Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven and Pat Gillick immortalized in Cooperstown
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – You can add three more names to the pantheon of baseball’s greatest stars now that the game’s greatest one-day celebration is complete.
The eyes of the baseball world were on Cooperstown on Sunday afternoon thanks to the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Induction Ceremony. Graced by near perfect summer weather conditions, some 17,500 fans and 47 returning Hall of Famers traveled to the grounds next to the Clark Sports Center to celebrate the adding of the names of general manager Pat Gillick, second baseman Roberto Alomar and pitcher Bert Blyleven to the roster of the National Pastime’s greatest team.
After honoring those Hall of Famers who have passed away since the 2010 Induction Ceremony – Sparky Anderson, Bob Feller, Harmon Killebrew, Duke Snider and Dick Williams – Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark may have expressed it best when she opened the ceremony by saying, “What makes this weekend so special? It is the only time you will see so many legends in one place at one time.”
Of the trio of new inductees, Gillick, who made a successful transition from the field to the front office, led of by by saying, “I am here because nearly 50 years ago I realized that my pitching arm was not going to get me to the major leagues. I had a good run in college and in the minors but it was pretty clear my arm wasn’t going to get me to the majors, so I knew I had to find another way.”
Gillick’s way would lead to 27 seasons as a general manager in which his teams earned 11 postseason berths and had 20 winning seasons. Gillick’s leadership would bring Toronto its first-ever Fall Classic titles in 1992 and ’93, and the Phillies a championship crown in 2008.
“No matter how much technology changes scouting, no matter how much free agency and big TV contracts change the business of baseball, I hope and pray that the heart of the game will never change,” Gillick said. “Baseball is about talent and hard work and strategy but at the deepest level it’s about love, integrity and respect. Respect for the game, respect for your colleagues, respect for the sheer bond that is bigger than any one of us.
“I was lucky to go to work every day for 50 years to a job that I loved, a job I still can’t believe they pay me to do. And I’m humbled to be standing here today when the game has already given me back so much more than I ever imagined possible,” he added. “As the wonderful voice of the Seattle Mariners (Dave Niehaus) said here in Cooperstown, ‘I might not be the most deserving, but I’m certainly the most appreciative.’”
Next to the podium came Alomar, a dazzling player both at the plate and in the field. With a solid baseball pedigree that included a father and brother who both spent considerable time in the majors, Alomar exhibited his considerable talents over a 17-season big league career spent with seven different teams.
“I did not know how nervous I would be standing in front of all you today,” is how Alomar began the English portion of his speech. “I’m suppose to be here making a speech for you but suddenly I feel speechless. I played the game of baseball in front of thousands of people all my life but I must say I’d rather be playing the game than making a speech today here. So bear with me please. And remember that English is my second language.”
With Canadian and Puerto Rican rooting sections filling the audience, Alomar, a 12-time All-Star as well as a 10-time Gold Glove winner and a key member of a Blue Jays squad that won back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and ’93, graciously thanked his supporters.
“First, and most importantly, I would like to thank God for giving me the ability and the guidance to become a Hall of Fame baseball player,” Alomar said. “It is a true blessing for me to be able to share this moment with all you and my loving family. This day wouldn’t have been possible if not from God. Thank you God for giving me this special day.
“I feel like I’m standing here today not because of the way I played the game but also because of the fan’s support that I received throughout the years that I played baseball. So thank you to my loving fans, because without you the game would not be fun for me.”
Alomar, who is the first Hall of Fame donning a Blue Jays cap on his bronze plaque, made a special point of thanking not only the Toronto organization but also the franchise’s fans.
“My time in Toronto was the best of my career. It was with Toronto that we won two World Series together,” Alomar said. “You guys have been great to me from Day One. You were with me through ups and downs and I am so proud to be here in Cooperstown as the first Toronto Blue Jay inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Thank you for sharing this incredible moment in my life with me. I consider the Toronto Blue Jays organization an extension of my own family.
“In closing, I would like to say to my family, to my fans, to all the Puerto Rican people, and Canadians, and the game of baseball, you are and will always be my life and my love.”
Closing the ceremonies trio of speeches was Blyleven, who used longevity and a wicked curveball, considered to be one of the toughest to hit in the history of the game, to forge career loaded with numerous accomplishments.
After jokingly thanking those in charge for allowing him 45 minutes for his speech, spent much of his time “thanking so many people who made it possible for me to be standing here.”
The native of Holland played 22 major league seasons with five different teams, but it was his outstanding control and famed breaking pitch that would help him wins 287 games, toss 60 shutouts and finish with 3,701 strikeouts.
“I was born in Zeist, Holland, in 1951. My parents decided to leave Holland in 1953 with three children and not a lot of money but a lot of determination,” said Blyleven, recalling his introduction to the game. “We first went to Canada, spent four years in Canada before we immigrated to the United States in 1957.
“I was introduced to baseball by my friends and my dad. My dad became a huge baseball fan by listening to the radio with Vince Scully and Jerry Doggett, who covered the L.A. Dodgers. I listened to the game with him all the time. My dad was a huge Frank Howard fan. He liked Howard because of his size and how far he could hit the ball. I used to keep score listening to the game, especially when Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale pitched. I loved putting down the “K” for a strikeout. I started playing baseball when I was nine years old. All I wanted to do was throw that baseball. I guess you could say I was like Forrest Gump – he ran and I threw.”
Blyleven would later tell of giving up a home run as a 19-year-old to the first big league batter he faced.
“He (Twins manager Bill Rigney) left me in and he said something to me that I’ll never forget: ‘You know what, son? That’s not the last home run you’ll give up.’ The man was a genius. Over 22 years I gave up only 429 more.”
Known for his good natured sense of humor, Blyleven ended by saying, “I know that a lot of you are probably waiting for me to do something silly or stupid. Well, not today. But another day, for sure. No hot foots and no mooning.
“It was an honor for me to wear a major league uniform for the Minnesota Twins, the Texas Rangers, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cleveland Indians and now called the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. I took a lot of pride wearing all those uniforms,” he added. “As my good friend Jay Black of Jay and the Americans told me, ‘This is your magic moment.’ Today I take a lot of pride in being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. To be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame is the highest honor an athlete can get.”
Bill Francis is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum