HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

January 8, 2007

Voters, it’s time to circle Bert

By Jesse Menden

Every year at this time, a debate emerges, one that is close to the hearts of many Minnesota Twins faithful.

Does Bert Blyleven deserve to be in the baseball Hall of Fame?

It has become an annual topic here in the land of 10,000 lakes, just like the once-a-winter snowfalls we seem to get at about the same time.

During the summer, Twins’ fans are the ones asking Bert to circle them on television, but during the winter, Bert is the one asking to be circled on the Hall of Fame ballot.

First off, when understanding any hall of fame, you must realize that it does not necessarily mean the members are the best or deserve to be in it.

Those that vote often have personal agendas or vote players in on different criteria than others.

All in all, halls of fame in any sport are a promotional entity, a celebration of a sports history. It is not a hard-and-fast list of the best that ever played.

Having said that, the list of those in their respective halls of fame is probably very close to the best of all time.

Back to the question at hand, is Blyleven of hall of fame caliber?

His career numbers would suggest that he is: 287-250, 3.31 ERA, 4,970 IP, 692 GS, 280 CG, 3701 K.

He ranks fifth all-time in strikeouts, a number that alone should get a pitcher into the hall.

Blyleven ranks ninth in career shutouts with 60. That is only one behind the two pitchers in the top 10 that pitched in most of our lifetimes, Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver, both of which are in the Hall of Fame.

The former Twin is also 10th in games started, 13th in innings pitched, and 26th in wins with 287, just shy of the magical 300.

Only once in his first 18 years did Blyleven have an ERA above 4.01, and that was in 1982, when he only pitched 20 innings.

He threw one no-hitter in his career in 1977.

Looking at those numbers, it almost seems like a no-brainer that he should be in the Hall. And to top it all off, Blyleven was a two-time world champion.

But there are some legitimate reasons why he should not be inducted.

Blyleven never finished better than third in the Cy Young voting for the best pitcher. Also, he only made two All-Star appearances during his career.

He never led the league in important categories such as wins, strikeouts, or ERA in any year.

He only led the league once in each of these categories: shutouts, he had nine in 1973; innings pitched, he threw 293.2 in 1985; complete games, he had 24 in 1985.
The only year that Blyleven won 20 games, six other pitchers in the American League had more wins.

In his favor, a point can be made that he was up against some pretty good pitchers.

During his 22-year career, he faced the likes of Nolan Ryan, Bret Saberhagen, Roger Clemens, and Jim Palmer while in the American League. That is the reason he was never a major Cy Young candidate.

A second point that could be made is he pitched on some very ordinary teams.

A pitcher with a 3.31 career ERA should not have a winning percentage of just 53 percent.

Even his 1987 Twins, who won the World Series, only won 85 games that year in the Western Division. That total would have been good enough for only fifth place in the East.

He would have more wins if he didn’t pitch for so many bad teams for so long.

His numbers are hall-worthy despite pitching for bad teams, but in this case, it is not about the numbers or he would already be in the Hall.

The debate surrounds how he got the numbers. Blyleven spread out above-average pitching over a very, very long career.

The question to be answered, is a long career a feat worthy of the Hall?

I think it is when you consider that he was very competitive every time he pitched.

Sure, he gave up a ton of home runs, 430 to be exact, but his year-by-year ERA’s were great.

Blyleven was a mainstay in the majors for 22 years, and it is not like he was just eating innings.

He was not a pitcher to be feared, but batters could not take him lightly either. He was a very good pitcher for a very long time and I think that should good enough to get him into the Hall.

He deserves to be in the Hall.

But there is comfort in knowing that if that he does not get inducted again this year, he could get in another way.

He should be a shoe-in to get in as a broadcaster in the future for pioneering the “circle me” phrase in major league baseball broadcasts.

But in all sincerity, I hope you are the one getting circled this year, Bert.