The baseball writers made him wait far too long, but Bert Blyleven has finally gotten what he long deserved: He and Roberto Alomar became the newest members of the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday.
This was Blyleven's 14th time on the ballot, and though he came exceptionally close to being elected last season, he had surely begun to wonder if he would ever reach the promised land. Some rather cynical writers held his longevity against him; others insisted he lacked some intangible quality that a true Hall of Fame hurler ought to possess. It was all patently foolish, but it kept him out of Cooperstown for a decade and a half. No more. Read on for 10 reasons Blyleven deserves this honor.
Blyleven's breaking ball is the stuff of legend. He buckled knees across the league for over two decades, using the curve to keep hitters miserable and off-balance. He threw the pitch from a number of different arm angles, often dropping down and throwing a sideways curve. At other times, he came straight over the top and threw a devastating 12-to-6 curve that seemed to come from center field straight into the catcher's mitt. Only a handful of pitchers have had better singular weapons in their arsenal than Blyleven's breaking pitch.
Blyleven pitched in 22 big-league seasons, a remarkable record of longevity. He compiled nearly 5,000 innings during his career, 14th on the all-time list. Blyleven probably hung around a bit too long, but his arm held up under the strain of years and years of pitching (frequently) 200 or more innings per year. That alone is impressive.
His 3,701 strikeouts rank Blyleven fifth all time. He led the league in 1985 with 206 punchouts. Fourteen times, Blyleven ranked among the top seven in the league in strikeouts per nine innings pitched. That ability to miss bats was not as prized, perhaps, during his time as it is today, but the value to be found in pitchers who do not rely on their defense to be successful should be self-evident.
The picture above is of Don Sutton, the most comparable player to Blyleven according to Baseball-Reference. Like seven of the other nine players who populate that list of most similar pitchers to Blyleven, Sutton is in the Hall of Fame. Given that seemingly all those who had the most similar careers are already in, holding Blyleven out of the Hall made no sense. Thank goodness the writers came to their senses on that point.
Blyleven spent a bit more than half his career with the Minnesota Twins, falling one win short of 150 in a Twins uniform alone. He did roam to a number of different teams over the years, but Blyleven remains a prominent figure in Minnesota baseball circles. He does color commentary on the Twins' TV network; the fans there love him. That may seem a small consideration, but in reality, it does mean something. Blyleven deserves kudos for being such a dedicated Twins man.
Blyleven piled up 287 wins during his career, 13 short of the magic number that would have ensured him first-year induction. Still, he had more victories than Robin Roberts, Fergie Jenkins, Jim Palmer and Bob Feller, all of whom are in the Hall of Fame. He won 20 games just once, which some have bizarrely used against him, but he racked up six other seasons with 17 or more victories.
Bill James has written on this topic more than once: Some of Blyleven's detractors have insisted over the years that he was unable to win close games, and that he ought to be evaluated with this in mind. He was not, in some ill-defined and rather nebulous way, a winner.
In reality, of course, he was (if anything) above average in close games. He won 1-0 more than any other pitcher since 1920. He also ranks 15th all time in situational runs saved for his career, which involves some math and might not be palatable to anti-sabermetric writers, but which deserves to be considered.
Blyleven got 74.2 percent of the ballot last winter, a heart-breaking two votes shy of being elected that season. No one has ever come that close and not eventually been elected; no one has come close to coming that close and not been elected. Once Blyleven got that large a chunk of the vote, it was only a matter of time, and that is the way it should be.
One of the big arguments that has put Jack Morris within a breath of the Hall himself is his reputation as an excellent postseason pitcher. Blyleven never attained that reputation, but it is really hard to say why: He went 5-1 in the postseason for his career, with a 2.47 ERA, and he was even better in 23 World Series innings: 2-1 with a 2.35 ERA. His teams won both of the World Series they reached.
Blyleven tossed 60 career shutouts, complete games in which he allowed no runs. That ranks ninth all time, and remarkably, half of the eight guys ahead of him pitched primarily before 1920, when run scoring was roughly half what it was during Blyleven's career. Only one true contemporary of Blyleven, Nolan Ryan, ranks ahead of him in career shutouts. That stat measures dominance, a vague something upon which voters have always insisted. That helps Blyleven make the case that he belongs.