By John Kekis, AP Sports Writer
Bert Blyleven is still fine-tuning his Hall of Fame speech. So is Roberto Alomar, and he might have the more difficult task when the two former major league stars enter baseball's hallowed ground.
"It's not going to be an easy one. I'm going to start in Spanish," Alomar said Friday on a conference call, nine days before both will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. "After that, I'm going to finish in English. Hopefully, I can speak from my heart.
"I think your ne-rves are always going to take over," Alomar said. "Your heart is going to be pumping, your knees shaking. It's like Lou Gehrig said -- I'm going to be the happiest man that day."
Alomar's signature moment figured to come a year earlier, but the switch-hitting second baseman who hit 210 home runs, drove in 1,134 runs, and batted .300 was bypassed in his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame.
This year he was named on 90 percent of ballots cast, becoming just the 26th player to garner at least 90 percent in any election, and he was listed on 523 ballots, the third-highest total of all time.
"You don't know when you're going to go in. Maybe last year wasn't the year for me to go in," said Alomar, who joins Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda as the only Puerto Rican-born players elected to the Hall of Fame. "This was the year. To me, to get so many votes, I was impressed. But I never looked back at what happened last year. I'm looking forward to this year and I'm so happy.
"In life, you have to expect anything. A lot of people say I was supposed to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but there's a lot of players that haven't got that honor, either, like Joe DiMaggio. In the beginning, you were a little upset about it, but life goes on. It wasn't meant to happen last year."
That it didn't happen most likely stemmed from an incident in a September 1996 game in Toronto's SkyDome that 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. He said at the time that he thought Hirschbeck was stressed because his 8-year-old son, John Drew, had died in 1993 of a rare brain disease known as adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD).
Alomar worked to repair his image during the latter half of his major league career, which ended in 2004, and counts Hirschbeck as a good friend today.
"We have a great relationship. Me and John have become great friends," Alomar said. "I want people to know that the year that I didn't make it one of the first phone calls that I got was from him apologizing, that he (felt) sorry for me not making it. Maybe it was one of the reasons why I didn't make it in the first round, I don't know. We just have to move on.
For Blyleven, induction will cap a most memorable eight-day stretch. The Minnesota Twins, whom he helped to the 1987 World Series title in his second stint with the club, are retiring his No. 28 in a ceremony on Saturday.
"It's kind of a nice steppingstone to the following weekend in Cooperstown. The honors are coming my way and it's very, very nice," Blyleven said. "My speech, I'm still working on it. To me, it's a day of thank you to so many people that mentored me. I'm just trying to get it down. It's going to be a long one."
During his 22-year career, Blyleven won 287 games and lost 250, 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 pitched 4,9691/3 innings (14th all-time).
Suffice to say that now, as a longtime broadcaster for the Twins, he doesn't like a lot of what he sees on the field.
"I'm glad I pitched in an era when nine innings meant something to a ballclub," Blyleven said. "I always felt if I went nine innings, it made the bullpen fresher for the starter the next day. My job was to go deep into the ballgame.
"I do not like the way baseball is going. Baseball is wearing down bullpens," he said. "We're playing the Royals right now. They have a 13-man staff. That means over half of the players that (manager) Ned Yost has are pitchers. It used to be eight-nine-man pitching staffs.
"The more I threw, the better off I was ... the better and stronger my arm would be. I'm still waiting for the first guy to blow up when he throws his 101st pitch."
Blyleven is the first starting pitcher to be selected for the Hall of Fame since Nolan Ryan in 1999, and he figures the 300-win plateau that has assured election in the past might be lowered by 50 in the future.
"(That) maybe is going to be the milestone of a quality pitcher, a guy like a Roy Halladay or Justin Verlander, someone that is on track for that many wins in their career," Blyleven said. "The writers finally, I think, are getting it. You can't always control your wins, but you can control your consistency out there."