Baseball BeatJanuary 10, 2006
Blyleven for Hall of Fame: The Majority Rules, Right?
By Rich Lederer

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 and by another advocate, Rich Lederer at

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, 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 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.

* * * * *

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming, starring Bryan Smith and his must-read 2006 WTNY Top 75 Prospects.


I like the optimistic tone. Count me in on the "here's hoping" brigade.

Today's results are a great sign. Rich, big time kudos for helping to spread the word.

Has anyone ever gone from sub-20% to over 50% before?

Yes, there have been several players who have gone from sub-20% to over 50% before. In fact, all of these players eventually made it into the HOF.

Duke Snider is probably one of the biggest names to achieve this "feat."

Year Election Votes Pct 
1970  BBWAA    51   17.00  
1971  BBWAA    89   24.72  
1972  BBWAA    84   21.21  
1973  BBWAA   101   26.58  
1974  BBWAA   111   30.41  
1975  BBWAA   129   35.64  
1976  BBWAA   159   40.98  
1977  BBWAA   212   55.35  
1978  BBWAA   254   67.02  
1979  BBWAA   308   71.30  
1980  BBWAA   333   86.49  

Duke apparently had a great season in 1979 and the voters responded in kind.

Just remember than next year there'll be 2 automatic first-ballot candidates, and a storm of controversy around McGwire. Both those factors are going to draw votes and attention from Blyleven, and you can't do much about that. So I'd advise you to take it somewhat easier (not stop advocating for Bert by any means, but don't go nuts about it), and to not expect too much from the voting.

I hear that argument about next year's ballot but must admit that I don't buy into it. Writers are allowed to vote for up to ten candidates.

As a result, there is plenty of room on these ballots for Ripken and Gwynn (and McGwire, for that matter), as well as Rice, Gossage, Dawson, and Blyleven. I would be surprised if all seven players received the necessary 75% in the same year, but there's really no reason why voting for any of the newly eligibile players should be at the expense of guys like Bert.

Also, there are no _starting pitchers_ entering.

Rich, where'd you get Snider's data?

The Baseball Hall of Fame maintains a website, which includes the voting history of each player and year. Here is the link to Duke's page:

History of BBWAA Hall of Fame Voting

Looking back at the class of 1999 (Ryan, Brett, Yount), the support for almost all the other candidates dropped 8-13 pct points. Some guys just don't like to put more than 2-3 guys on their ballots. But the good news is everyone recovered their support and then some the next year except Garvey.

So I think Blyleven's probably going to slide back in to the 45% range next year.

But did you catch, Conlin's post HOF article? Sounded very much like he is close to voting for him.

Looking back at the class of 1999 (Ryan, Brett, Yount), the support for almost all the other candidates dropped 8-13 pct points.

Good point. It baffles me, but whoever said the balloting process made sense anyway? Even Blyleven's vote total dipped in 1999 (the only time it fell from one year to the next).

I had not seen that about Conlin. I'll have to check it out. Boy, that would be quite a story if he voted for Bert.

You have it right, Mr. Lederer,; the balloting process is nonsensical. It is now a matter of the candidate having an 'election committee' engage in an organized campaign. Statistics and observations still count for something but one needs the campaign management more than anything else. As a case in point, remember Rizzuto's election? He wasn't even the fifth best shortstop of his time; but his campaign managers rivaled Karl Rove.

Blyleven has an excellent post-season pitching record, and two rings. This should have considerable weight in Hall of Fame voting. I only got to see him once, in the late 1980s. He made mincemeat of our Tigers, and they were one of the best-hitting teams in baseball at that time.

There have been no starters elected to HOF since Ryan in 1999. There won't be any starters in Bert's class on the ballot until at least 2012 (whenever Clemens, Maddox, Johnson decide to retire). In the era of small parks, juiced balls and juiced hitters, the voters need to have some balance between votes for hitters and pitchers (and I don't mean 1 inning save guys).

Hear ye! Hear ye!