Ginsberg's families. His mother died in 1949 and his father remarried and moved to Englewood, NJ when Richie was 10. That's where he learned to play baseball. He was a natural right-handed batter but learned to switch hit as a kid and became a better hitter from the left side. He received some offers of conditional athletic scholarships as a high school senior, but his grades were poor and the offers were withdrawn. He wanted to sign to play baseball immediately (at least two teams had expressed interest in signing him), but his father insisted that he go to college, so he enrolled at Long Island University, C.W. Post Campus, which had very undemanding entry requirements at the time. He did manage to graduate (not cutting classes to go the pool hall, as he had been doing in high school, helped there).
In college at C.W. Post, Scheinblum had participated in 9 track events, basketball and baseball, making him the first 10-letter man in his school's history. He was later inducted in the college's sports Hall of Fame. One of his teammate on the undefeated basketball team was Larry Brown, a future NBA player and head coach; Scheinblum was also a guard. After graduating in 1964, he got offers to try out for some Major League teams (this was one year before the amateur draft so all college graduates were basically free agents). He worked out first for the Pittsburgh Pirates then for the Cleveland Indians and received offers from both teams, but signed with the latter for $ 12,000, a significant amount at the time. He started off with the Burlington Indians of the Class-B Carolina League, hitting .309 in 85 games, the first of five .300 seasons he had in the minors. In 1966-1967, playing winter ball, he led the Nicaraguan League in batting average (.331).
Scheinblum was first called up to the Major Leagues at the end of the 1965 season, coming straight from the California League. His manager, Birdie Tebbetts, thought he was too young and only used him in four games, giving him one at-bat. He was up for longer looks in both 1967 and 1968 and managed to put up a .318 batting average in 18 games the first of these. This led to an extended shot in 1969, when expansion created a lot of new job openings at the major-league level. The result for Scheinblum was so-so: he did spend the whole season in the big leagues and was Cleveland's top pinch hitter, getting into 102 games, but he batted below .200. He had actually won a starting outfield job in spring training that year, but was a self-confessed terrible cold weather hitter and started the regular season in a slump that he never really shook out of, going 0 for 35 before collecting his first hit. The Indians traded for Ken Harrelson shortly thereafter and Richie was relegated to a bench role.
Scheinblum went back in the minor leagues and was a stand-out in 1970 and 1971 in the American Association. In 1970, playing for the Wichita Aeros he led the AA in RBI (84), runs (79), hits and total bases while batting .337 with 24 homers. In 1971, after his contract had been purchased by the Washington Senators, he played for the Denver Bears and was named MVP of the AA when he hit .388 with 25 HR and 108 RBI. He again led the league in RBI and total bases and also led in batting average, doubles and triples. His average was the highest in 20 years (since Harry Walker had hit .393 in 1951) and would not be matched in the remaining 26 years of the AA's existence. He had actually started the 1971 season in the majors with the Senators, but again failed to break .200 in 49 at-bats and was sent down. His contract was then purchased by the Kansas City Royals.
He was an American League All-Star in his only season as a regular for the 1972 Royals. He actually led the American League batting race for most of the season before fading at the end of the year. A high-average line-drive hitter with only moderate power, little speed (he never stole a base in the majors) and very poor fielding skills, he should have been one of the players benefitting from the introduction of the designated hitter for the 1973 AL season. Unfortunately for him, the Royals had traded him to the National League's Cincinnati Reds in the off-season. He lingered on the Reds's bench until traded to the California Angels on June 15, but his new team's DH slot was already filled by future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson. He did hit .328 as the Angels' regular left-fielder over the season's second half however. He started the 1974 season in a slump and was traded back to the Royals after a month of hitting .154. Things did not improve in his second go-round in Kansas City, as he was hitting .181 in 36 games when he was sold to the St. Louis Cardinals in early August. He finished the year and his major league career by going 2 for 6 for the Cardinals.
After his major league career ended, he played two years in Japan for the Hiroshima Carp, hitting .295/.349/.468. He also became the first player to homer from both sides of the plate during a game in the history of Nippon Pro Baseball. He was a teammate of Gail Hopkins with the Carp, who had also played with him on the Royals. The team, which had been awful until then did better with the two ex-Royals in its lineup. He was one of the first Jewish players in Japan, and it proved difficult to explain things like the need to sit out Yom Kippur. After the 1976 season, he severed his Achilles tendon while playing basketball in the off-season, ending his career.
After retirement, he opened a jewelery store in Anaheim, CA. He then moved to the San Fernando Valley after divorcing, and lived in Los Angeles and Georgia for a time. He finally settled in Palm Harbor, FL where he worked for a company specialized in putting logos on items of clothing.
Sources and further reading
- Jews in Sports
- Japan Baseball Daily
- "The American Association" by Bill O'Neal
- Jewish Sports Hall of Fame
- Marc Katz: "'I Didn't Think Baseball Players Were Real People': An Interview with Richie Scheinblum", in Brad Sullivan, ed.: Batting Four Thousand: Baseball in the Western Reserve, SABR, Cleveland, OH, 2008, pp. 68-76.