Anticipation, excitement for Hall inductions
Alomar, Blyleven, Gillick prepared to enter Cooperstown shrine
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Once again the streets of this tiny hamlet on the shores of Otsego Lake in upstate New York are alive with the sounds of baseball fans honoring the past and present.Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven and Pat Gillick make up the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Class of 2011. Sunday's annual induction ceremony behind the Clark Sports Center, which is about a mile from the famous red-brick museum, will be broadcast live on MLB.com and MLB Network beginning at 11:30 a.m. ET. "It's an honor to be here and to share this beautiful time with my friends and family," said Alomar, during a pre-induction ceremony with the two other inductees inside the Clark Sports Center on Saturday. "It's great to be going in with [Gillick], the man who brought me to the Blue Jays." This past January, Alomar -- a 12-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove-winning second baseman -- was named on 90 percent of the ballots filed by eligible members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, or 523 of the record 581 cast. That was good for the third-highest vote total in history. It was his second time on the ballot and he will be the third native of Puerto Rico to be inducted behind Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda. Blyleven, the first Dutch-born Hall inductee, was named on 79.7 percent of the ballots, receiving 463 votes. It was his 14th and next-to-last year on the writers' ballot. A candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote to gain election. The threshold for election this year was 436 votes.
Blyleven was a late arrival to the media conference after playing a round of golf with his brother, son and brother-in-law. But so far he's in awe of the experience."Being out on the course, you see Reggie Jackson, you see Jim Rice and Andre Dawson," Blyleven said. "Being around guys like that, I'm very honored. I know it took 14 years, but it's such a small fraternity and there are so many great players. I'm very, very honored to be part of that right now." A year ago, the two made history, as Blyleven missed election by five votes and Alomar missed by eight. In 2010, Blyleven had 74.21 percent of the vote and Alomar 73.65 percent. Dawson was the only one who surpassed the 75-percent threshold. Never before had two players missed in a single year by so slim a margin. Hall of Fame history leaned heavily toward Alomar and Blyleven earning nods this year. Including the new inductees, all 23 of the previous players to receive 70-74.9 percent of the vote in a given election were eventually granted admission into the Hall, 19 by the BBWAA the following year. "Only God knows when you're going to go in," Alomar said. "Maybe last year I wasn't fated to go in, and this was the year. It was an honor to get that many votes. I never look back to what happened last year. I'm looking forward to what's going to happen this year, and I'm so very happy about it." Blyleven finished with 287 wins, 13 short of what is the magical line for first-ballot election. Perhaps that alone delayed his election for more than a decade. He also had 3,701 strikeouts, which is good for fifth on the all-time list, and 60 shutouts, good for ninth. "Baseball, of course, is all about numbers," Blyleven said. "There are certain numbers that are magic numbers. We just saw Derek Jeter get his 3,000th hit. If he had ended his career at 2,999, would he not be a Hall of Famer? I don't think writers would say, 'No.' I think I looked at my career the same way. I never considered myself a first-time inductee, but I did think I'd get in because of my overall numbers." Gillick, the general manager who created World Series winners in Toronto in 1992-93 and Philadelphia in 2008 and playoff teams during tenures in Baltimore and Seattle, was the sole candidate elected by a 16-member post-expansion Veterans committee. Gillick is the 32nd executive to be elected to the Hall and the first GM since George Weiss in 1971. Weiss was the architect of the Yankees teams that won 10 American League pennants and seven World Series from 1949-60. Gillick said that he believes his most recent success with the Phillies had a lot to do with his induction. "Everything we accomplished along the way -- and when I say we, I mean everyone we work with as far as the players, staff on the field, scouting, player development -- everything you do plays a part," he said. "But people have short memories. It was 18 or 19 years ago since you won a World Series. Now you come to 2008, and you win it again. It validates what you did years ago." Alomar played for seven teams, including the World Series-winning Blue Jays put together by Gillick, who obtained him and Joe Carter in 1990 from the Padres for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez. He'll have his No. 12 retired by the Blue Jays in a ceremony at Rogers Centre on July 13. Blyleven, the right-handed pitcher with a record of 287-250, played for five teams, including the Twins twice. Blyleven was a member of the "We are Family" Pirates that won the 1979 World Series, as well as the Twins squad that won the 1987 World Series. A long-time broadcaster for the Twins, Blyleven's No. 28 was retired at Target Field on Saturday. He will be the first starting pitcher to go into the Hall since Nolan Ryan in 1999. Blyleven will be portrayed wearing a Twins cap on his plaque, and Alomar will be the first player to go in wearing a Blue Jays cap. They will be among a group of 295 players, umpires, managers and executives in the Hall of Fame, 111 of them players elected by the BBWAA. Alomar, one of the greatest defensive second basemen in history and a fabulous switch-hitter, had 2,724 hits, 210 homers, 1,134 RBIs, 474 stolen bases and a .300 average in 2,379 games. He's the first second baseman to be elected since Ryne Sandberg in 2005. "I'll tell you, in the last 25 years I haven't seen anybody who can do anything at second base like Robbie Alomar did," said Gillick, who acquired him a second time as a free agent in 1995, shortly after taking over in Baltimore. "There are routine plays, phenomenal plays and instinctive plays that he made that I haven't seen anybody in 25 years make. He's a pretty spectacular offensive and defensive player, and I don't think we ever would have gone to the World Series in '92 [without him]."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.