SANDY ALOMAR SR. played for the Yankees in the mid-1970s. He used to bring his sons to the ballpark with him. That was the first time Pat Gillick, then New York's scouting coordinator, saw Roberto Alomar.
In 1990, when Gillick was general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, he traded Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez to the San Diego Padres for Robbie Alomar and Joe Carter in a blockbuster deal. He still laughs when he tells the story of how McGriff was his wife's favorite player and Doris scolded him and told him to get back from the winter meetings before he screwed up the team any further; she relented somewhat after Alomar played an integral role in the Jays' world championships in 1992 and '93.
Gillick became general manager of the Baltimore Orioles in November 1995. Less than a month later, Alomar signed with the O's as a free agent. There were two playoff appearances in their three seasons together there. Baltimore hasn't been to the postseason since.
On July 24, their paths will cross again. Gillick, who helped put the finishing touches on a Phillies roster that resulted in just the second World Series title in franchise history in 2008, will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum as an executive after being elected by the Veterans Committee in December. He will be joined on the stage in Cooperstown, N.Y., by 12-time All-Star Alomar and 287-game winner Bert Blyleven, who were voted in yesterday by 10-year members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Alomar received 90 percent of the record 581 ballots cast, well above the 75 percent needed for enshrinement, in his second year of eligibility. Blyleven, in his 14th and next-to-last chance, received 79.7 percent after falling just short a year ago.
The only other players who received even half the votes were former Reds shortstop Barry Larkin (62.1 percent) and workhorse righthander Jack Morris (53.5 percent).
Alomar probably missed out on being a first-ballot Hall of Famer because of the infamous incident during which he spit at umpire John Hirschbeck during an argument on Sept. 27, 1996. The two later reconciled and became friends.
"I just look at him as a player. And he was one of the most instinctive players I've seen," Gillick said in a phone interview yesterday. "It's like Wayne Gretzky always knowing where the puck was. He always knew where the ball was and where the fielders were supposed to be and where the runners were. Consequently, that's what made him the special player that he was. He was able to anticipate what was going to happen. He was just a beautiful player to watch.
"He was a complete player, one of those special players. He was just one of those guys. Some players are mechanical. He just flowed. It was unbelievable."
Said Alomar, on a conference call after the announcement: "Pat Gillick has been a part of my life for many years. When I was 16 years old, he tried to sign me for the Toronto Blue Jays, but I signed with the Padres instead. Then he traded for me and gave me an opportunity to play. Pat has been a mentor to me. It will be an honor to go into the Hall of Fame at the same time he does."
Alomar was a switch-hitting second baseman with a .300 career average, 210 homers, 474 stolen bases, a .371 on-base percentage and a .443 slugging percentage.
Blyleven, perhaps tongue in cheek, thanked the voters for "finally getting it right" and admitted that the long wait had been frustrating at times. He said that his candidacy was probably helped by the fact that some of his secondary statistics - 60 shutouts, 242 complete games - are now weighted more heavily than they might have been even a decade ago.
"You can't control wins as a pitcher," he said. "Early in my career with the Minnesota Twins, I lost a lot of close ballgames. And I thought it was my fault for giving up one or two runs. I think I learned from that and that's why I had [so many] shutouts."
Born in Holland, his family first moved to Canada and then the United States. He was known for a devastating curveball, which he taught himself after listening to Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett describe Sandy Koufax on Dodgers broadcasts while growing up in Southern California.
"I'd go out and throw it and throw it and throw it against a cinder-block wall until I could control it," he said. "I could throw it for a strike on any count."
Inevitably, these elections will be seen as a referendum on the so-called steroid era. Mark McGwire, in his fifth year of eligibility, saw his support drop from 23.7 to 19.8 percent. Rafael Palmeiro was named on just 11 percent of the ballots in his first year despite 569 career home runs and 3,020 hits. Juan Gonzalez got just 5.2 percent of the vote despite 434 career homers.
That doesn't explain, however, why a player like McGriff got just 17.9 percent despite 493 homers and having never been linked to steroid use.
The two newest Hall of Famers seemed to have differing views on the topic yesterday, with Blyleven more of a hardliner toward those who have used performance-enhancing substances.
He said he wasn't surprised that players fingered in the Mitchell Report have fared so poorly. "Guys cheated," he said. "They cheated themselves and their teammates. The game of baseball is to be played clean."
Alomar was more circumspect. "I think it's tough to analyze and talk about," he said. "Raffy and Mark McGwire were excellent ballplayers. They have the numbers. I hope someday they get in. It is what it is, but it's not something I really like to mention or talk about."
It's a subject that's not going to go away any time soon, though.
In the meantime, Alomar and Blyleven are the newest Hall of Famers, and a reminder of the amazing ties that bind baseball's generations. And not just the Gillick connection.
By 1977, Sandy Sr. had moved on to the Texas Rangers. Blyleven was in his second and final year with the team, where he'd pitch a no-hitter in his final start before being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
And during that long, hot summer, Blyleven's sons would frolic on a back field at the old Arlington Stadium with Roberto and Sandy Alomar Jr. *