Sunday, January 03, 2010

Blyleven's On-Going Vote Count, Ensuing Diatribe.



Bill Conlin (Phil Daily News)

Jon Heyman (Sports Illustrated) 

Pat Caputo (Morning Sun)

Rick Telander (Chicago Sun) 

 Mark Topkins (Tampa Times)

Danny Knobler (CBS Sports) 

 Terry Pluto (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

 Bruce Jenkins (San Francisco Chronicle)

Richard Griffin (Toronto Star)


 Ken Davidoff (Newsday)


 Ken Rosenthal (FOX Sports)


 Scott Bordow (East Valley Tribune)


Tom Keegan (Lawrence Journal World)
Philip Hersh (Chicago Tribune)
Bill Kennedy (Trenton Times)
Hal McCoy (Dayton Daily News)
Sean McClelland (Dayton Daily News)
Lynn Henning (Detroit News)
Dan Coughlin (Cleveland Leader)
Bill Madden (NY Daily News)
Jeff Fletcher (AOL FanHouse)
Fred Mitchell (Chicago Tribune)
Jeff Schultz (Atl Constitution)
Charley Walters (Pi Press)
Phil Arvia (Southtown News)
Carl Steward (Oakland Tribune)
Mark Gonzales (Chicago Tribune)
Teddy Greenstein (Chicago Tribune)
Gerry Brown (Mass Republican)



There is no doubt that baseball’s Hall of Fame is imperfect. Instead of a warehouse of just the game’s top statistical hoarders, the Hall of Fame should be embraced as a time capsule, a collection of the game’s most influential characters for future generations to reflect upon for their greatness. Walking down the hall 100 years from now, every player preserved should not raise a shadow of a doubt as to why their plaque exists.

The Hall of Fame did not foster that idea when it created its system for voting. According to the official website “Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” This vagary has advanced some of the most tired annual arguments.

The Hall did not provide an accompanying handbook that outlines what is the standard for record, ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character or contributions to the team(s). More often than not, a player’s record (i.e. his stats) is the focal point when levying for election. For example, regular proposals for Hall-worthiness is based on the equation that Player X had numbers comparable to HOF Player Y and Z therefore Player X is a Hall of Famer. For better or worse, this is the accepted methodology to immortalize the game’s best. After all, you can easily make an argument for someone’s election based on their win/loss record; it is harder to do on the basis of their integrity or sportsmanship. When it comes to integrity or sportsmanship, it takes Gambling and steroids are a big no-no, racism and off-field incidents are negligible. While I believe Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire belong in the hall predicated on their cultural significance, electing them would be potentially viewed as baseball awarding performance-enhancement usage. Juiced or not, 100 years from now Bonds and McGwire should be remembered.

It is the numbers argument why Bert Blyleven’s Hall bid is in highly contested. Perhaps voters have taken “a player’s record” too literally in the past as Blyleven is the proud owner of .534 winning percentage (450th all-time). In their defense, none of his individual seasons can be quantified as “exceptional”. He was voted for Cy Young in just four of his 22 seasons (1973, 1984, 1985 and 1989), never finishing higher than third, and the league’s managers found him All Star worthy in just two seasons (1973 and 1985). He led the league in strikeouts once (206) and one twenty-games once (1973). Outside of that, everything else appears to be a product of a long, healthy career. During his era (from 1970 to 1992), Blyleven threw the most complete games (242), 23 more than Steve Carlton in that time. His strikeout total (3,701) was second only to Nolan Ryan yet his K/9 (6.7) was only 14th best, sandwiching him between Fernando Valenzuela and Ron Guidry. He surrendered the most hits among starting pitchers and had the 43rd lowest batting average (.248), strong indications that he was equal parts dirty and hittable. When all was said and done after 1992, it was obvious that the Dutchman had put up a mess of alternatively good and bad numbers between his 22 seasons.

On the big stage, Blyleven won pivotal postseason games for Minnesota and Pittsburg, going 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA and a 36/8 K/BB ratio in 47.1 innings. His two victories against the Detroit Tigers helped propel the Twins to their first World Series victory.

Besides the hard-earned strikeout totals (fifth all-time, third when he retired) and post-season record, Blyleven excelled in one area: shutouts. Considering that his 60 shutouts are good enough for 9th all-time, the righty is in the middle of some legendary company. His ability to blank opponents over nine frames was outstanding. This was better than a lot of his compatriots already in the Hall including Don Sutton, Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer, Don Drysdale and so on. In fact, everybody in the top twenty are in the Hall of Fame with the exception of Blyleven. In addition to the unfathomable total, this appears to be a mark that will never be topped again. As it stands right now, the closest active pitcher to this total is Randy Johnson with 37. This is a fairly significant corroborating evidence of his dominance.


Some will argue that his entire candidacy is essentially founded on his strikeouts and shutouts because his resume does not have any awards or garner too much attention from peers in season to be included in the All Star game during his career (just twice). Opponents noted that Blyleven was one of the better pitcher’s in the game. Anecdotally, George Brett quipped that “The writers never had to face him. If they did, they’d vote for him. He was as good as there was for a long time. Bert is up there with the toughest four or five guys I faced in my career.” Naturally, the writers could face Livan Hernandez and probably be blown away but that’s neither here nor there. Over the course of 128 battles, Blyleven held the career-.305 Brett to a .231 average. Then again Eddie Murray might have a different opinion as the Orioles switch-hitter socked six home runs and batted .414 in 62 altercations.

Does Bert Belong? Based upon the current system, yes, he’s compiled a strong enough record to be included, particularly if Don Sutton and Gaylord Perry are already in. Blyleven’s election is a slippery slop. On one hand, some numbers have been good enough to get him elected. No question. Then again, if he is elected, numerous arguments for the inclusion of flawed pitchers that put up large totals in lengthy careers will cite Blyleven’s election as evidence that Mike Mussina or Jamie Moyer belongs too. Suddenly, the Hall of Fame is easier to get into than Saint Cloud State.

Truthfully, I don’t care enough about the Hall to get worked up if Blyleven is ignored once again. In fact, I would understand it. There is just as much logic to support voting against him as there is to elect him. To me, the more you have to talk yourself into voting for someone, the less likely it is that he should be placed in the hallowed halls in Cooperstown. On the other hand, if Blyleven is elected, the crowd would be quieted until they move on to the next player that they feel is slighted of this honor.