Former Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar had to spend a year in Hall of Fame purgatory, but his short wait is over and — this time — the vote wasn't close. He was named on 90 percent of the ballots to gain induction into Cooperstown on his second try.
Pitcher Bert Blyleven took the long route. He was on the ballot for the 14th time before voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America pushed him past the 75 percent threshold necessary for admission to Cooperstown.
That's all academic now. Both players will join long-time baseball executive and former Orioles general manager Pat Gillick for the induction ceremony in upstate New York on July 24.
Meanwhile, the voters delivered another decisive repudiation of the steroid era. Former Oriole Rafael Palmeiro received just 64 votes (11 percent) and Mark McGwire's vote percentage declined over last year, even though he finally owned up to his steroid use when he rejoined the St. Louis Cardinals as a coach.
Alomar will be remembered as one of the slickest-fielding second basemen of all time and one of the top all-around players of his era. He had a .300 career batting average and he dialed that up during appearances in seven postseasons. He came up a few votes short in his first year on the ballot, most likely because a significant number of voters could not immediately forget the night he spit on umpire John Hirschbeck in 1996.
That's the only way to explain the fact that he was named on just 73 percent of the ballots last year and this year got the third-highest raw vote total in history — his name appearing on 523 of the record 581 ballots cast.
"I didn't expect to get that many votes," Alomar said during his Hall of Fame conference call on Wednesday afternoon. "Last year, I was a little bit disappointed, but I'm real excited. Last year, I got so close that I expected this year I'd be able to make it, but I didn't think I'd get that many votes."
He was not willing to speculate on the reason for the dramatic upsurge in support from one year to the next, but was willing to marvel at the happy coincidence that he will be inducted alongside a pitcher who played with his father, Sandy Alomar Sr., and the general manager who made the trade that took him from San Diego to Toronto early in his career.
"Maybe it was not meant to be last year," he said. "It was meant to be this year. I'm not going to look back at last year. I'm going to enjoy this year."
Alomar did, however, admit that he hopes his induction into the Hall of Fame will be the final step in restoring his good name so many years after he made amends with Hirschbeck and joined in the effort to eradicate the deadly disease that struck Hirschbeck's young sons.
"I said many times, we as human beings, we let our tempers take over some times," Alomar said. "It was one of the moments I had and I have always regretted it. But I apologized many times to John and he apologized to me, and there was a lot of good that came out of that."
Since the end of his playing career, Alomar was sued by an ex-girlfriend who claimed he is HIV-positive and knowingly had unprotected sex with her, a charge that was repeated by his ex-wife in a divorce filing.
It's impossible to argue with Alomar's baseball credentials. He retired after 17 seasons with 2,724 career hits and 474 stolen bases, playing on winning teams in Toronto, Baltimore and Cleveland and making the American League All-Star team 12 years in a row. He almost certainly will go into the Hall as a Blue Jay, but the decision on which cap will be depicted on his Hall of Fame plaque will be made by the Hall of Fame after consulting with him.
"We congratulate Roberto Alomar on his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame," said Orioles owner Peter Angelos in a statement distributed soon after the announcement. "Although he spent just three of his 17 seasons in Baltimore, Roberto's accomplishments during his time here were significant. His performance during those years, which included three All-Star Game selections, two Gold Gloves and countless on-field heroics, helped the team make two playoff appearances and showcased Roberto's Hall of Fame credentials."
Blyleven ranks fifth all-time with 3,701 strikeouts and ninth with 60 shutouts, but he was running out of ballots. His vote totals climbed from 41 percent to about 63 percent from 2005 to 2009, but his candidacy was in doubt until he was named on 74.2 percent of the ballots last year.
"It's an honor to be elected into such an elite group," he said. "It has been 14 years of praying and waiting. I think the Baseball Writers of America were finally getting it right."
Blyleven went out of his way to credit Rich Lederer of the Baseball Analysts website for a lengthy crusade to make Hall of Fame voters look deeper into his career numbers. Though he fell short of 300 victories, he was considered one of the toughest competitors in the sport and one of the most efficient pitchers of his era. Thanks to his legendary curveball and terrific command, he finished with a sub-3.00 ERA nine times in his 22-year career.
"I'm proud of every inning I pitched," said Blyleven, who likely will enter the Hall as a Minnesota Twin. "I'm proud of every win, every strikeout and every complete game. I'm even proud of my losses, because I got to play a kids game and I enjoyed every minute of it."
Blyleven didn't shy away from questions about the steroid era players during his conference call, particularly when he was asked if he was surprised that Palmeiro — whose career numbers otherwise would have made him a first-ballot lock for induction — got such a low vote total.
"Not really," he said. "I think the writers are saying this is the steroid era, like they've done with Mark McGwire. So, no, I'm not surprised. I think they're making their point."
The steroid issue isn't going to fade away any time soon, especially with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens set to show up on the ballot in two years, and Blyleven clearly wasn't willing to make excuses for anyone who was caught in the performance-enhancement scandal.
"It's not my decision to make — who the writers vote or don't vote for," he said. "[But] look at McGwire. He had great numbers and his vote total has gone down. The steroid era had a lot to do with that. People cheated. …They cheated themselves and their teammates. The game of baseball is to be played clean."
Alomar was a bit more forgiving, though he seemed reluctant to let the subject infringe on one of the proudest moments of his life.
"I think it's a subject I really don't want to talk about," he said. "Raffy and Mark McGwire, they were excellent ballplayers. I think they have the numbers to be in the Hall of Fame, so someday I hope they can put that behind them."