COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Bert Blyleven knows what took him to where he’s been and where he’s headed – his heritage.
“I’m Dutch, I’m stubborn. I think it’s the stubbornness, the consistency. You take the good with the bad,” said the 60-year-old Blyleven, the first player born in the Netherlands to earn Major League Baseball’s highest honor, election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. “I came up at a young age. I retired at an old age. I was one of only three pitchers to win a game before their 20th (birthday) and after their 40th. It’s just loving a game that you felt that you could compete at the highest level.”
Blyleven, who won 287 games in a 22-year major league career, will be inducted today with infielder Roberto Alomar and front-office guru Pat Gillick.
“I’m going to be in awe,” Blyleven said. “We all have dreams as kids. You don’t know where it’s going to head.”
Also to be honored in the ceremony at Doubleday Field are: Dave Van Horne, longtime play-by-play man for the Montreal Expos and Florida Marlins, who on Saturday was given the Ford C. Frick Award for major contributions to baseball broadcasting; Philadelphia Daily News sports writer and columnist Bill Conlin, winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing; and Roland Hemond, who received the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award.
The awards ceremony will feature a performance by singer/songwriter Terry Cashman, whose classic “Talkin’ Baseball (Willie, Mickey and The Duke)” released 30 years ago paid homage to the three great New York center fielders of the 1950s.
Though he lost 250 games, Blyleven threw 60 shutouts (ninth all time) and logged 242 complete games, finishing his career in 1992 with 3,701 strikeouts (fifth all time). He also made 685 starts (11th all time) and was 3-0 in league championship series play and 2-1 in World Series games.
Born in 1951 in Zeist, Netherlands, his parents, Joe and Jenny, moved the family to Canada two years later.
The family stayed for four years before moving to Southern California, where Blyleven’s uncle had settled. The Blylevens lived in the Los Angeles suburb of Paramount, then moved to Garden Grove when he was in third grade.
“The friends that I started hanging out with played Little League. I didn’t know what it was,” Blyleven said. “I started out as a catcher at about 10 years old. My manager I guess realized that I was throwing the ball back harder to the pitcher than he was throwing to me, so he said, ‘Would you like to pitch?’ And I said, ‘Sure.’ So I tried it and fell in love with it.”
Alomar, born into a baseball family – his father, Sandy, was an infielder who played 15 years in the major leagues and his older brother, Sandy Jr., forged a 20-year big-league career as a catcher – grew up in the presence of big leaguers. Instead of horsing around in the dugout as a kid, he absorbed everything he saw and heard at the ballpark.
That paid off when he signed in 1985 with the San Diego Padres as a 17-year-old. Three years later, on April 22, 1988, Alomar made his major league debut memorable when he singled off future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan in his first at-bat in the majors.
Two years later, Alomar was an All-Star for the first time, and that’s when Pat Gillick, general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, stepped in and made the signature trade of his standout career. Gillick sent Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff to the Padres in exchange for Alomar and Joe Carter in a blockbuster deal in December 1990.