Baseball BeatDecember 11, 2006
Another Small Step for Blyleven
By Rich Lederer

I was preparing to write an editorial about the controversy surrounding this year's Hall of Fame ballot when none other than Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News beat me to the punch late last week.

Yes, the same Bill Conlin who basically accused me of being a "cybergeek" three years ago when we exchanged emails over the merits of Bert Blyelven's HOF candidacy. Conlin had just voted for Dennis Eckersley, Paul Molitor, and Ryne Sandberg but not for Blyleven. In addition to making three points about Blyleven ranking fifth in career strikeouts, ninth in shutouts, and 24th in wins, I mentioned that he was also among the top 20 in Neutral Wins, Runs Saved Above Average, and ERA vs. the League Average.

Conlin quickly shot back a second email:

I find strikeouts to be the most overrated pitching stat. An out is an out. . .Just as 1-0 and 4-3 are both wins. I don't do cybergeek stuff, so you lost me after point 3.

A year later, I exchanged emails with Bill but to no avail.

I don't plan to vote for Blyleven. He was not a dominant pitcher of his era, merely a very good one. Take away the final 7 hanging-around years of Jim Kaat and you have a record very close to Blyleven's and I have never voted for Kaat.

Scratching my head over the term "dominant pitcher," I asked Bill if he had ever voted for Don Sutton.

I voted for Sutton every year he was eligible. He won the same number of games as Ryan in three fewer seasons and had 36 fewer losses. That was the crux of my NOT voting for Ryan his first year of eligibilty.

With the conversation shifting from Blyleven to Sutton to Ryan, I wrote back, "Re, you were the guy, ehh? 98.79% of the voters saw fit to write his name on their ballots and only about five saw fit not to...That puts you in some pretty unique company, I must say."

Bill fired back:

7 and that's an old story which I addressed in two widely distributed columns and I'm not going to re-open it with the likes of you. . .

As I wrote in It's That Time of the Year (Again), "Last year, our email exchange ended with Bill telling me that he didn't do 'cybergeek stuff.' This year, it came to a halt because of who I am or who I'm not. However, I'm not deterred in the least and am hopeful that one day it will conclude with, 'You know, Rich, I think you've made a good case for Blyleven. 5th in career strikeouts, 9th in shutouts, 24th in wins, and 19th in ERA vs. the league average. That's one heckuva record. He's got my vote this year.'" I concluded my article with, "A man can dream, can't he?"

Well, guess what, folks? The dream has become a reality. You see, Conlin last week admitted to voting for Blyleven.

For those reasons, I have just checked the box next to McGwire's name on my Hall of Fame ballot. I have also checked the names of Bert Blyleven (all you campaigners finally won me over), Tony Gwynn, Jim Rice, Cal Ripken Jr., and Lee Smith.

"I have also checked the names of Bert Blyleven (all you campaigners finally won me over)..." Hallelujah! Score one for the cybergeeks. Blyleven hasn't won a game in more than 14 years, yet is finding a growing legion of supporters among the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Better late than never, right?

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

After an inauspicious first three years, Blyleven's vote total jumped 39% in 2001, then stagnated the following year before accelerating in 2003 and beyond to the point where he crossed the magical 50% barrier for the first time in 2006. Other than Gil Hodges, every candidate who has received half of the vote has eventually been enshrined in Cooperstown.

Will Blyleven make the quantum leap from 53% to the required 75% this year? Probably not. But if Bert can continue to pick up votes from "the likes of guys like Bill" in the manner he has the past few years, his induction should only be a matter of time.


Well, that would certainly be a step in the right direction. Now, can you start working on fixing Bill Plaschke?

Believe it or not, Conlin has been quoting from the Bill James Handbook in recent weeks. The baserunning stats and manufactured runs stats resonate with him apparently.

Yes, and Fehr has just been quoted as saying that the criteria for Hall of Fame induction should strictly be on field performance. If McGuire and Bonds are eligible, then let's induct Pete Rose too!

I didn't realize McGuire and Bonds signed agreements prevented themselves from being inducted.

Blyleven in Cooperstown soon, then it's underrated Alan Trammell's turn.

It sures seems like you played a role in convincing Conlin. Too bad he could not mention your name.

Sad that Rich Lederer has to lobby the likes of Bill Conlin...

Hmmm. Your Bert work with on Conlin tells me you might sway him on Richie (career OPS 206 pts. higher than league) Allen.

Nice work Rich. Whatever one's evaluation of Blyleven's achievements, he's worth of The Hall. Keep spreading the news. Next? Goose. Relative to the Suit's numbers and based on his own numbers, Goose should be there too.

Goose and Trammell are definitely the ones who need the Lederer treatment. Though Goose looks like he'll get there on his own, Tram is in serious trouble right now. The only hope I have for him is that the voters want Ripken to go in first, so maybe Trammell's vote total will jump next year.

Bert Blyleven may make it to the HoF, and he may not. The problem with him is he just wasn't dominant enough. The HoF is full of players with similar career numbers, but that doesn't mean we should be adding marginal players. MY HoF needs to only include the greats. Of the pitchers playing now or in the recent past: Clemens, Maddux, Randy Johnson, and Pedro are the only clear candidates. Each should get 90% of the vote the first time on the ballot. I would begrudgingly add Trevor Hoffman to that list for what he has done. The next guy on the list is I guess Tom Glavine, although Tom Glavine has Blyleven-type numbers. But we SHOULD be arguing about these players who are marginal HOFers. And we should be very careful about who gets in, because once one Don Sutton gets in, every other Don Sutton-like pitcher will have a whole bunch of supporters claiming, "my guy is as good as Don Sutton and he got in". Blyleven was good, he had a fine career. He has a good gig now as an announcer, he'd like to be in the HoF but I don't think it will make or break him whether he gets in or not. Does baseball NEED Blyleven in there? no. Does baseball NEED Pete Rose in the HoF? That guy pulled an awful lot of crap, but I think baseball DOES need Pete Rose in the Hall. He just belongs.

Basically the best who are not in the HOF should be the first ones elected. It all comes down to how many a year feels right. I think one a year is way too little and 4 every year is probably too much. 2 or 3 players a year seems right. Blyleven is clearly the best pitcher not in, so in one of these next couple of years he should be one of the 2 or 3.

The entire point with Blyleven is that he really isn't a marginal candidate--he's only been marginalized because of the preoccupation with his W-L record. He was a superior pitcher to Sutton (who belongs on his own merits), and stands up to any number of guys who are already in the Hall.

And ironically, Pete Rose is the definition of a player who was very good for a very long time but was never dominant in any sense of the word. He was a OF/1B who was a poor base stealer and had marginal power; but he hung around for 25 years and hit a lot of singles. The HoF needs a guy like Blyleven a hell of a lot more than it needs a guy like Rose.

I am always surprised that people do not recognize the distinction between Rose not being in the Hall and arguments over others.

Rose is not excluded because he is a sleaze. He is excluded because he broke a rule that requires he be excluded. It is like getting strike 3 while at bat. You cannot say that because a player is great he deserves another pitch.

Even assuming the steroids issue is relevant to admission to the Hall-which I do not believe-it is in no way comparable. Baseball is a closed system with its own rules. One of them is that anyone found betting on games is banned from the game for life. If it is a bad rule (it isn't), it can be changed, just as the 3 strikes rule may be. But until then, it is absolute. Until now, there has been no such rule about steroids. If there should be (there shouldn't), it can be passed, and then future players will have to abide by it or suffer the penalty.

As for entrance into the Hall, again that is a separate issue. It is the Hall's decision, not baseball's which is a separate entity, that nobody banned from the game is eligible for the Hall. Again, the Hall may change that stipulation, and if it does, Rose, Jackson and possibly Cicotte may be considered. But until then, Rose is out. You cannot simply make him an exception. There is no stipulation that steroid users are ineligible, so again, the analogy to Rose is mistaken.

If you want Rose admitted to the Hall, you have to do one of two things. Either lobby baseball to drop its ruling on gambling (which I think would be a mistake) or lobby the Hall to admit players banned from the game (which is more reasonable, I think, although questionable too). But you cannot logically lobby for him to be admitted as things currently stand any more than you can lobby to add to his BA because an umpire mistakenly called strike 3 instead of ball 4 in a game in 1970.

BarryZitoForever should read Jayson Stark's January 9, 2006 column on if he thinks Bert Blyleven "wasn't dominant enough" and was a "marginal" player. Stark noted that if you compare Blyleven to his fellow pitchers in the division-play era, he ranks No. 1 in complete games, No. 2 in shutouts (one behind Nolan Ryan), No. 2 in innings pitched (again trailing only Ryan), No. 5 in strikeouts and No. 6 in wins (behind only Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers). I'd love to have had a "marginal" pitcher like that starting on my team.

Other than Don Sutton, Blyleven had the worst run support of any pitcher in the group that comprises the best Hall of Fame candidates of that era. Given better run support, he would have surely exceeded the magical 300 wins that seems to be the only barrier to his election.

Congrats at another convert...maybe we can start convincing Buster Olney of ESPN, who is leaving Blyleven off of his ballot for yet another year. :(

Not sure if I can post Olney's defense at the snub, but if you're an ESPN Insider, you can read it here.

I love you dude!

Interesting stuff. I never realied Blyleven's stats ranked up their like that. 5th in career strikeouts and 24th in wins. Those are certainly HOF-caliber numbers.

Everyone has been speaking of the statistics, which need speaking for. What doesn't is Blyleven's incredible curveball. The man is associated with the pitch. That's how well he threw it...

What I meant to say was, The PITCH is associated with the man...