Once again, voters forgot about Blyleven

January 19, 2009

by Matt Kane

I believe I told you a couple weeks ago that Twins fans would be disappointed, once again, by the omission of Bert Blyleven from the list of former players voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. And I was right.

By now we should all know that Blyleven ranks fifth in career strikeouts with 3,701, and finished in the top-10 in ERA 10 times in his 22-year career. But did you know he was 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA in the postseason, and came away from two of those postseasons (1979 with Pittsburgh and 1987 with Minnesota) with World Series rings? Now you do.

Blyleven keeps drawing nearer to the magic number needed to get inducted. He received 62.7 percent of the vote this year, which is a huge increase over the 17 percent Blyleven received in 1998, his first year of eligibility.

It seems the snag keeping Blyleven from the Hall is his win numbers. He never had a 20 win season, and did not reach the magic career wins number of 300.

If these win numbers are the voters’ reasons for not voting Blyleven in, then they should turn in their press passes at the door.

Blyleven has 287 career wins, 13 less than 300, the number that guarantees a player a bronze plaque in Cooperstown.

People point towards statistics when trying to find a reason a player either made it or not, because numbers are definite.

If you were to ask me (you don’t have to, this is my column and I will tell you anyway), I think Blyleven is a victim of the uniforms he wore.

In his 22 seasons in the major leagues, Blyleven played for the Twins (1970-76 and 1985-88), Rangers (1976-77), Pirates (1978-80), Indians (1981-84) and Angels (1989-92). Did you notice something about this list?

Let me help you. The only pinstripes Blyleven wore were on his uniforms in Pittsburgh and Minnesota.

At no time did Blyleven pitch for the New York Yankees, and I’m starting to believe this is why it has been 11 disappointing years for Blyleven. What I mean is, I don’t think being a Yankee means a player is an automatic hall-of-famer, but if a pitcher accumulated Blyleven’s numbers while pitching most of his career in Yankee stadium, I don’t he would have gotten past his first year of eligibility without an induction.

The first player to come to mind when thinking about the Yankee influence is the late Catfish Hunter.

Hunter played the final five of his 15 major league seasons with the Yankees. He has 224 wins and 166 losses with a 3.26 ERA.

Blyleven had 287s win and 250 losses with a 3.31 ERA. And, oh yeah, Blyleven pitched 242 complete games, and had 60 shutouts. Hunter? He threw 181 complete games and 42 shutouts.

The argument against Blyleven is that he played in seven more seasons, but I don’t think longevity is a bad thing.

Baseball-Reference.com says Blyleven is most similar to Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, Tommy John, Robin Roberts, Tom Seaver, Jim Kaat, Early Wynn, Phil Niekro and Steve Carlton.

You may have heard of some of those guys. Eight of them are already in the hall of fame, right where Blyleven belongs. (Only John and Kaat are not in the Hall.)

Blyleven and Jim Rice, who was recently voted in with Rickey Henderson in his 15th and final year on the ballot, have always questioned why their vote totals change each year when the statistics do not.

I have no idea why that is, since the players eligible are not supposed to be judged by the voters as if getting into the Hall of Fame is a contest between the players. A player is either a hall-of-famer or not, no matter who else is on the ballet.

This column is mainly about Bert Blyleven, but I can’t end it without revealing my pleasure over the induction of Rickey Henderson.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it in any previous High and Outside rants, but Henderson was my favorite player, and the one I collected as a baseball card geek.

I’m not a big fan of cocky ballplayers and Henderson’s oddities, but, one day, I started collecting his baseball cards and I’ve been hooked ever since.

I’ve always believed Henderson was underrated when it came to all-time players.

We all know he is the greatest base-stealer and leadoff hitter of all time, but I think he should be considered with the greats of the greats. He was a 10-time all-star, AL MVP (1990) and a Gold Glove outfielder. Henderson is the career leader in runs (2,295) and stolen bases (1,406), and is second in walks (2,190).

Home runs and RBIs are often the big numbers when rating a player, but think about the RBI statistic compared to the runs statistic.

A player can only score one run per plate appearance, while a slugger can drive in up to four runs per at-bat. Think about how many extra RBIs the Bash Brothers — Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire — picked up thanks to Henderson getting on base in front of them.

So, to Mr. Henderson, I say congratulations.

And, like everyone else, I can’t wait to hear Henderson’s acceptance speech in July.