COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — The Toronto Blue Jays have finally built a nest in Cooperstown.
Roberto Alomar and Pat Gillick were given plaques beside one another in the Baseball Hall of Fame after getting inducted as part of the same class on a scorching Sunday afternoon. It was only fitting they end up side-by-side as the inscription on each of their memorials included a reference to the consecutive World Series titles they won together in Toronto in 1992 and ’93.
Looking sharp in a blue suit and light blue tie, Alomar spoke passionately about the five seasons he spent as a member of the Blue Jays during his acceptance speech.
“My time in Toronto was the best of my career,” said Alomar. “It was with Toronto that we won two World Series together — you guys embraced me from Day 1. You were with me through ups and downs and I am so proud to represent you here in Cooperstown as the first Blue Jay inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. “Thank you for sharing this incredible moment in my life with me. I consider the Toronto Blue Jays organization an extension of my own family.”
The four other Hall of Famers who once played for the Blue Jays — Phil Niekro, Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield and Rickey Henderson — were all on stage Sunday as part of a group of 47 returning members. However, each of those men had a career defined by his time in another city and carries a different logo on his plaque.
Alomar is the first to carry the team’s old-school logo featuring a profile of a Blue Jay and a small Maple Leaf.
For his part, Gillick made it clear that he’d also want to be wearing a Toronto cap if executives were honoured in the same manner as players. His graceful acceptance speech included numerous references to the Blue Jays, a team he joined prior to the expansion season of 1977 and helped build into a powerhouse.
“We lived outside Atlanta when the call came to consider working for an expansion club in Toronto,” said Gillick. “We thought it would be a great new challenge, accepted it and ended up living 30 years in that beautiful Canadian city. For a baseball person, it was a dream come true — imagine being able to build a team from scratch in a city where everyone was excited about finally having a major-league team.”
Former Minnesota Twins pitcher Bert Blyleven was also inducted alongside Alomar and Gillick.
There was a distinct Canadian feel to an outdoor ceremony held before thousands of people in the picturesque foothills of the Catskill Mountains. A good chunk of the crowd came dressed in Blue Jays gear and chanted “Robbie! Robbie!” during Alomar’s acceptance speech.
Alomar delivered part of his address in Spanish — a tribute to his Puerto Rican roots — and felt more anxious about talking in front of a crowd than he did playing in front of one.
“I did not know how nervous I would be standing here in front of all of you today,” he said. “I’m supposed to be here making a speech for you, but suddenly I feel speechless. I played the game of baseball in front of thousands of people all my life, but I must say that I’d rather be playing the game than be doing a speech today here.”
Blue Jays president Paul Beeston and former manager Cito Gaston earned special mentions from Alomar, who saved his most heartfelt words for his family. Father Sandy Alomar Sr. and brother Sandy Alomar Jr. — both former major-leaguers themselves — sat front and centre as part of a large contingent of friends and family.
It was a proud moment for all of them.
“I don’t think that it can get any better,” said Sandy Alomar Sr. “This is the top of the game. Fortunately for us, Robbie made it.”
A spot in the Baseball Hall is arguably the toughest to earn in all of professional spots. Of the roughly 17,000 men who have played in the majors, Alomar and Blyleven are just the 204th and 205th players to be welcomed to Cooperstown.
As only the fourth general manager to be inducted, Gillick’s journey was equally as tough.
“I am here because nearly 50 years ago I realized that my pitching arm was not going to get me to the major leagues,” said Gillick. “I had a good run in college and the minors but it was pretty clear my arm wasn’t going to get me to the majors so I knew I had to find another way.”
He built teams that qualified for the post-season 11 times in 27 years and picked up a third World Series title with Philadelphia in 2008.
Gillick reflected on a life spent in baseball throughout his speech and shared a nice anecdote that highlighted how good that life can be. During the pursuit of free-agent prospect Willie Upshaw in the early 1970s, he and rival scout Al LaMacchia set aside their different agendas and worked in tandem to convince Upshaw to choose baseball over football.
Upshaw went on to spend 10 years in the major leagues and continues to work as a manager to this day.
“That’s just how we all operated back then,” said Gillick. “We fought like heck for every player and every advantage, but we knew we were part of something bigger than ourselves. To me, that’s what baseball is all about, and I hope it’s always what baseball is all about.
“And there’s a nice side to the story: In 1976 when I went to Toronto, we needed two special assistants for the GM and I called Al (LaMacchia) with the Braves and offered him the job. He was one of our vice-presidents during the World Series of ’92 and ’93.”