Bert Blyleven, Roberto Alomar and former executive Pat Gillick are being enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. Because of a life in the game, beginning with his childhood spent trailing his father around major league clubhouses, Red Sox manager Terry Francona has a connection to them all, each coming at a different stage of the skipper's life and career.
Francona’s memories of Blyleven go back over 40 years. He recalls seeing his dad's Milwaukee Brewers flummoxed by Blyleven in a game in 1970. After the game, little Francona told big Francona that his team would never touch the famous Blyleven curveball.
"That's when my dad knew I was paying attention," Francona said.
Francona was also paying attention when he first encountered Alomar. The two were teammates in winter ball at Ponce in the Puerto Rico Baseball League, Francona on the tail end of his career and Alomar on the cusp of great things.
"He could do anything he wanted," Francona said. "It was so obvious he could do anything he wanted, whether it was defensively, on the bases, at bat. You could see it coming."
Alomar would go on to record over 2,700 hits, bat .300 and win 10 Gold Glove awards in a stellar 17-year career.
Finally, Francona had an encounter with Gillick he would rather forget, not necessarily because of any issues he had with the former Seattle, Toronto, Philadelphia and Baltimore general manager.
Francona interviewed for the vacant Mariners managerial position in 2002, after Lou Piniella left for Tampa Bay. Around the same time, Francona developed near-fatal blood clots in his lungs, which caused him to spend nearly two weeks in the hospital.
He did not get the job, but he did regain his health. Years later, he can joke about that encounter with Gillick.
"He almost killed me," Francona said of Gillick. "Seattle, that's why I got sick. Told him he asked too many tough questions, almost put me under."