Cooperstowners Alomar, Gillick, Van Horne, Blyleven have Canuck connections

*It all began for Pat Gillick when he hitch hiked from California to pitch for the Vulcan Elks in the Western Canada League, pitching a no hitter (below) and striking out 17, then the Granum White Sox and Edmonton Eskimos (1956-1958 before a minor-league career and  joining the Houston Astros front office. He won two World Series with the Blue Jays and one with the Philadelphia Phillies. Now, he's Cooperstown bound along with the rest of Canadian connection: Robbie Alomar, Bert Blyleven and the legendary Dave Van Horne./Photos courtesy of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Jay-Dell Mah.  

Letters of Intent

2011 Canadians in College

2011 Canadians in the Minors



By Bob Elliott


Canada Day weekend takes place July 22-24 in the upper New York State village of Cooperstown.

Consider that ...

_ Robbie Alomar will be inducted into the Hall of Fame and his bronze plaque will show him wearing a Blue Jays logo, a first for the franchise.

_ Pat Gillick, general manager of the Jays during their glory years, will be inducted as only the fourth general manager. Gillick became a Canadian citizen in November of 2005 after living in Toronto since 1976.

_ Bert Blyleven, the Minnesota Twins right-hander, lived in Canada from the time he was 16 months old until he was five. His family worked on a farm near Melville, Sask., home of Canadian baseball great, Terry Puhl,  moving to California. As our Kevin Glew points out this would make Blyleven eligible to pitch for Canada at the next World Baseball Classic. Or broadcast?

_ And the elegant Dave Van Horne, former Montreal Expos broadcaster, will be presented with the Ford C. Frick award. Van Horne began with the Expos in 1969 working games on radio and TV until the 2000 season. He then joined the Florida Marlins where he now watches long drives go “Up, up and away.”

So four of the five inductees or award winners have Canadian connections -- Bill Conlin of Philadelphia is a deserving choice as winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink award.

Alomar and Gillick will be side by side in July ... as they were with the Baltimore Orioles ... as they were with the Blue Jays.

The day that the Jays franchise shed it’s ugly monicker of the “Blow Jays,” Gillick phoned home with news from the winter meetings, calling his wife Doris from the Jays suite at the Grand Hyatt in Rosmont, Ill.

It went like this Dec. 5, 1990:

Gillick: “Hi Dor ... well, we made a trade?”

Doris: “Whom did you trade?”

Gillick: “Well ... we traded Tony Fernandez and Freddie McGriff to San Diego for Robbie Alomar and Joe Carter.”

Doris: “PATRICK! Come on home before you completely ruin the whole team.”

McGriff was Doris’ favorite player at the time.

Doris was reminded of the conversation during the tour.

“You know I’ve only been told about that 2,000 times. Now, I think it was a good trade,” Doris said. “But Fred McGriff is still one of my favorites and I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame.”

McGriff, who hit 493 homers, was named of 21.5% of the ballots in December, far short of the required 75% in his first year of eligibility.

As for Gillick, who took his orientation tour of the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, his opinion of scouts was never a secret.

He’d call his scouting department “the backbone of the organization,” oh, maybe 100 times ... per season. Yet, it wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon during Gillick’s tour it came known at what an early age Gillick became involved in scouting.

Erik Strohl, senior director of exhibits and collections, showed Gillick and his wife Doris his minor-league stats, his scouting report, his clipping file from newspapers and finally a picture of this Eagle Scout from Troop 30 as a 13-year-old in Van Nuys, Calif.

An Eagle Scout is the highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America.

“Once you are an Eagle Scout, you are one for life, less than 2% of all scouts make it,” said Jim Gates, library director at the HOF.

Gillick was conferred the vigil honour in 1958, the same year the University of Southern California won the College World Series.

How many baseball scouts made the HOF?

Gillick is the first and only the fourth general manager/architect in the Hall, joining George Weiss, Ed Barrow and Branch Rickey.

Gillick was a scout when he began in the industry with the Houston Colt .45’s, and continued his devotion to the professon when he worked for the New York Yankees, when he ran the Blue Jays, the Orioles, Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies. He still is as an advisor for the Phillies heading into the June draft.

When Alomar and Blyleven are inducted it will bring the total of HOFers to 295 players, 205 of which are former major leaguers plus 32 executives.

Gillick was having a salad for lunch Wednesday at the Hawkeye Grill, when Jeff Idelson, Hall of Fame CEO, handed him his cell phone.

“Hello ... GOOSE! How are you,” Gillick said.

Hall of Famer Goose Gossage, the former Yankee closer, who Gillick tried to sign as a free agent in 1984 (Gossage went to the San Diego Padres instead) was phoning to extend congratulations.

Gillick has been receiving congrats since his election to Cooperstown on Dec. 6 when he shook so many hands at the winter meetings in Orlando he bruised his right hand.

The calls haven’t stopped and won’t until induction day.

The trip included Hall of Fame officials breaking down what would happen induction weekend and was highlighted by the tour.

This was Gillick’s fifth trip to Cooperstown. He was scouting at triple-A Syracuse and drove over for the day. He was also here for the inductions of former Jays hitting coach Bobby Doerr, Earl Weaver, his former manager in the Baltimore Orioles system and ex-Jay Paul Molitor.

None of the visits were as in depth as Wednesday.

The Gillicks watched a movie in the Grandstand Theatre where Bob Sheppard’s voice crackled to introduce the package of highlights of greats from over the years and concluded with Harry Caray singing Take Me Out To The Ball Game.

Walking through the displays Gillick marvelled at the number of pitchers with high leg kicks: Sandy Koufax, Lefty Gomez and Juan Marichal.

Stopping at the locker of the 1980 World Series Phillies he noticed how thick the bat barrels are compared to those which splinter nightly nowadays.

Passing a Kansas City Royals display, Doris Gillick said “if it wasn’t for George Brett we would have won three World Series.” The Jays took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven, 1985 American League Championship Series thanks in part to the first two starters pitching around Brett.

Doyle Alexander decided to challenge Brett, who went 4-for-4 with two homers and three RBIs as the Royals won 6-5.

Still, the Jays had a 3-1 lead before losing three straight. “I’ve never liked Kansas City ever since then,” said Doris.

At the Autumn Glory section, World Series home runs by Bill Mazeroski, Carlton Fisk, Reggie Jackson and Joe Carter’s were shown.

Stohl pointing at Carter: “Do you remember that one there.”

Gillick: “Oh, I remember that one alright.”

Doris Gillick: “It’s a home run that will live in infamy in Philadelphia.”

At another stop Stohl pulled out some folders saying “I’m sure as a GM you would have loved to sign these guys ... Levi Meyerle hit .492 for the Philadelphia Athletics ... paid $1,400 a year in 1871 ... Cy Young $4,000 a year in 1906.”

He was also shown a promissory note Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee signed Nov. 1, 1919 to sell Babe Ruth to the Yanks for $100,000.

Gillick was shown from amongst the Hall’s many artifacts Tom Seaver’s shirt from USC, John Bateman’s Colt .45’s uniform, Dave Stieb’s batting helmet from 1990, Joe Carter’s high top shoes from 1995 and scout scout Bob Zuk’s stop watch.

Zuk worked for the Montreal Expos and along with Bobby Mattick, was in on scouting and signing Hall of Famer Gary Carter and Ellis Valentine. When Zuk worked for the Jays he phoned Gillick at 1 a.m. Toronto time and was surprised to learn he’d woken his boss.

“Sorry Pat, I forgot,” Zuk said, “I was on the coast, now let me tell you about ...”

Seeing Ichiro Suzuki’s bat, Gillick compared the Seattle Mariners star to a hockey player: “He guides the ball rather than hitting it, the way Wayne Gretzky did.”

Hall of Fame officials suggested a limo ride from Philadelphia where the Gillicks were. They declined and took the train to Albany, N.Y., where they were met by HOF staff.

Why a train and not a limo?

“I guess it shows I’m one of the guys,” Gillick told reporters, seated in a director’s chair in front of plaques, images of his former guys Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor and Cal Ripken hung on the walls.

He’ll be one of the HOF guys officially in July.

Strohl showed him where Alomar, Blyleven and his plaques will hang — in the same section as Jim Rice, Joe Gordon, Tony Gwynn, Ripken and Henderson.

Gillick said he has changed his comments for his July speech “four or five times.” When elected Gillick asked if someone else could make his speech but was told no.

An emotional man — “he cries every time John Olerud gets a base hit,” Paul Beeston once said — Gillick made the under on crying Wednesday: zero. July will be different, when he’s shown his exhibit, when he speaks to the crowd and when he returns to the gallery and sees workmen screwing in the final bolts holding his plaque.

Asked how he’d react? Gillick gulped and swallowed the lump in his throat.

Best part of the tour?

“Seeing the bats of Ty Cobb used when he won four batting titles in five years.”

And on a personal basis it was seeing the old .45’s uniform.

“To a lot of people it’s a trivia question, people always think of the Astros, but that was our nickname when we started,” he said. “Some guys thought it was a beer, but it’s also a pistol and it worked with Texas. That brought back a lot of memories where I started.”

Gillick’s minor-league pitching career ended and he was uncertain of what he’d do.

“Turned out, next to getting married and us having a child (Kim) taking the job with Houston was the best decision I ever made,” he said.

Gillick said the days of telling players “don’t do this, don’t do that” are over.

“You have to ask for input, get a feeling for what they what they want to do,” Gillick said.

What makes a good GM?

“Well, you have to be able to text,” Gillick said jokingly. “Seriously you have to be able to be a good listener and you have to have the ability to hire good scouts who can find the players.

“When I go to a game I don’t really worry about the game. I like to see the warm up, a player’s emotion, passion and intensity, because what you see pre-game is basically what you’ll see at game time.”

It all goes back to scouting.

Whether you are a baseball scout, an Eagle scout or both.