Bert Blyleven belongs in the Hall of Fame.
In fact, he’s belonged in the Hall of Fame for twelve years.
Yet, for twelve years in a row, the Baseball Writers Association of American has erred by leaving him out in the cold when the voting results are announced.
Now in his thirteenth year of eligibility, Blyleven is down to his final three strikes.
Blyleven’s inability to get inducted has never been a case of talent.
For Bert Blyleven the numbers have always been there, however, the votes have not.
In a 22-year career that spanned five teams and both leagues, “The Flying Dutchman” put up some very impressive numbers.
Those impressive numbers include 287 career wins, which is good enough for 27th on the all-time list. Almost every eligible player ahead of Blyleven on the wins list is enshrined in Cooperstown.
In fact, plenty of pitchers with less wins that Blyleven have be inducted. Some notable examples include: Jim Palmer, Juan Marichal, Whitey Ford, Don Drysdale, and Catfish Hunter, among others.
Wins aren’t the only statistic where Blyleven’s numbers are Hall-worthy.
Blyleven’s 3,701 career strikeouts rank him fifth all-time, he’s 11th in games started with 685, he’s ninth all-time with 60 shutouts, and he’s 13th on the all-time innings pitched list with 4,970.
Blyleven’s career 3.31 earned run average tops current Hall of Famers Phil Niekro, Fergie Jenkins, Robin Roberts, and Dennis Eckersley.
Clearly the numbers are there, so what’s the issue?
It seems that voters haven’t yet made a big push to get Blyleven in because of his lack of the so-called “benchmarks” for entry into the Hall of Fame.
Blyleven never won a Cy Young Award, he didn’t reach the 300 win plateau, he was only an All-Star twice in 22 years, he won 20 games in a season just once, and he only led the league in one of the key pitching categories once, in 1985 when he paced the American League with 206 strikeouts.
Despite his lack of a standout season or any of the archaic benchmarks, one needs only look so far as his overall body of work in comparison to his modern day counterparts to see that he belongs.
How many starters will ever reach 287 career wins?
How many starters will ever strike out more than 3,000 batters again, let alone reach his lofty mark?
How many starters—in the age of pitch counts, specialty relievers, and the six-inning quality start—will ever come close to pitching 242 complete games or 60 shutouts?
Blyleven’s already rock-solid numbers, although unchanged since he retired following the 1992 season, figure to grow more impressive as the era of the workhorse pitcher fades farther into the past.
Blyleven was a pitcher cut from a different cloth.
He wanted to start and finish a game on the mound with the ball in his hand. Too many pitchers now are content to earn the quality start and hit the showers.
Take for instance Blyleven’s 242 complete games and 60 shutouts.
Randy Johnson is the active leader in complete games pitched with 100. The modern-era workhorse, Roy Halladay has just 49.
Johnson is also the active leader in shutouts with 37, followed by Tom Glavine with 25.
No one is going to catch Blyleven any time soon, meaning that his lofty, Hall of Fame-worthy rankings will remain intact long passed the end of his fifteenth year of eligibility.
Arguments can be made that Blyleven’s numbers are a product of his lengthy career, that he lost too many games, or that he never had one standout season to hang his hat on.
All of those arguments could be valid, but all are easily disputed by simple facts.
Blyleven’s career spanned just as many years as Gregg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, and Roger Clemens. All of whom are considered to be first-ballot Hall of Famers.
No one would ever claim that their successes were a result of pitching for two decades, as opposed to raw talent.
All four of the aforementioned pitchers also had the good fortune to pitch for winning, playoff-caliber teams for most of their careers.
Blyleven pitched in two World Series, in 1979 with Pittsburgh and in 1987 with Minnesota. He only played in the postseason one other time, in the 1970 ALCS with the Twins.
Most of his career was spent toiling for mediocre clubs that hovered at or below the .500 mark, no doubt that impacted his won-loss record in a big way.
Finally, the lack of a standout season is a moot point. How many pitchers have won a Cy Young Award or 20 games only to fade into oblivion?
A pitcher’s Hall-worthiness shouldn’t hinge on whether or not he had one stellar year somewhere along a 22-year journey that saw him finish among the game’s elite in numerous categories.
Blyleven didn’t need to win an award or have a standout year to show that he belongs in the Hall of Fame.
The numbers, as they always have been, are there.
Now it’s time for the BBWAA writers to finish what Blyleven, and his infamous curveball, started and vote him into the Hall of Fame.
The voters, despite not yet making the right decision, have been moving in the right direction.
After receiving just 17.5 percent of the vote in 1998, his first year of eligibility, his totals have grown nearly every year.
Last year he finished with 338 total votes for 62.7 percent, still shy of the 75 percent required for induction to the Hall of Fame.
Blyleven’s slow march toward the 70 percent mark is important as well, because every player who has reached 70 percent of the vote has subsequently been elected to the Hall of Fame.
Even more encouraging is that since 1980, only four players have received over 60 percent of the vote and not ended up in Cooperstown.
All signs point toward Blyleven’s eventual induction.
With no sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famers on the ticket this year and a whole slew of holdovers, this could finally be the year that Blyleven gets his due.
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