Another Small Step for Blyleven
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 Ryan...so, 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.