For enshrined duo, signature talents
Alomar's seamless defense on par with Blyleven's curveball
Some 3,000 men have played second base in the big leagues, precious few, if any, who combined the athleticism, instincts and offensive skills of Robbie Alomar. Some 8,000 others have pitched at the game's highest level, no more than a dozen who threw a curveball with the break of the one thrown by Bert Blyleven.
Without question, Alomar and Blyleven were players of distinction as they amassed figures and totals that eventually distinguished them from their contemporaries. And now, because of their extraordinary skills as well as their performances over extended periods, each has earned the three-letter distinction that separates them from the vast majority of the 16,000-plus baseball professionals.
Now, each can add a monogram to his autograph -- HOF. And now the Hall of Fame Class of 2011 has its own alphabetical monogram -- ABC -- Alomar, Blyleven and Cooperstown.
The classmates are barely linked otherwise. Indeed, they have almost nothing in common. Roberto Velazquez Alomar comes from Puerto Rico and a baseball family. His father and brother, Sandy and Sandy Jr., played and coached in the big leagues. Rik Aalbert Blyleven is a native of the Netherlands and shares his surname with no other in the game's history. Although their careers overlapped in four seasons -- 1988-90 and '92 -- Alomar's .300, switch-hitting bat had merely three opportunities, all in '92, to hack at Blyleven's famed and feared Uncle Charlie.
Alomar was elected in his second year of eligibility, Blyleven in his second-to-last year on the ballot. After receiving a higher percentage of votes in 2010 (73.7) than any other first-time candidate not elected, Alomar was named on 90 percent of the '11 ballots, an unexpected increase. He became the 26th player named on at least 90 percent of the ballots cast and the 18th former big league second baseman elected.
The 2011 percentage for Blyleven, who missed in the 2010 election by eight-tenths of a percentage point, was 79.7 percent. He is the 64th former big league pitcher elected and the first starting pitcher since 1999, when Nolan Ryan was inducted.
What the two did have in common was nomadic careers. Alomar played with seven clubs -- the Padres, Blue Jays, Orioles, Indians, Mets, White Sox (twice) and D-backs -- moving more than most Hall of Famers. The most is nine clubs by Rich Gossage, Rickey Henderson and Hoyt Wilhelm. Blyleven played the role of Captain Hook with five -- the Twins (twice), Rangers, Pirates, Indians and Angels.
Alomar is linked to another 2011 Hall of Fame designate: former Blue Jays, Phillies, Mariners and Orioles general manager Pat Gillick, who wanted to sign the second baseman to a contract with the Jays and who later engineered the trade that moved Alomar from the Padres to Toronto. Alomar was the pivotal player in Toronto's successive World Series championships in 1992 and '93.
Alomar called Gillick "a mentor" on Wednesday after learning of his own election, a vote that pushed the second baseman past two smudges on his baseball resume -- the spitting incident of 1996 and the recently amplified whispers that he played indifferently during his tours with Orioles, Mets and even with the Indians.
Alomar took exception to the allegations during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, acknowledging that his three seasons with the Indians -- from 1999-2001 -- were his best offensively. He batted .323 with a .405 on-base percentage and a .515 slugging percentage, with 114 doubles, 17 triples, 63 home runs, 362 runs and 309 RBIs.
|Roberto Alomar (2)||523||90.0|
|Bert Blyleven (14)||463||79.7|
|Barry Larkin (2)||361||62.1|
|Jack Morris (12)||311||53.5|
|Lee Smith (9)||263||45.3|
|Jeff Bagwell (1)||242||41.7|
|Tim Raines (4)||218||37.5|
|Edgar Martinez (2)||191||32.9|
|Alan Trammell (10)||141||24.3|
|Larry Walker (1)||118||20.3|
|Mark McGwire (5)||115||19.8|
|Fred McGriff (2)||104||17.9|
|Dave Parker (15)||89||15.3|
|Don Mattingly (11)||79||13.6|
|Dale Murphy (13)||73||12.6|
|Rafael Palmeiro (1)||64||11.0|
|Juan Gonzalez (1)||30||5.2|
|Harold Baines (5)||28||4.8|
|John Franco (1)||27||4.6|
|Kevin Brown (1)||12||2.1|
|Tino Martinez (1)||6||1.0|
|Marquis Grissom (1)||4||0.7|
|Al Leiter (1)||4||0.7|
|John Olerud (1)||4||0.7|
|B.J. Surhoff (1)||2||0.3|
|Bret Boone (1)||1||0.2|
|Benito Santiago (1)||1||0.2|
|Carlos Baerga (1)||0||0|
|Lenny Harris (1)||0||0|
|Bobby Higginson (1)||0||0|
|Charles Johnson (1)||0||0|
|Raul Mondesi (1)||0||0|
|Kirk Rueter (1)||0||0|
Three of Alomar's 10 Gold Glove Awards came in his three years with the Indians. He placed third in American League Most Valuable Player Award balloting in 1999 and fourth two years later. So if he had been playing with indifference, then -- wow! -- what would he have done if he had been fully motivated?
Alomar's skill was never an issue. And his baseball savvy, a byproduct of his father's tutoring, was second to none. Not only could Alomar consider or envision plays other couldn't, he could execute them as well. Then-Padres general manager Joe McIlvaine said Alomar was "Dr. J in cleats."
Alomar was one of the few everyday players who prompted anticipation in the stands.
"You might see something you've never seen before," Tim McCarver once said, "and something you might never see again."
Alomar's patented dive/slide to his left was akin to a Tony Gwynn single through the left side; it was so spectacular and effective, the sense was that he invented -- and copyrighted -- it. Gwynn once said how pleased he was that Alomar was on the right side.
"That guy might have made me a pull hitter if he was out there [at shortstop]," Gwynn said.
It was similar with Blyleven's curve; the curve was his calling card. Many others threw Uncle Charlies. His was a Lord Charles. Others threw killer breaking balls, but there were other components in their pitching -- Doc, Sandy and Nolie had exceptional fastballs to complement their exceptional curves, Smoltz's velocity and slider made for the nastiest of tandems. And any pitch Gibson threw carried a load of meanness and menace that made more it effective.
Blyleven was hardly a one-pitch pitcher, but his secondary pitches were just that. Hitters stepped into the box, expecting the curve as they expected the knuckler from Niekro or the cutter from Mo.
"It breaks so sharp," Bill Madlock, Blyleven's teammates with the Pirates, said in 1979, "that he can get away with throwing it nine times out of 10."
Four years after Koufax put his No. 2 in mothballs, Blyleven's 2 was No. 1. No one bent it like Bert then. Blyleven had learned his hook indirectly from Koufax. As a child in Southern California, he listened often and intently to Vin Scully's play by play of Dodgers games and then developed his own fall-off-the-table curve.
Moreover, Blyleven threw two curves, one across the seams; Koufax, Bob Feller and few others mastered the cross-seams curve.
The curve either accomplished or set up most of Blyleven's 3,701 strikeouts (fifth most in history) and was primarily responsible for his 60 shutouts and 287 victories. It was his 250 losses that threw a curve at the electorate. Merely nine pitchers -- including Ryan, Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton and Phil Niekro -- lost more. Ryan and Sutton won 37 more than Blyleven, Niekro won 31 more, Perry 27 more.
But it is the Hall of Fame, is it not? Ryan had strikeout and no-hitter fame, Niekro threw the knuckler, Gaylord the spitter. There was distinction in their reputations.
Blyleven's distinction was his curve. The last one broke late, 14 years after he let it go.
It bent just enough and caught the corner in Cooperstown.
Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.