MLB Hall of Fame: Bert Blyleven One of 15 Hall of Famers Who Had a Long Wait
Before gaining entry to the Baseball Hall of Fame, a player must wait five years after his retirement to become eligible and then be named on 75 percent or more of the total ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Former pitcher Bert Blyleven did not achieve entry until his 14th try, and he is not alone in the annals of Cooperstown when it comes to having a long time to wait.
Because so few players were getting elected and inducted to the Hall in its early years, other mechanisms have been put in place to ensure that the Hall properly honors baseball's true heroes. Still, the most prestige, and the greatest joy, is conferred upon those who are able to reach the promised land the old-fashioned way.
Setting aside (for now) those men who got into the Hall via either the Veterans or Old-Timers Committees, some 15 Hall of Famers went in on their 10th ballot or later.
15. Don Drysdale, Class of 1984
Drysdale got in on his 10th try, and the purest reason was his lack of longevity: He pitched only 13-and-a-half seasons and was forced into retirement by a dead arm at age 32.
It isn't hard to see why that happened: He pitched more than any other pitcher of his era, leading the league in games started for four straight years, and in innings pitched and batters faced in two of those seasons. He won a Cy Young in 1962, when he went 25-9 over 314.2 innings.
Drysdale was a three-time strikeout champion, and the Hall seemed somehow out of balance after longtime rotation fellow Sandy Koufax's induction without Drysdale in 1972.
14. Lou Boudreau, Class of 1970
Boudreau should have been in ages before his 1970 induction, which came 18 years after the end of his career. He won the AL MVP in 1948, three times led the league in doubles, was a player-manager for years and compiled a .295/.380/.415 career line as a shortstop.
Even today, that kind of production at that position would merit at least some Cooperstown consideration. Given the context in which he actually compiled the numbers, it was utterly untenable that the Hall would deny him entry for so long.
13. Joe Cronin, Class of 1956
This is the first of a few players for whom an important caveat needs to be mentioned: Cronin got in on his 10th try, it is true, but in those days, a player went onto the ballot as soon as he retired.
No one ever got voted in until at least his fifth year, though, so really the writers were only five years tardy in inducting Cronin.
Still, the injustice is palpable. Cronin, like Boudreau, was an accomplished shortstop and gifted hitter who also (just by the way) managed for a good portion of his career. In fact, Cronin's numbers (.301/.390/.468) are even better than Boudreau's.
Cronin was in constant contact with excellence during his career, or so it seemed: He played with five other Hall of Fame position players during his early days in Washington and then with another handful over the course of several years in Boston. He was already managing when a young right fielder named Ted Williams came up in 1939, and Cronin seemed to do a fair job bringing the hitter along.
12. Ted Lyons, Class of 1955
Lyons is another guy from the Cronin era of players going on the ballot immediately, but he still ought to have been enshrined sooner. He won 260 games, was a control artisan and collected his only ERA title at age 41—right before going off to World War II.
He made a short-lived comeback in 1946, at age 45, but he had already done enough.
11. Duke Snider, Class of 1980
Snider needed 11 tries to reach Cooperstown, largely because hie career totals and accolades (407 homers, 1,333 RBI, no MVP) didn't pass an oversimplified Hall of Fame smell test.
Longevity was not what Snider was about. Rather, he had an exceptional peak (40 or more homers in five straight seasons and an adjusted OPS 61 percent above average in those years from ages 26-30) and mistimed his greatest years such that he missed out on what might easily have been two MVP awards.
10. Bob Lemon, Class of 1976
Lemon's career is fascinatingly fractured, as so many of his era were. He reached the big leagues at 20 as a third baseman but played sparingly, and he went off to war for three seasons and came back as a pitcher/outfielder.
He would go on to win 207 games in just 350 starts. He collected 20 or more wins in six different seasons, led the league five times in batters faced and twirled an incredible 10 shutouts in 1948. Incidentally, he also hit .286/.331/.487 that year.
9. Gabby Hartnett, Class of 1955
Perhaps the best catcher of his era, Hartnett became a legend when he swatted "the homer in the gloamin'" to win the 1938 National League pennant for the Chicago Cubs.
He won the NL MVP in 1935 for another pennant-winning team and would almost certainly have won in 1930—if the league had handed out the award that year.
Hartnett played his final game in 1941, and it took 14 years and 12 ballots before he reached the Hall thereafter. Writers in those days clearly lacked full appreciation for the difficulty of catching, and for the value of those who could produce offensively while doing it.
8. Harry Heilmann, Class of 1952
This ranks as the saddest story on this list, without a close second. Heilmann died in 1951, one year before he finally gained election.
No less an authority than Ty Cobb had begun stumping for Heilmann as a Cooperstown-worthy hitter in 1950, but the writers were slow to come around. It's hard to imagine the source of their hesitation.
One of baseball's all-time under-appreciated pure hitters, Heilmann won four batting titles and finished with a .342 career average, playing mostly for the Tigers from 1914-1932. He drove in 100 or more runs in eight seasons, and in none of those did he hit more than 20 home runs.
He finished with 1,539 career RBI, and his career-adjusted OPS was 48 percent better than the league average.
7. Bruce Sutter, Class of 2006
Sutter was a dominant reliever in his day, and though his career was short-lived, he did squeeze in some notable accomplishments: He saved 300 games, five times led the league in that category, eclipsed 100 innings in five seasons despite never starting a game and finished with an adjusted ERA 36 percent better than the league average.
Still, Sutter probably does not deserve his place in the Hall. He pitched 1,042 innings of big-league ball. The only pitcher with fewer major-league innings in the Hall is Satchel Paige, and he had a rather sturdy alibi on that front. In fact, Babe Ruth actually pitched about 180 more innings than did Sutter.
To be worthy of induction in such limited action, Sutter would have needed to be better than he ultimately was.
Still, two players had gotten in in 2005, and two more were scheduled for arrival in 2007, so perhaps the writers simply felt that someone ought to get in in the meantime.
6. Ralph Kiner, Class of 1975
Kiner was one of the great, prodigious power hitters of all time, hitting enough homers to lead the National League in each of his first seven seasons.
He became a superstar in Pittsburgh, and many writers somewhat resented his fame, which he carried rather haughtily at times.
Still, denying Kiner entry for 13 ballots was cruel and unusual punishment for no crime in particular, as Kiner (whose career totals are admittedly diminished by his retirement at 32) did everything well offensively: He hit 369 career home runs, drew 1,011 walks, struck out only 749 times and had an adjusted career OPS 49 percent better than the league average.
5. Bill Terry, Class of 1954
A lifetime New York Giant, Terry played just 14 seasons but hit .341 for his career. He played first base, never won an MVP and was not special as a baserunner or power hitter, but he was a great pure hitter.
Terry is the classic example of the right person to make wait at the ballot box: He was great, likely great enough to merit election, but he was not an obvious candidate, so the writers took time enough to put him in the right historical context and determine his true merit.
4. Rabbit Maranville, Class of 1954
In the end, perhaps, they just couldn't say no to that face.
For a long while, though, the writers disdained players (like Maranville) whose primary value derived from their defensive skills. Maranville played just as the dead ball was coming alive, and his wizardry at shortstop became more and more valuable as the ball got hit harder and harder.
Only Luis Aparicio has a lower OPS among Hall of Fame position players, though, and Aparicio wasn't around yet, so Maranville had to wait 14 years for the writers to determine that his defense at the toughest position in baseball had tremendous value.
3. Bert Blyleven, Class of 2011
Like Terry, Blyleven is a player whom the writers were smart to wait a bit on. That said, with all the information now available to us, he probably should have been in five years ago.
He fell short of 300 wins, but he did eclipse 3,000 strikeouts, and he had much better control than most people remember. Stat geeks found brilliant ways to debunk a number of defamations that frankly never should have gained any momentum, and it finally became untenable to keep Blyleven out.
To those who still maintain that he does not belong, and that Jack Morris does, I have nothing to say.
2. Jim Rice, Class of 2009
Sneaking in with just a few votes to spare on his final ballot probably was not the way Jim Rice wanted to reach Cooperstown, but reach it he did in 2009.
Rice is such a borderline player that getting in any sooner would have seemed somehow wrong, but he did crank 382 career home runs. He won three home run titles and a well-deserved MVP award, and he played his whole career for the Red Sox.
Rice belongs in the Hall, but it is not necessarily a tragedy that he was made to wait.
1. Dazzy Vance, Class of 1954
Are you ready for this? Vance got in on his 16th ballot.
That feat can never be repeated, since players now drop off the ballot after 15 years of eligibility, but then, who would want to repeat it?
Vance did not win his first big-league game until age 31, having bounced around the minor leagues and failing to catch on prior to 1922. Beginning that year, though, he won seven straight strikeout titles. He led the league three times in WHIP and eight times in strikeout-to-walk ratio. He won 50 games in 1924-25 combined.
All in all, Vance would probably have been much better appreciated in the modern era. Luckily, the writers eventually came around on him anyway.