Inductees relish Hall of Fame fans, fun, fraternity
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The morning after, the three inductees all sported their new gold-and-black inlaid Hall of Fame rings. Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven and Pat Gillick were asked to bunch their fists together for a photo opportunity before embarking on a final question-and-answer session with fans inside the Clark Sports Center."This is such a small fraternity," Blyleven told MLB.com on Monday morning. "There are only so many Hall of Famers, and to see Bobby Doerr, Ralph Kiner and Bill Mazeroski, to sit down at the table, have dinner with them ... The camaraderie among the guys is incredible." The Class of 2011 went out just as it came in -- all smiles. Alomar and Blyleven were elected last January by eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Gillick was elected late last year by the 16-member Veterans Committee, which voted only on those whose careers spanned the post-expansion era. To get an idea of how exclusive this particular club is, consider that there are only 295 people in the Hall, 205 of them players, 111 elected by the BBWAA. That's a very small percentage of the more than 17,000 players who have had careers in Major League Baseball. Gillick, for instance, was only the 32nd executive, and the first general manager in 40 years, to be inducted. George Weiss of the Yankees was the last, in 1971. Blyleven was the first starting pitcher since Nolan Ryan in 1999, and Alomar the first second baseman since Ryne Sandberg in 2005.
"This was even more than I expected," said Gillick, who built World Series winners in Toronto (1992 and '93) and Philadelphia (2008). "It was a wonderful weekend. You can see how much passion the members of the Hall of Fame have, sitting down with the people who've already been inducted, how much passion and love they have for the game. Once I got through my speech, it was completely enjoyable."On Sunday, an estimated crowd of 17,500, many of them waving Puerto Rican and Canadian flags, watched the induction ceremonies along with countless more who tuned in via MLB Network and MLB.com. They mostly came to see Alomar, with a huge contingent of fans in town from Toronto and many more from his own hometown of Salinas, Puerto Rico. Twins fans came out in abundance to honor Blyleven, too. Blyleven played for five teams, including the Twins twice. He went in wearing a Twins cap and had his No. 28 retired a little more than a week ago at Target Field. Alomar, who Gillick acquired for the Blue Jays in a 1990 mega trade with the Padres, was the first player to enter the Hall with a Blue Jays logo engraved on his plaque. For Robbie, the honors are still to come. His No. 12 is scheduled to be retired Sunday at Rogers Centre. "What impressed me the most was the support I got from the crowd -- the people who came here from Canada and from my hometown of Salinas," Alomar said on Monday. "There were so many people from Salinas, too many to count. Only four Major League players have come from Salinas, so this is a real honor." Three of the four are the Alomars: Roberto, his father Sandy Sr. and brother Sandy Jr., who were both there on Sunday. The other is Ricky Ledee, who played left field for the Yankees on their World Series championship teams of 1998 and '99. With the help of his mother, Maria, the younger Alomar said he wrote most of his own speech in Spanish, subsequently translating a major part of it into English before presenting it on Sunday. After opening in Spanish, Alomar asked the crowd to indulge him with patience because "English is my second language." Following Alomar, and not to be outdone, the Dutch-born Blyleven turned to Alomar early in his own speech and quipped: "Don't worry Robbie, English is my second language, too." That byplay between Alomar and Blyleven was a big part of the weekend. During Saturday's pre-induction media conference, a member of the Latino media asked Alomar a question in Spanish. "Hey, Robbie, let me take that one," Blyleven joked. His answer was a single word: "Si!" That's the camaraderie among the group that Blyleven was talking about. In the hotel lobby at the Otesaga or out on the old porch with a sweeping view of the lake, one could hear the constant patter of laughter generated by the returning Hall of Famers, 47 of them this weekend. Alomar, Blyleven and Gillick were once all new kids in town. No longer. In an instant, with their gleaming rings, they are full-fledged members of this exclusive fraternity. "Sometimes it's hard to put things into words," Blyleven said in the aftermath. Even for you, he was asked? "Well, I'll find the right words." He always does.
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.