Hall of Fame Weekend update: A ceremony of tears, humor, and the bizarre

Pat Gillick supplied some humility, Roberto Alomar provided poignancy, and Bert Blyleven brought home the humor as the Hall of Fame officially expanded by three on Sunday afternoon.

The three men delivered a trio of solid speeches at the 2011 induction ceremony, which was attended by a few thousand fans on a sunny and warm but not unbearably hot afternoon at the Clark Sports Center. Large contingents of fans from Puerto Rico and Canada, both groups sharing the common bond of Mr. Alomar, gave Cooperstown an international flavor on induction day.

I’ve written before about the qualifications of all three men. In my mind, there’s no doubt that all three belong among the 295 members of the Hall of Fame. Gillick was the leader of three world championship teams; Alomar was arguably the game’s best second baseman of the 1990s; and Blyleven was a durable and intimidating workhorse who compiled an underrated postseason resume.

To their credit, the three new Hall of Famers spent little time talking about themselves, instead giving credit to others who helped them along the way.

Gillick told an interesting story from his days with the Yankees, detailing how he pursued amateur first baseman Willie Upshaw, who was eventually drafted by New York. The Yankees beat out the Braves—the other team that wanted Upshaw—who had been scouted by Atlanta’s Al LaMacchia.

After drafting Upshaw, the Yankees faced a signability problem; Upshaw was considering a career in football. Gillick asked LaMacchia to accompany him on a visit to Upshaw’s home, to see if he might be able to help talk Upshaw into choosing baseball.

Realizing the Braves no longer had a chance at Upshaw, LaMacchia graciously agreed to join Gillick and did his part in helping steer Upshaw toward baseball. As Gillick pointed out, the story typified the spirit of cooperation that existed in the game in the mid-1970s.

Alomar opened his speech by speaking in Spanish, as he directly addressed the many native Puerto Ricans in the crowd. He thanked the fans for their support, spoke of his pride in being Puerto Rican, and acknowledged the contributions of the two previous Puerto Rican inductees, Orlando Cepeda and Roberto Clemente. It was perhaps the most poignant moment of the entire ceremony.

And then there was Blyleven, who wrapped up the afternoon with humor, as he told a story of how he first got called up to the Twins. Blyleven was told to report directly to manager Bill Rigney. So that’s what he did, waking up Rigney in his hotel room in the middle of the night. Upset with the overeager rookie, Rigney informed Blyleven that the most appropriate thing to do next would be to wake up each and every one of his teammates.

Known as the consummate prankster, Blyleven was on his best behavior while at the podium. “I know that a lot of you are probably waiting for me to do something silly or stupid,“ Blyleven told the crowd. “Well, not today. But another day, for sure. No hot foots and no mooning.” And thank goodness for that.

Blyleven provided some serious moments, too. He offered prayers of support for Gary Carter in his ongoing battle with brain cancer. And in another classy gesture, he paid homage to his late Pirates manager Chuck Tanner, with whom he had a major disagreement during the 1980 season, prompting Blyleven to leave the team for two weeks.

Thirty one years later, Blyleven took time to credit Tanner, along with other departed influences like Harmon Killebrew, Willie Stargell, Kirby Puckett, and Bob Feller, for having a positive impact on his career. Well done, Bert.

All in all, it was a solid ceremony, attended by 47 returning Hall of Famers on the induction stage. (Ernie Banks was the one scheduled Hall of Famer who did not appear on stage, for reasons that were not announced.)

The crowd also featured a number of former major leaguers, many of whom played with Blyleven. The ex-Twins included Jim Kaat and Jim Perry (veteran members of Minnesota’s rotation at the start of Byleven’s career), three-time AL batting champion Tony Oliva (whom Blyleven championed for the Hall during his speech), and Phil Roof (one of Bert’s early catchers in Minnesota).

Alomar had his supporters, too, principally his father, ex-Angel and Yankee Sandy Alomar, Sr., and his brother, Sandy Alomar, Jr., Roberto’s teammate during his years with the Indians.

The ceremony also featured a bizarre moment. As Hall of Fame chairman Jane Forbes Clark addressed the crowd, two members of the media nearly came to blows. A writer, whom I was unable to identify, began yelling at a Spanish language broadcaster for continuing to do his live show while Clark spoke. He asked the broadcaster to stop talking before summoning one of the Hall of Fame’s public relations staff.

The broadcaster eventually stopped the broadcast, approached the writer, and berated him for interrupting his program. The broadcaster then lunged at the writer, only to be pulled back by another media member.

Of all the years I’ve covered events for radio and print, I’ve never seen anything like it: Two sports journalists coming within whiskers of a fistfight. Who says the Hall of Fame induction ceremony is predictable and scripted? Not on this Sunday.

Bruce Markusen has authored seven baseball books, including biographies of Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda and Ted Williams, and A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, which was awarded SABR's Seymour Medal.
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Bruce Markusen
11 years ago

Thanks, Dave.

One footnote to yesterday’s proceedings. In today’s NY Post, Kevin Kernan has an article in which he says the Hall of Fame is considering the reduction of the five-year waiting period to only three years. This is the first I’ve heard of this, but if it’s true, this would be a major development.

Dave Studeman
11 years ago

Thanks a lot for the update, Bruce.  Always lots of fun in the “pressbox.”