COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Roberto Alomar stared at the adoring crowd and was nearly rendered speechless, the tawdry episode of his stellar career long since forgotten. Bert Blyleven was more composed but moved nonetheless as he stared at his 85-year-old mother and reminisced about his late father.
Both men were inducted Sunday into the Baseball Hall of Fame along with front-office guru Pat Gillick.
Speaking first in his native Spanish, Alomar, the third Puerto Rican player to be enshrined, along with Orlando Cepeda and Roberto Clemente, said he felt proud to be a Puerto Rican.
“I always played for my island,” Alomar said, dozens of Puerto Rican flags blowing in a gentle breeze on a sunny afternoon. “It is a true blessing to be able to share this moment with all of you. I have you in my heart. I am standing here today because of the fan support.
“To my family, to my fans, to all the Puerto Rican people… and the game of baseball, you are and will always be my life and my love.”
The switch-hitting Alomar won a record 10 Gold Gloves at second base, was a 12-time All-Star and a career .300 hitter. Full of baseball smarts and grace, he’s also linked with one of the game’s most forgettable moments - he spit on umpire John Hirschbeck during an argument in 1996.
Alomar, a member of the Toronto Blue Jays’ World Series championship teams in 1992 and 1993, is the first player to enter the Hall of Fame wearing a Blue Jays cap and just the 20th second baseman to be inducted.
Blyleven, the first Dutch-born player to be enshrined, thanked his parents for the drive and determination he needed to succeed. Drafted by Minnesota in the third round of the 1969 amateur draft, he became the youngest pitcher in the majors when the Twins called him up June 2, 1970, after just 21 minor league starts.
Blyleven, whose amazing curveball frustrated batters in his 22-year career, finished with 287 wins, 3,701 strikeouts, 60 shutouts and a pair of World Series rings - in 1979 with the Pittsburgh Pirates and 1987 in his second stint with the Twins.
Blyleven’s father, who died of Parkinson’s in 2004, fell in love with baseball and the Dodgers after the family moved to Southern California in the late 1950s.
“I wish he was here,” Blyleven said. “But you know, Mom, I know he’s up there looking down right now.”
Baseball has lost several giants of the game in recent years, and Blyleven remembered the ones that helped him along the way.
“I know in my heart that Harmon Killebrew, Willie Stargell, Bob Feller, Chuck Tanner and Kirby Puckett are looking down at all of us right now,” Blyleven said, adding a special thought for Hall of Famer Gary Carter, who’s battling brain cancer. “Gary, keep battling the way that you always have.”
Gillick, a left-handed pitcher in college, said he knew he had to find another way to stay in the game after five years in the minor leagues.
He found it in the front offices of four major league teams, winning 1992 and 1993 titles with Toronto and a 2008 title with Philadelphia.
Gillick’s teams posted winning records in 20 of his 27 seasons as a general manager and advanced to the postseason 11 times.
“It was pretty clear my arm wasn’t going to get me to the majors,” Gillick said. “Then I guess luck took over.”