I was sitting around with the fellas the other night and we got talking about the Hall of Fame. As expected, all the usual names came up.
And since the Mitchell Report is still in the news (thanks Roger Clemens!)…Mark McGwire’s name even got a mention or two. Not a bad crowd of potential Hall of Famers. Hell, two or three of them might soon wake up to the pleasant sound of Cooperstown calling them home.
But you know who DIDN’T get mentioned…Bert Blyleven. That’s right. The darling of the online 2008 Hall of Fame discussions (I've even casually endorsed him in the past both here and here) is rarely ever REALLY brought up outside of Googling “Bert Blyleven+Hall of Fame” from your laptop.
Why is that?
Here’s a guy that PLENTY of writers are pimping for enshrinement, but for some reason, people out in the “real world” aren’t really bringing his name up in polite conversation. The guy played professional ball in four decades (Bert was drafted in 1969, but didn’t make the bigs until June 1970) for five different teams (twice with the Twins). He even has two World Series rings…and both times, one could argue that he was his team’s "go to" guy!
All-time, Blyleven’s stats stack up wonderfully to some of those already in the Hall. Over at Baseball Reference, his top ten comparisons feature eight Hall of Famers. The two that aren’t…Tommy John and Jim Kaat.
And let’s be honest, someone COULD make a case for both of them.
Fifth all-time in strikeouts has to account for something right? I mean, 3701 is nothing to sniff at. Only Nolan Ryan, Clemens, Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton have more. Of the players with 3000 Ks or more, you could almost say that all of them WILL be enshrined, even if the jury is still out on Curt Schilling. Not bad company to be in if you ask me.
When making the case for the Dutchman, EVERYONE mentions Blyleven’s low ERA (3.31) and points to his career 60 shutouts as a contributing factor. To put that into perspective…Ryan and Tom Seaver each have 61. Clemens is 26th all-time with 46…Blyleven is ninth. Allow me to go one step further…there are only TWO pitchers eligible for Hall induction that have thrown more scoreless games than Clemens. Luis Tiant is one…he has 49. Blyleven, obviously, is the other.
The magic number for career victories is 300. EVERY pitcher (all 20 of them) eligible for the Hall of Fame that has more than 300 victories is in there. But that’s where it falls off…275 to 299 victories must not mean as much. Blyleven’s career total resides at 287. Say what you want to…had there not been a strike in 1981 or had he not been hurt in 1982, Blyleven might have gotten to 300.
But he didn’t.
Heck, had he retired following his last good year (1989), he would have topped off at 271. Again, he didn’t and therefore falls into the “almost…but not quite” company of John and Kaat.
All that being said, his career numbers are, if at the least…”Hall worthy”. So, I’m confused…how do people NOT know who this colorful character is?
The layman’s argument for Blyleven’s inclusion sounds impressive when you lay them out over the span of a “normal” career…but Rik Aalbert Blyleven pitched longer than Christ walked the Earth. He was also durable…which means even if he was slightly above average (at best), his numbers would STILL pile up. And they did.
Let’s start with wins.
No one seems to mention that fact that of those 287 victories…only ONCE Bert topped 20 victories. And that was in a season where he went 20-17. 20 wins is great, but 20-17 is a record only Wilbur Wood would be proud of. Once at 20, another time with 19…then what? Five seasons of 17 victories? Is that how we’re judging “greatness now?!?
It should be noted that in that “magical” 1973 season when Blyleven was 20-17, his Twins were 81-81. It wasn’t like he played for the 1962 Mets. He was a slightly average pitcher on an average ballclub. I won’t even mention the fact that there were TWELVE American League pitchers with 20 or more victories in 1973.
Wait, I just did.
Let’s face it…a .534 winning percentage isn’t all that spectacular, even if you played for some lousy teams. A Hall of Famer (to me) is someone who elevates his team to be better than they should be. And, admittedly, perhaps Blyleven’s record isn’t indicative of his worth. He did, of course, pitch his team to FIFTEEN 1-0 victories. Granted, he lost ten others…but you can’t blame a guy for lack of run support.
3701 is a tremendous number when it comes to strikeouts and Blyleven reaching 3701 Ks is an equally tremendous feat. The fact that eight times scattered throughout an almost 21 complete seasons, Bert topped 200 Ks is good…but not an eye popper. I’m not comparing the two, just using him as an example, but Pedro Martinez topped 200 Ks in ten out of eleven years during his climb to prominence…and twice he surpassed 300! That, to me, is the example of someone out there killing the opponent.
And of those years where Blyleven racked up some quality strikeout figures, did he ever blow away the competition and lead the league?
Once…in 1985 he bested Floyd Bannister by 8 strikeouts. 206 compared to 198 AND Bert pitched in almost 90 MORE innings…not really dominant.
“Dominance” shouldn’t be judged the number of times a guy leads the league in strikeouts, right? Basically, when I think of a “strikeout pitcher”…I think of a guy like Randy Johnson. Not a guy who benefited from a four-man rotation instead of the modern five.
But that’s okay.
I mean, let’s look at the bigger picture…how many times did Bert lead the league in ERA? Wins? What about winning percentage?
How many Cy Young Awards did this cat bring home?
He was an All-Star twice, but c’mon…so was Esteban Loaiza. And frankly, when do you suppose the last (or first) time someone NOT named “Blyleven” uttered the words…”I sure do hope Bert’s on the hill today” on their way to the ballpark?
Plenty of writers will give a sympathy nod to Blyleven by labeling him “unlucky”. Unfortunately, these are mostly the same guys who blast writers for calling Jim Rice the “most feared hitter of his time”. So what opinion is most valid…we’ll soon find out when that sleepy little town in New York comes a callin’ for some new blood.
Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and who knows…your words might just end up on this website!
***Note: There is a really, really great site out there (Bert Belongs) that makes a great pitch (pun intended) for Bert's inclusion...you should check it out!***