I guess you could say that I hopped on the Bert Blyleven Hall of Fame bandwagon earlier than most.
At that point, I was already obsessed with numbers and statistics, making baseball a natural focus for my attention.
As such, I became a rare collector who paid more attention to the back of the card than the front. Don’t get me wrong. I was as big a fan of the likes of Bo Jackson and Ken Griffey, Jr. as much as the next kid.
But even at that early age, I was looking for something else that was more definitive proof of a players’ greatness.
In this respect, it should really be no surprise that I became a fan of Bert Blyleven. After all, there were lots of numbers on the back of his baseball cards.
Really, there is no other explanation. I have never met the guy, had only saw him play when the Angels were on television, and at that age, had no idea what a curveball actually was, let alone that Blyleven had one of the best in MLB history.
One thing I did know, however, was that Blyleven’s card had more stats on the back than just about any other player in the set.
Once I found out what those numbers meant and how they compared to others (his strikeout and shutout totals in particular), I started making the case that Blyleven was one of the best in baseball to just about anyone who would listen.
This did not endear me to many nine-year-olds on the playground, by the way.
By the time Blyleven retired in 1992, I had read pretty much any MLB fact book, stat guide and useless information article that I could get my hands on.
Having taken a close look at the Hall of Fame, I was fairly confident that he should breeze through the induction process with nary a second thought.
The BBWAA, however, thought differently. Writers across the country (including those with Hall votes) considered Blyleven’s candidacy to be the result of playing a long time as opposed to being a great pitcher.
All of the arguments were the same. He did not reach 300 wins, never won a Cy Young Award, only played on two All-Star teams and was never considered one of the best in baseball by his peers.
I was one of many fans and writers who recognized the folly of these arguments right away. A lot of HOFers did not win 300 games, while awards and All-Star nods are little more than popularity contests and do not necessarily reflect on-field performance.
Nonetheless, when Blyleven first appeared on the ballot in 1998, he received only 17.55 percent of the voting.
Blyleven’s Hall of Fame chances looked rather bleak. Fortunately for him, however, baseball was on the verge of a statistical revolution that would change the way we think about virtually every aspect of the game, including the Hall of Fame vote. And nobody stood to benefit more than Bert Blyleven.
Newfound sabermetric stats like WAR, DIPS and ERA+ had become readily available on numerous websites.
It didn’t take long for bloggers like Rich Lederer and Rob Neyer to realize that these newfound stats reflected even more positively on Blyleven’s career than the old-school stats. Within a few years, an army of writers and bloggers (with Lederer in particular leading the way) began pushing Blyleven’s Hall of Fame case to anyone who would listen.
Essentially, they were doing exactly what I had been doing since elementary school—only they were better at it in every way, shape, and form.
After 14 years of work, the statheads had finally convinced enough voters to change their minds, and Blyleven was elected to the Hall with 79.7 percent of the voting.
Here is hoping that Rich Lederer is asked to be his presenter. And hopefully, this shirt makes an appearance.
I also consider his induction to be personally validating. Although I had little to do with his induction until I started writing for a larger audience on the Sporting News (long after Lederer and Neyer had spelled out his case), it was nice to know that all those hours on the playground did not go completely to waste.
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