Pride and Prejudice
It's not that I'm looking for a reason to change my mind about my National Baseball Hall of Fame selections (because I'm not). But fan reaction -- or the lack thereof -- has helped me realize that I made the right decision by a) not voting for Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith or Jim Rice, and b) continuing to vote for Bert Blyleven after leaving him off my first ballot.
In three years since becoming a Hall of Fame voter, I have not received one e-mail, letter or phone call in support of Sutter, Smith or Rice -- not one. And it's not like I've kept my opinions a secret.
Within 48 hours of going public with my first ballot in 2003, however, I was contacted by a hearty group of Blyleven supporters who made such an impressive case for his inclusion that I vowed then that Blyleven would get my vote every year until he made it to Cooperstown.
That support has not waned.
Make whatever derogatory remark you want -- Blyleven's numbers are based on longevity, he never won a Cy Young Award, he was known for his curveball and nothing more -- the case is strong and clear cut.
Bert Blyleven belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Forget his name for a moment. Most Hall of Fame voters who are down on Blyleven will turn off their hearing aids at the least mention of him anyway. Just answer this question honestly: If I told you that only one pitcher in the history of baseball (Nolan Ryan) ranks higher than "Pitcher X" in all three of the following categories -- wins, strikeouts and shutouts -- would you put "Pitcher X" in the Hall of Fame?
If you answered "no," then it's time to reserve your room in the psychiatric ward.
I am convinced that Hall of Fame voters don't vote for Bert Blyleven because his name is Bert Blyleven. What other legitimate reason can there be? Every other argument is secondary to the facts.
Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, Robin Roberts, Don Sutton, Early Wynn and Phil Niekro are all in the Hall of Fame, and their average stats are nearly identical to Blyleven's. In the Dutchman's 4,970 innings (that's four innings more than the group average), he allowed 91 more hits and 30 more earned runs, but he struck out 438 more batters, allowed 107 fewer walks and coughed up four fewer home runs -- which is ironic because one of the big knocks on Blyleven is he allowed too many round-trippers.
So you're going to deny a guy enshrinement because he gave up one more hit every 55 innings and one more earned run every 166 innings than those other eight Hall of Famers did (on average)?
That's weak -- and unfair.
Throw in the fact that Blyleven won two World Series championships with the 1979 Pirates and 1987 Twins while fashioning a 5-1 W-L record and a 2.47 ERA in postseason play and the case is even more clear.
It's time for Hall of Fame voters to put their stubborness aside and swallow their pride. If you didn't vote for Blyleven in the past, you've been making a mistake.
I know. I made the same one.
But only once.
Jeff Peek writes for the Traverse City (Mich.) Record-Eagle and has been a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America (Detroit chapter) for 13 years. He drives farther to cover his team, the Detroit Tigers, than any other member of the BBWAA -- 240 miles, each way. This is his third year as voter for the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]