Baseball BeatDecember 12, 2005
The Hall of Fame Case for Bert Blyleven
By Rich Lederer

Beginning today, it's Bert Blyleven for Hall of Fame Week at the Baseball Analysts. We have a killer lineup, including Rob Neyer on Tuesday, Dayn Perry on Wednesday, and Jeff Peek on Thursday.

I'm going to be candid about the motive behind this special feature right from the outset. The purpose is none other than to raise the awareness of Blyleven's qualifications for the Hall of Fame prior to the time when most of the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America cast their ballots.

There are 29 eligible players on the ballot this year and nobody is more qualified than Bert Blyleven. His case is pretty simple and straightforward.

The good news is that Bert's vote total has increased every year since 1999, and it appears to be picking up steam. The bad news is that he is still well short of the 75% needed for enshrinement.

Year    Votes     Pct 
1998      83     17.55  
1999      70     14.08  
2000      87     17.43  
2001     121     23.50  
2002     124     26.27  
2003     145     29.23  
2004     179     35.38  
2005     211     40.89

This year marks the ninth time that Blyleven has been on the ballot. Fifteen players have been elected since Bert's first year. Twelve position players and three pitchers. In other words, only 20% of the honorees during the past eight years have been pitchers, despite the fact that pitching is widely considered to be about 35% of the game. Moreover, no starting pitcher has gained election since 1999 when Nolan Ryan was inducted with a near-record 98.8% of the votes.

The writers are instructed that "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." I'm not the one to judge integrity, sportsmanship, and character, but the Hall of Fame case for Blyleven based on his playing record and the contributions to his teams is indisputable.

Now that I have made my way up to the top of the mountain and cupped my hands around my mouth, I will shout out the following:

Since 1900, Bert Blyleven ranks 5th in career strikeouts, 8th in shutouts, and 17th in wins.

There are only eight pitchers who rank in the top 20 in wins, shutouts, and strikeouts. Here is the list:

                     Wins     SO     SHO
Bert Blyleven        17th    5th     8th
Steve Carlton         6th    4th    13th
Ferguson Jenkins     19th   11th    17th
Walter Johnson        1st    9th     1st
Gaylord Perry        12th    8th    14th
Nolan Ryan            8th    1st     6th
Tom Seaver           13th    6th     6th
Don Sutton            8th    7th     9th

Ryan is the only pitcher who ranks higher than Blyleven in all three categories. That's right, there is only one pitcher in the history of baseball who has more wins, strikeouts, and shutouts than Blyleven. There are thousands of pitchers who rank below Blyleven in these three important measures, including tens of Hall of Famers and a half dozen -- Jim Bunning, Bob Gibson, Catfish Hunter, Ferguson Jenkins, Juan Marichal, and Jim Palmer -- who had overlapping careers.

Blyleven ranks in the middle of these six pitchers in ERA+ (the ratio of the league's ERA to that of the pitcher, adjusted for the effects of the home ballpark). The calculation is as follows: lgERA divided by ERA, where > 100 is above average and < 100 is below average.

Bob Gibson         127
Jim Palmer         125
Juan Marichal      122
Bert Blyleven      118
Ferguson Jenkins   115
Jim Bunning        114
Catfish Hunter     104

As detailed, Blyleven's career totals exceed all of the pitchers in the table above and his Adjusted ERA is better than Jenkins, Bunning, and Hunter. But let's not stop with this group of pitchers. Bert's stats, in fact, are indistinguishable from the eight most similar pitchers who have already been given their day in upstate New York:

Don Sutton (914) *
Gaylord Perry (909) *
Fergie Jenkins (890) *
Robin Roberts (876) *
Tom Seaver (864) *
Early Wynn (844) *
Phil Niekro (844) *
Steve Carlton (840) *

* - Signifies Hall of Famer

                 IP     H    ER    BB    SO   HR   ERA   ERA+
Blyleven       4970  4632  1830  1322  3701  430  3.31   118  
Group Average  4974  4541  1800  1429  3263  434  3.26   115

Blyleven's counting stats and ERA/ERA+ are almost identical to the average of these eight pitchers across the board. However, his rate stats for the three areas most controlled by the pitcher are slightly better than this exclusive group.

	        BB/9    SO/9    HR/9
Blyleven         2.39    6.70    0.78
Group Average    2.59    5.90    0.79

As we have all been taught along the way, "with privileges come responsibilities." Those writers who have been entrusted to vote for the Hall of Fame need to take the time to examine Blyleven's credentials. I have read and heard many convincing cases over the years "FOR" Blyleven and am still waiting for someone to present a strong case "AGAINST" him. Oh, sure, I know about those critics who claim that "Blyleven didn't win a Cy Young Award or finish in the top ten often enough" or "Blyleven wasn't a dominant pitcher in his era" or "Blyleven was no better than Tommy John or Jim Kaat and neither of them are in the Hall of Fame."

Well, I've got responses for all three in Bert Blyleven For Hall of Fame: Answering the Naysayers. I urge all voters who have yet to mark an "x" next to Blyleven's name and those who are sitting on the fence to read that column as well as Only the Lonely: The Hall of Fame Trials and Tribulations of Bert Blyleven. If these articles don't do the job, I can only say that I wish you success in booting out of Cooperstown every player not named Aaron, Alexander, Cobb, DiMaggio, Gehrig, Grove, Hornsby, Johnson, Mantle, Mathewson, Mays, Musial, Schmidt, Speaker, Wagner, and Williams because your Hall of Fame is a lot smaller than mine.

* * * * *

I wrote a short piece recently about Blyleven in a feature at Halo's Heaven called the The 100 Greatest Angels. Blyleven was ranked #79 by the Rev Halofan Mat.

[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]


This is a classic case of meaningful stats meet subjective biases. As Rich points out, the persuasive arguments against Bert Blyleven's election to the Hall of Fame are conspicuously absent. The only cases that can be put forth tend to cherry pick a singular "failure", or, the really maddening argument that his Cy Young voting record falls short of worthy consideration. That is a circular argument. The Cy Young voters were criminally negligent when it came to Bert Blyleven. His achievements were virtually ignored. To wit:

Blyleven finished in the top five in Runs Saved Above Average (RSAA - Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia) EIGHT TIMES. Four of those seasons he failed to get a vote for the Cy Young Award, the others resulted in finishes of third, third, fourth and seventh.

The four seasons he was ignored:

  • 1971 - 4th in K, 5th in ERA
  • 1974 - 2nd in K, 4th in ERA
  • 1975 - 2nd in K, 6th in ERA
  • 1977 - 7th in K, 2nd in ERA
  • As the A.L. leader in RSAA in 1977, he did not receive a vote for the CYA.

    In the 1970s, Blyleven was third in RSAA, third in ERA and eighth in wins.

    I certainly don't expect the HOF voters to adopt RSAA (or anything like it) as their measuring stick (not yet anyway). But it is time to get past the over-emphasis on wins that was evident in the CYA voting. The point is that Blyleven's effectiveness is spotlighted by RSAA while the voters were in love with wins. In the 12 seasons in which Blyleven finished top 10 in RSAA, seven CYA winners led the league in wins, two finished second, one third and two were relief pitchers.

    This is not advanced sabermetrics. It just takes a little closer look to appreciate the performance. For some inexplicable reason (aside from the team-dependent wins column) there was a disconnect between Bert's achievements and the recognition he received. It's time to correct that.

    I wasn't alive or old enough to watch Bert Blyleven pitch. But I do remember the first time I became familiar with him. I came across a '89 or '90 Fleer baseball card of his. I remember looking at the statistics on the back and going "Whoa, who the heck is this guy?" From my perspective, it seemed impossible that someone could pitch as well as he did and for as long as he did and stay under my radar. It looks like I am not the only one. Definitely a hall-of-fame caliber pithcer. I don't need to go through the list of players that are in the Hall that he outperformed, it's too long.

    Unfortunatelay baseball is a game that is poorly understood, especially by many of the people who have played it. Hall of Famers included. Oh well, if it were up to me Bert would be in the HOF, and the Cubs would win the World Series this year. Of course, the chances this will happen are, well, zero.

    Get 'em, Rich.

    Great work as always on this topic, Rich! I always enjoy your takes on Mr. Blyleven, and as you know, I completely agree with everything you say!

    Blyleven's curse had something to do with promising something to the devil if he could make it in the big leagues. He will get into the Hall of Fame once he finds true love.


    As always, outstanding work on Blyleven. When he retired, I thought he was an obvious Hall pick. Of course, I also expected Aaron to be unanimous - shows what I know. I have greatly enjoyed your Blyleven series, and look forward to reading the "victory column."

    On a thinly related note, I also can't help but hope that once that remaining 35% of voters is inevitably brought over from the dark side, you'll consider lending your considerable talents to my pet Hall of Fame travesty, the case for Curt Flood. I won't attempt to make a case for him here except to say that his impact obviously went way beyond anything he ever did on the field (which was pretty good) and to note that interestingly, by now he needs to be voted in by the Veterans Committee, which consists of an ever-increasing number of members who owe Mr. Flood a debt which they can never repay.

    Press on, brother.

    Blyleven is long overdue. If he hadn't pitched at the same time as Seaver, Ryan, Niekro, Sutton, Palmer, Hunter, Carlton, and Jenkins, people would recognize him more and he'd be in the Hall of Fame. And I didn't even realize that only Ryan has more wins, strikeouts, AND shutouts than Blyleven.

    Preaching to the choir bro.

    His case is overwhelming, but sometimes it takes a while to get elected.

    I imagine you don't want to detract from your message, but any chance of doing a similar campaign for Goose Gossage?


    I was a kid batboy in the Angels visiting teams clubhouse when Bert came up. I think he was 19. I not sure he was even shaving. He looked like another kid to me. But that was where any similarities stopped. Even then,all the players talked about his awesome "stuff". What they meant is the most hard-breaking, knee-buckling, ball-tightening curveball any of them (grizzled old vets!) had ever seen.
    I was also in the Angel clubhouse when they had Ryan. I can only tell you this: What Ryan was to fastballs-Blyleven was to curveballs. Each had the best there ever was!

    Bert is an undeniable Hall of Famer. What's more is that he is a terrific person and still very involved with the Twins as a broadcaster and ambassador. He suffers from the "small market curse." Clearly better statistics than Hunter or others who pitched for big market teams and got into the Hall. He and Jim Kaat should go in together....Kaat with his 288 victories and 16 Golden Gloves, not to mention a terrific bat for a pitcher.

    Theres no doubt in my mind,bert had the best bender in baseball,A work horse,Go to guy,and most of all,a true fan of the game,cmon hall voters,wake up and smell the coffee,BERT belongs

    i live in minnesota and follow the twins. Not only was he a great ballplayer, he also is a treat to listen to on our fsn broadcast of the twins. He is a pleasure to hear, and he is a very friendly and curtious gentleman in real life too.

    come on' bert. and hey, circle me bert!

    Wins and saves, the two most useless stats (by themselves)in describing a picher's actual ability or contribution to his team's success. But here we are in 2005 still using them to measure pitchers qualifications for getting into the hall of fame. By all relevant measures Blyleven should be in the Hall already. Being a Twins fan, and having listened to a lot of Bert in the announcer's booth, I'm sure if that helps or hurts his case :-)

    Thanks for the campaign, keep up the chatter on this topic and maybe, one day, the people that get to make the decisions on how to assemble pitching staffs and value skills will get beyond the failed thinking of "Wins and Saves".

    Of all the players who aren't in the HoF, Bert Blyleven heads the list of those I think should be with the exception of Pete Rose.

    one of my favorite baseball andecdotes features Richie Allen and Gene Mauch,After numerous public outbreaks, it became inevitable that Mauch would go

    When asked about Allen AFTER his firing, Mauch was asked his feelings re Richie. Mauch with his usual class answered "he gave me a lot thrills".

    The deuce
    The wrinkle
    Old uncle Charlie
    The hook:

    There are people out there that believe baseballs can't be made to curve. Those people never saw Blyleven pitch.

    Many a knee buckled when he took the mound. That curveball embarrassed too many hitters (good hitters), not to be enshrined. I don't know where they'll put his bust, but it would be best if it was just around the his best pitch.

    I can tell you as a young high school and college pitcher Bert was a significant role model and Mentor for me. I had the blessings to have been taught how to throw a curveball from probably the best ever at it in Bert. To train with him on 10 speeds in the off season. And running at the high school. We were lucky where I grew up. Nolan Ryan lived in the same city and showed us how to hold different fastballs, his next door neighbor was Rod Carew. Carew, DeCinces, Boone and others frequently came to our High School (Villa Park) None of those mentioned players were as approachable as Bert.
    You could always get help from Bert. He helped alot of local kids in the area. So as far as his
    Character is concerned he is top notch. He always would help those who asked. And let us train with him. There are not many ProfessionalS of anything willing to mentor kids the way he did.

    Yes, Bert Blyleven deserves to be inducted into the Baseball Hall Of Fame. But so do Andre Dawson, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Jim Rice and Lee Smith.

    Byleven definitely needs to be voted in. He probably had the best curve ball ever. His strikeouts, wins, and ERA were comparable to those that have been elected. He was one of the best in his generation.

    Many of those baseball writers that do the voting are dinosaurs. They overemphasize the most useless stat in baseball, which is wins.

    All pitchers can do is control the amount of runs they allow. Run support is probably the most important factor when in comes to pitchers winning games, and having sterling records.

    Al they would have to do is take a moment to see how much Blyleven's win/loss record would have improved had he received just league average run support.

    Baseball is a game of statistics. Anyone who takes the time to see how good Blyleven's career statisics are should have no problem voting him into the HOF.

    Bert was shafted by the Cy Young voters when he played, and I guess it is no surprise that he is getting shafted by the HOF voters. It is a shame, and I guess and indictment these HOF voters and whether they are really qulified to cast ballots.

    There are lies, damn lies and statistics. You may have heard that one :) I witnessed the Don Sutton era in LA and the Bert Blyleven era, while he was either with a local team or a rival & saw them both pitch many times. I think both were excellent pitchers in their day. Both hung on a long time & certainly built up amazing lifetime statistics in their 20+ year careers. While I realize that 300 wins, or near 300 wins is an amazing achievement... one that we may not see again, that doesn't make one HOF material. Nobody that saw Bert Blyleven pitch is going to compare Bert Blyleven with Bob Gibson or Tom Seaver (or even Nolan Ryan). They only get compared favorably with the borderline Hall of Famers like Don Sutton and Gaylord Perry. Just because they let those guys in doesn't mean that we should lower the bar just a little more to let in Bert Blyleven.

    Perhaps some of the above arguments are being heard by the voters. A near 13% jump this year. Maybe some momentum for nextyear.

    Bert Blyleven is not even the best starter eligible that's not in the hall. While career numbers are important, does anyone (other than a die-hard Blyleven supporter) remember a time when he was considered a better pitcher than Jack Morris. They both hung on TOO long, but in their prime, there is no comparison.

    Morris was a big game pitcher and an ace. Blyleven was a solid pitcher for a number of years, but never one of the top 4-5 pitchers of his era.

    He has nice stats, but he sort of reminds me of Tom Glavine, who shouldn't be a Hall of Famer when he retires.

    Bert Blyleven does not belong in the Hall of Fame. He was a very good pitcher for a long time, but not a great one.

    I remember him from his time with the Pirates, back when I lived in Pittsburgh, Blyleven was on a championship team in Pittsburgh in 1979, but he was a very unwilling participant. He hated being used to pitch in any circumstance other than as a starting pitcher, and he hated the way the manager would pull him to use their excellent relievers, thus reducing his innings and strikeouts. He publicly complained about it. He stated that he had certain statistical goals to reach at the beginning of every season, and that the way he was being used caused him to miss them that year. He did this *during* the season! The team won the Series anyway, and Bert was gone after the next year. The Pirates didn't want him.

    I followed all this then, and remember how self-centered he was. Yes, he did achieve certain big statistical goals for his career, but he is no winner, and not a team player in any way. I suspect that enough HOF voters remember this, as it was very public at the time. And he was never a big winner: only one 20-win season (he lost 17 that year) and a lifetime percentage of just a little over .500. He was just good for a long time, never great.

    He was *never* the go-to guy on the staff, the way great pitchers were (Gibson, Koufax, etc.) In 1979, Candelaria and Bibby were the main starters (Bibby's innings total was held down by an injury during the season, but he was a better pitcher then Blyleven that year and the next year) so they were used as the main starters in the Series, not Blyleven. And in 1987, Viola was the big pitcher on the staff; Blyleven was number 2. He was known as a very good pitcher, but not the key guy.

    Sutton should never have been put in the Hall, but voters were blinded by his 300 wins and felt it was automatic. There's no reason to make another similar mistake and put Blyleven in now (he doesn't even have the 300 wins).

    Bottom line: Blyleven's statistics are insufficient. He does not belong in the Hall of Fame of a team game.

    So let me get this straight: Sutter is good enough for the HOF, but Blyleven, Hawk, Rice, Goose, and Morris aren't?

    Blyleven belongs, EoS.

    And don't forget Bly's postseason credentials. TWO World Series rings, 5-1 , 2.47 in 6 postseason starts, including 2-1, 2.35 in 3 WS starts.

    Didn't reach 300 wins? No problem, Neutral Wins/Losses takes care of that.

    Not considered by many to be a "team" player? I wouldn't blame him, since the anemic offenses he's had to play with during his career cost him many games and, as the chart shows, potentially 300 victories.

    There's no way around it. The guy's a Hall of Famer.

    Without question, Blyleven belongs. So do Tommy John (even apart from the fact that his name identifies the surgery that has resurrected numerous pitching careers) Jim Kaat, and Jack Morris. The fact that Kaat will have to wait for the Veterans Committee is a travesty. I also long for the day that justice is done with induction for Santo, Vada Pinson, Andre Dawson, Lee Smith, and Gossage. Take the vote from the BBWAA and give it to a SABR Committee!!!

    A complete game shutout with high k's is the standard for pitching dominance. Only two, TWO, pitchers in the history of baseball have lead Bert Blyleven in all three catagories. The reason he isn't in the hall of fame is because the writers never pitched for Minnesota for ten years, Texas for 1 1/2, Pittsburg for 3, Cleveland for 4 and California for 3. How many games did he get hit for late inning runs because he was the best on the team, lose a game by the bull pen, or lose in a low run battle with all the number one pitchers he had to face because he was the best on most of the teams he played for. It is a shame that Don Sutton is in the hall and Bert isn't and the same can be said for other hall of famers that are in and Bert isn't.

    He is a complete game shutout master.

    Thanks for supporting a great pitcher and a better man.