Blyleven for Hall of Fame: The Majority Rules, Right?
Although Bert Blyleven came up short in the Hall of Fame voting announced earlier today, his total increased by more than 31% as he was named on 277 of the 520 ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. By crossing the important 50% level for the first time, Blyleven appears to be on track at one day getting inducted into Cooperstown. Gil Hodges, in fact, is the only player no longer eligible for the HOF to receive 50% of the vote total and not have his day in upstate New York.
Bruce Sutter was the only candidate who received the required 75% for enshrinement. Sutter picked up 400 votes or 76.9% of the total. Jim Rice (337, 64.8%), Rich Gossage (336, 64.6%), and Andre Dawson (317, 61.0%) finished between Sutter and Blyleven.
Blyleven, who has been on the ballot for nine years, has a chance to follow a similar path to the Hall of Fame as Sutter. The newest member of the Hall passed the 50% mark for the first time in 2003, earning an almost identical total as Blyleven this year. The 1979 NL Cy Young Award winner then bridged the gap over the next three years, adding between 6%-10% annually to his totals to gain induction into baseball's most prestigious fraternity in his 13th year of eligibility.
As shown below, Blyleven's momentum is really building:
Year Votes Pct
1998 83 17.6
1999 70 14.1
2000 87 17.4
2001 121 23.5
2002 124 26.3
2003 145 29.2
2004 179 35.4
2005 211 40.9
2006 277 53.3
Based on the number of ballots cast this year, Blyleven needs 113 more votes out of the 243 writers who did not support him. That does not seem insurmountable by any means. In fact, there are many writers who have professed to be on the fence, both in public and in private conversations and emails with me. I won't name names here, but you know who you are. All I can say is that you were in the majority by not voting for Bert in the past, but you will be in the minority if you continue to leave his name off your ballot in the years to come.
In the meantime, the favorable press on Blyleven's behalf continues to mount. Non-voters and voters alike have even mentioned our efforts in getting out the word. It's easy to be an advocate when someone has as strong of a case as the man who is 5th in strikeouts, 8th in shutouts, and 17th in wins since 1900. I haven't accomplished anything other than trying to get voters to take a look at Blyleven's stellar record. To the extent that they have, I say amen. To the extent that they haven't, I only ask that they please do before they mark their ballots next year.
Here are a few excerpted paragraphs from an excellent article written by Childs Walker of the Baltimore Sun in today's newspaper:
Blyleven, like many of his peers, is acutely aware of his case. He has watched his name rise on the ballot and can tick off the wins, innings pitched and strikeout totals that comprise the best parts of his argument. He has read the material on BertBelongs.com and by another advocate, Rich Lederer at baseballanalysts.com.
The first two can be parried easily. Blyleven didn't win more because he often didn't pitch for good teams. Had he received even league-average support, Lederer calculated, his record would be 313-224.
As for the Cy Young voting, the contemporary voters just didn't appreciate what they were seeing.
On baseballanalysts.com, Lederer does a fantastic season-by-season breakdown of Blyleven's career, showing how consistently he outpitched those who finished above him in awards voting. In 1973 for example, Blyleven won 20, finished second in the league in ERA and strikeouts and fourth in innings pitched but appeared on only one of 24 Cy Young ballots.
Joe Sheehan, author of Baseball Prospectus, wrote the following in his outstanding Hall of Fame column (subscription required) yesterday:
Bert Blyleven essentially has a campaign of people like me trying to get him into the Hall of Fame, one that peaked late last year over at Baseball Analysts. I'm with them. Blyleven isn't even a borderline case, but rather, an above-average Hall of Famer who is underrated due to criminally bad run support during his best seasons. The reputation he picked up as a guy who couldn't win close games is unfair.
Blyleven may have been a difficult teammate--I mostly remember the 1980s version, the veteran jokester, although I've learned more about his earlier days over the years--but that's an argument you make about a player on the bubble. Blyleven should not be on the bubble. As Rich Lederer says, succinctly, "Since 1900, Blyleven ranks fifth in career strikeouts, eighth in shutouts and 17th in wins." Blyleven isn't qualified for the Hall; he's overqualified, and with six years of eligibility left, I'm optimistic that the voices of reason will eventually carry the day.
Blyleven was nice enough to tip his cap in our direction in a radio interview with MLB.com yesterday and another with ESPN Radio this afternoon. The former is currently listed on the home page in the upper right-hand corner under Highlights (Broadcaster and Hall of Fame candidate Bert Blyleven on possibly getting the call and the team's prospects for 2006). The first few minutes can also be accessed here.
I asked Bill James, one of Blyleven's earliest supporters and the author of a fascinating feature called The Nasty Dutchman in the The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006, for his comments about Bert's chances of gaining election now that he has passed the 50% barrier.
The 300-game winners are disappearing from the ballot; there is more room to vote for the 280-game winners, and the 280-game winners have always gotten in eventually. I'm sure Bert will as well ... there are a lot of people advocating for him.
Yes, and these people have only just begun (and are more energized than ever before). Bert Blyleven for Hall of Fame 2007 starts now.
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Now back to our regularly scheduled programming, starring Bryan Smith and his must-read 2006 WTNY Top 75 Prospects.