A day of history
New Hall of Fame Awards Presentation highlights Induction Eve in Cooperstown
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – The early morning hours were reserved for golf, while the evening brought with it a parade down Main Street of what has been called America's most perfect village. In between, fans of the National Pastime had plenty of options.
Cooperstown's unseasonably warm weather continued on Saturday of Hall of Fame Weekend, which began with the Hall of Famer Golf Tournament held at the Leatherstocking Golf Course next to the Otesaga Hotel. Located on the shores of an inviting Otsego Lake, the greatest names in the game's history hit the links not only for bragging rights but also for a chance to catch up on old times. This year's tourney championship went to a team led by Sandy Alomar Sr., in town to help celebrate the Hall of Fame induction of his son, Roberto.
With this year's Induction Ceremony only a day away, the amateur golfers were more than happy to share their thoughts while waiting at the first tee on the newest members of baseball's most exclusive ballclub – pitcher Bert Blyleven, second baseman Roberto Alomar and general manager Pat Gillick – as well as on being back in Cooperstown.
"This is like Christmas and Easter and a birthday all rolled into one," said Hall of Famer Wade Boggs. "When people ask me what I'm doing this weekend, I tell them I'm going to baseball heaven.
"As for the new inductees, no one has ever had a curveball like Bert Blyleven. I don't think anybody will ever have a curveball like Bert Blyleven," Boggs added. "And Robbie Alomar was one of the greatest second baseman of all time."
Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, a Blue Jays teammate of Alomar's for three seasons, including the 1993 World Series-winning team, said that if you want to describe an all-around player, you describe Alomar.
"He's one of those players whose instincts enabled him to help your team win games in many fashions," Molitor said. "As rangy as a second baseman as you can imagine, tremendous imagination defensively in terms of making plays, throwing behind runners, a good feel of who's on the bases at all times.
"Offensively, hit for just enough power from both sides and hit for a high average. He was very intuitive on the bases as far as when to make good decisions about being aggressive for an extra 90 feet. And his track record is that where he went teams won. It was his multi-dimensional abilities that were always a huge part of his team's success."
Bruce Froemming, a big league umpire from 1971 to 2007 who had the privilege to work the plate for a number of Blyleven assignments over the years, said of the native of the Netherlands, "He was very competitive and a great pitcher and he should have been in the Hall of Fame years ago. He made the life of a home plate umpire easy because he threw a lot of strikes."
Longtime Braves front office executive John Schuerholz, who many consider a possible Hall of Fame candidate some day, called Gillick's election a great and deserving honor.
"He's been a remarkable general manager for a number of clubs, done it consistently, done it well, but beyond that he's always been a caretaker and a steward of our great game," Schuerholz. "He's loves baseball as much as much as any of us out here do and he's demonstrated that in all the work that he's done in his career.
"I'm glad that he's getting recognized, and I'm glad for those who have done the job of general manager throughout the years that they can share in that recognition and celebrate with him."
Historic Doubleday Field was the place to be during Saturday's late morning and early afternoon with not only the first Hall of Fame Spotlight Series, which featured Hall of Famers engaged in a quartet of interactive discussions on such subjects as Scribes and Mikemen, Talent Evaluation, the Art of Pitching, and the Batter's Eye, but also the new Hall of Fame Awards Presentation, which honored Dave Van Horne with the Ford C. Frick Award, Bill Conlin with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, and Roland Hemond with the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award.
"It's a little bit overwhelming," said Hemond prior to the ceremony. "I'm very happy and humble to be getting the Buck O'Neil Award. I was fortunate to meet Buck on several occasions and he made a lasting impression upon me. It's beyond my wildest dreams that I'm here today."
Nearby, Conlin talked about the litany of other great baseball writers honored with the Spink Award.
"I got a lot of tough love from Dick Young," Conlin said.
Longtime broadcaster Van Horne still had trouble expressing his thanks for the honor that was soon to be afforded him.
"I said at the time that when I got the call from (Hall of Fame President) Jeff Idelson that the call left me overwhelmed, humbled and very excited. And that's exactly how I feel on this day," Van Horne said. "One of the things that makes this so special is that I'm going to share this with about 30-35 members of the Van Horne extended family.
"And when I look at that list, the other 34 names on that list, it's just mind-boggling that when the (Hall of Fame) Yearbook comes out next year I'll look down and see the past winners of the Ford C. Frick Award and opposite 2011 I'll be looking at my name. I still haven't gotten my head around that."
The late afternoon featured an inductee press conference held on the Clark Sports Center's gymnasium floor, where the trio of Blyleven, Alomar and Gillick answered questions from the assembled media.
"I'm very honored," Gillick said. "Hopefully, we're going to get some more people out of management into the Hall of Fame. I feel like that I represent the guys in the trenches – the scouts, the player development people, people below the radar that don't get all the publicity but do all the heavy lifting, a lot of the grunt work. So that's why I'm really humbled and honored to receive this award."
Blyleven spent time talking about his deceased father, a very important person in his life.
"My dad's here, as far as his spirit. I feel him," Blyleven said. "So maybe he's not here body-wise, but he's here spirit-wise. He's the one in my speech tomorrow I'm going to thank a lot because he's the one that mentored me. He introduced me to the game of baseball. He's here."
Alomar shared his thoughts on being the first Hall of Famer whose image will feature a Toronto Blue Jays cap on his bronze plaque.
"It's an honor to be inducted wearing a Blue Jays cap," Alomar said. "When I was a little boy I never dreamed that one day I'd make it here to the Hall of Fame. And I played five years with the Toronto Blue Jays. Those are the best five years of my career. Wearing that cap means a lot of me.
"The fans embraced me since the day I got to Toronto the same way I embraced them. I'm honored, for everything the fans have done for me, and the numbers I put up wearing their uniform, I'm honored to wear the Blue Jays hat."
Alomar would later express the thoughts of many who have made the baseball pilgrimage to Cooperstown over the years when he said to the press, "This is a beautiful town. I love this town. I might move here. Is there a real estate guy here?"
The long day of baseball ended with the second annual Hall of Fame Parade of Legends, which concluded on the front steps of the Hall of Fame.
The Class of 2011, featuring Blyleven, Alomar and Gillick, will be enshrined at 1:30 p.m. EDT on Sunday on the grounds of the Clark Sports Center. Admission to the Induction Ceremony is free, and the event will be broadcast on the MLB Network.
Bill Francis is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum