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 July 24 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 a July 23 ceremony at Doubleday Field are: Dave Van Horne, longtime play-by-play man for the Montreal Expos and Florida Marlins, who will be 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 will receive the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award.
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), pitched 4,969 1/3 innings (14th all time), and was 3-0 in League Championship Series play and 2-1 in World Series games.
His sojourn was longer than most.
Born in 1951 in Zeist, Netherlands, his parents, Joe and Jenny, moved the family to Canada two years later.
"My dad's eventual goal was get to the United States, but it was hard back in the early 1950s," Blyleven said. "The Canadian government was looking for strong men to work on farms. Holland gave my parents $79 and we went to Canada."
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 recalled. "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."
Drafted by Minnesota in the third round of the 1969 amateur draft, Blyleven became youngest pitcher in the majors when the Twins called him up June 2, 1970, after just 21 minor league starts.
"Really, when I signed I didn't know how high I could go," Blyleven said. "I knew it was going to be a long road."
That long road included stops with the Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians and California Angels. Blyleven also had a second stint with the Twins beginning in 1985, and two years later he formed an imposing duo at the top of the rotation with lefty Frank Viola. The team scrapped its way to 85 wins and a World Series title, the second for Blyleven (he also was on the champion 1979 Pirates).
Despite his considerable accomplishments on the field, Blyleven, who's also served 15 years as an analyst for the Twins, watched and waited for what must have seemed like a lifetime before he was selected. It took 14 tries for him to finally cross the 75 percent threshold, receiving votes on 79.7 percent of the ballots in the results released in January.
Alomar also had to bide his time, but for a very different reason and not nearly so long.
Born into a baseball family — Alomar's 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 — Alomar grew up in the presence of big leaguers. And 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 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.
With the switch-hitting Alomar at the top of his game, the Blue Jays reached the ALCS the next season, then won consecutive World Series titles in 1992 and 1993.
Alomar spent five seasons in Toronto before finishing his career in stints with the Orioles, Indians, Mets, White Sox and Diamondbacks.
Alomar's failure to become just the fourth second baseman — and 45th player — to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer was the result of one blemish on a remarkable career.
Forget the 2,724 hits, 210 home runs, 1,134 RBIs, .300 career batting average, World Series titles, 12 All-Star appearances, and 10 Gold Gloves. A spray of saliva in a September 1996 game in Toronto's SkyDome tarnished Alomar's stellar reputation.
Called out on a third strike by umpire John Hirschbeck on a pitch that appeared to be outside, the two argued and Alomar was ejected. Before he left the plate, Alomar spit in Hirschbeck's face and was suspended for five games. Alomar said at the time that he thought Hirschbeck was stressed because his 8-year-old son had died in 1993 of a rare brain disease.