Sunday July 24th, 2011

Five thoughts on Sunday's Hall of Fame induction of second baseman Roberto Alomar, starting pitcher Bert Blyleven and general manager Pat Gillick:

1. Baseball's father-son story continues. The bond between fathers and sons has long been celebrated in the game and especially in the last few weeks, with the sad but touching story of the Rangers fan who died while trying to catch a baseball for his son; Tigers catcher Alex Avila made his first All-Star team with his father as the club's assistant general manager; the Yankees fan who caught the home run that was Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit was immediately grabbed by his father for protection; and New York's Robinson Cano winning the Home Run Derby with his father, Jose, as his chosen pitcher.

Sunday's induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., which was broadcasted on the MLB Network, was no different. In his speech, Alomar noted several of the greats who came before him at second base but said he had seen no better player at the position than his father, former big-leaguer Sandy Alomar. "Everything I know about the game of baseball I learned from my dad," Roberto said in his televised remarks.

Blyleven said how much he'd have loved it if his father, who passed away in 2004, could have been in attendance. His father learned the sport of baseball in order to teach it to his son, and the two would listen to Vin Scully broadcast Dodgers games on the radio. Blyleven said his dad remembered an interview Scully did with Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax -- who was sitting on stage as the story was told -- in with the pitcher said no young boy should throw curveballs before he was 13 or 14, so Bert Blyleven was forbidden from doing so but then tried to copy Koufax's curve, or "the drop," as Scully often called it.

GALLERY: Roberto Alomar through the years | Bert Blyleven

Both player inductees and Gillick thanked the rest of their families profusely, too. Alomar repeatedly referred to his brother, Sandy Alomar Jr., also a former big-leaguer, as his "best friend" and thanked his sister for taking care of their mother while the men in the family were playing baseball in the States. Blyleven thanked his mother, his many siblings, children and wife, Gayle. Gillick, whose background is in scouting, joked that his best work came when he met his future wife at a hotel while looking for ballplayers in the Dominican Republic.

2. The Class of 2011 is distinctly international. Gillick's Blue Jays teams, which won championships in 1992 and '93, were the first World Series-winning teams from outside the U.S. Alomar, a native of Puerto Rico, and Blyleven, of the Netherlands, were both born outside the continental United States. Alomar is the third Puerto Rican elected, and Blyleven is the first Dutch-born player.

The careers of Alomar and Gillick are particularly intertwined outside the States. Gillick acknowledged Saturday that he scouted Alomar at a very young age in Puerto Rico, only to lose him to the Padres. But Gillick later made the blockbuster trade that brought Alomar to Toronto for five of his most memorable seasons, including the aforementioned World Series titles. That's why Alomar is the first player to enter the Hall with a Blue Jays hat on his plaque's cap.

Blyleven has his own connection to Canada. After his parents left the Netherlands, they first immigrated to Canada, where they lived for four years before moving to the U.S.

Alomar opened his Hall speech in Spanish in honor of all the baseball fans from Puerto Rico who made the trip to upstate New York and in celebration of joining Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda as Hall of Famers from the tiny Caribbean island.

3. These three represent scarce positions in the Hall of Fame. Second baseman and general managers historically haven't had strong representation in the Hall, and recently starting pitchers haven't had many new members either.

For decades second basemen weren't expected to be the offensive producers needed for Hall consideration. The absence of GMs is a little harder to explain, but among the possibilities are that not many stayed in the role long enough or won consistently enough or were appreciated enough to receive recognition. Recent starting pitchers to hit the Hall ballot pitched through both the Steroid Era, which skewed ERAs and other stats, and through an era of ever-increasing specialization and protection, meaning starters logged fewer innings, thus deflating career numbers.

Alomar joins Ryne Sandberg (2005), Joe Morgan (1990) and Jackie Robinson (1962) as the only second basemen to be voted in by the writers in the last 62 years, joining a wave of second basemen from the first half of the 20th century: Nap Lajoie (1937), Eddie Collins (1939), Rogers Hornsby (1942), Frankie Frisch (1947) and Charlie Gehringer (1949). Ten more second-base inductees were either elected by the Veterans' Committee or were Negro League players.

CORCORAN: Ranking Alomar among game's greatest second baseman

Gillick is only the fourth executive whose career was primarily as general manager, joining Ed Barrow, Branch Rickey and George Weiss.

Though there is no overall shortage of starters in the Hall, Blyleven is the first major-league starting pitcher to be inducted since Nolan Ryan in 1999, joining four Negro League pitchers and three relievers who have entered the Hall since Ryan.

The three also reflect the increasingly transient nature of the game. Blyleven pitched for five teams: the Twins, Indians, Angels, Pirates and Rangers. Gillick worked for six organizations, and four of them as a GM (Blue Jays, Orioles, Mariners and Phillies). Alomar played for seven teams, none for longer than his five seasons with the Blue Jays but also suiting up for the Padres, Indians, Orioles, Mets, White Sox and Diamondbacks.

4. The players showed only class and humility despite enduring what could have been perceived as snubs. Alomar's résumé of Gold Gloves (10), All-Star appearances (12) and Silver Sluggers (four), not to mention his .300 average and 210 home runs, suggest he could have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Blyleven ranks fifth all-time in strikeouts (3,701) and ninth in shutouts (60) and won 287 games, but he had to wait until his 14th ballot for induction.

That Alomar jumped from 73.7 percent to 90.0 percent of votes on the writers' ballot has led many to speculate that his well-publicized incident in which he spat on an umpire kept him out for a year as punishment; Blyleven also lost 250 games and made only two All-Star teams meaning that some voters regarded him as a borderline candidate who merely accumulated numbers over a long career rather than dominated the game.

Yet neither dwelled on or even mentioned their frustrations over having been previously omitted and were only gracious about having been elected. After all, there's no tier system within the Hall -- once a Hall of Famer, always a Hall of Famer.

5. And, of course, there were the stories. Gillick told stories about his scouting days when he'd use assumed names at hotels and climb up a tree with a pair of binoculars in order to watch a player, so as not to attract attention from scouts of other teams. But while the scouts competed hard, there was also a collegial nature in which they supported each other, such as when Gillick, then with the Yankees, recruited a Braves scout -- who had been competing for the same player -- to visit Willie Upshaw, one of his club's draft selections, and help convince him to choose baseball over football because it was the right decision for the player and his family.

Blyleven, whose baseball life has enjoyed a second boost of stardom due to his work as a Twins broadcaster, cracked a few jokes about his regular in-game gimmick of circling fans. After Alomar had apologized to the attendees that English wasn't his native language, Blyleven cracked early his remarks, "A lot of people say that English is my second language, too."

Blyleven also recalled his first trip to the majors when, as a 19-year-old, he was told to travel to meet the Twins and report to manager Bill Rigney "immediately," a word he took to heart, as he knocked on his manager's hotel door at 2 a.m. Rigney then instructed Blyleven to greet all his teammates the same way before returning -- and Blyleven noted with a smile that he had trouble doing so, as few were in their rooms, apparently breaking curfew and his report of this information cost him friends.

He also recounted how, on his way to the bullpen to warm up before his first start, his manager called him aside and asked if he was nervous. Blyleven eventually admitted that he was, at which point Rigney explained that in the majors, players wear their athletic supporters on the inside of their uniforms, not the outside.

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