Buster Olney wrote a column last Tuesday, entitled "On Blyleven's Candidacy" (ESPN Insider subscription required). Olney, who has never voted for Blyleven in the past, gives his reasons as to why he didn't support him again this year.
I have highlighted excerpts of Olney's comments below followed by my responses.
I've looked for a way around the strong belief that Blyleven is the pitcher's version of Harold Baines -- a very steady, reliable player during a long career, but never a dominant presence for a period of at least a few years.
Bert Blyleven has now been reduced to a "pitcher's version of Harold Baines?" You've got to be kidding me, right? I mean, how can Olney make such a comment while keeping a straight face?
I will grant you, Harold Baines was a good hitter. Maybe even a very good hitter. However, as a player who spent the vast majority of his time as a designated hitter, I'm not sure you can say he was much more than that. But I will concede that he was a good, solid hitter.
Blyleven, on the other hand, was a great pitcher. I would even argue (and will in tomorrow's article) that his record is no worse than right smack in the middle of the pack with 11 Hall of Fame pitchers who overlapped his career by five or more years.
I'm not talking perception here. Instead, I'm talking about facts. Blyleven was one of the best pitchers in the league in 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1981, 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1989. I won't go through all the details here but will point you to this article instead.
TOP FIVE RANKINGS
SO: 13x (including 6 consecutive years from 1971-76)
K/BB: 13x (including 7 straight from 1970-76)
SHO: 9x (led the league 3x)
ERA+: 7x (led league in 1973)
Blyleven also placed in the top five multiple times in many other categories, including W, H/9, BB/9, K/9, IP, GS, and CG.
Baines, on the other hand, was rarely among the top hitters in the league. Given that there are about twice as many batters in the starting lineup as there are pitchers in the starting rotation, I'll expand the rankings to ten in order to be fair to Baines.
TOP TEN RANKINGS
AVG: 3x (with a high of 6th in 1985)
OBP: 1x (7th in 1989)
SLG: 1x (led league in 1984)
OPS: 3x (high of 6th in 1984)
OPS+: 4x (high of 5th in 1989)
TB: 2x (high of 5th in 1984)
HR: 1x (9th in 1984)
Baines also ranked in the Top 10 at least twice in 3B, G, and AB.
We can also compare Blyleven and Baines by looking at their Black Ink, Gray Ink, HOF Standards, and HOF Monitor. There is some double counting with the top five and ten rankings above, but these tallies are instructive nonetheless. The overall ranks are in parentheses.
Black Ink: Pitching - 16 (129) (Average HOFer ~ 40)
Gray Ink: Pitching - 239 (24) (Average HOFer ~ 185)
HOF Standards: Pitching - 50.0 (36) (Average HOFer ~ 50)
HOF Monitor: Pitching - 120.5 (68) (Likely HOFer > 100)
Black Ink: Batting - 3 (499) (Average HOFer ~ 27)
Gray Ink: Batting - 40 (595) (Average HOFer ~ 144)
HOF Standards: Batting - 43.5 (116) (Average HOFer ~ 50)
HOF Monitor: Batting - 66.5 (267) (Likely HOFer > 100)
Baines was good but Blyleven was great.
With almost all of the current Hall of Famers, there is a period in their careers in which they had a turn as The Man. Blyleven was clearly a very good pitcher for a long time, but did he dominate his league the way other current and future Hall of Famers have -- Seaver, Gibson, Carlton, Clemens, Johnson, Maddux, Martinez?
I didn't realize that those seven pitchers were the standards. I mean, one could easily argue that Olney's talking about six of the top dozen pitchers in the history of baseball and another who certainly belongs in the top 20. Why does a pitcher have to "dominate his league" in the manner of these inner circle Hall of Famers in order to get elected as well?
I can't find another Hall of Famer voted in by writers with less than three All-Star appearances; Blyleven had two. Blyleven never finished first or second in Cy Young balloting and was never the most coveted free-agent pitcher or the object of a huge bidding war in trade talk, the way that Tom Seaver and even Vida Blue were.
"Never the most coveted free-agent pitcher or the object of a huge bidding war in trade talk." When did either become criterion for the Hall of Fame? I mean, Buster is groping here. It sounds to me like he might be looking for a reason to vote for Mike Hampton when he becomes eligible down the road. With respect to All-Star appearances, I say "big deal." I addressed this matter last month in response to naysayers like Olney.
During the course of Steve Carlton's career, he finished in the top three in his league in ERA, strikeouts, victories or Cy Young voting 23 times. Tom Glavine has done that 14 times; Roger Clemens 38. Nolan Ryan did this 23 times; Fergie Jenkins 18; Don Sutton 6, Ron Guidry 11, Randy Johnson 35; Blyleven, 12 times.
Notice the three-card monte trick Buster is pulling here? He switches from "first or second in Cy Young balloting" a couple of excerpts above to "top three" in the latest. Besides, combining rankings of stats with vote totals doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Be that as it may, let's run this same exercise using "top five" rather than "top three" and see what we come up with here. Why he picked these pitchers, who knows? But let's give it a go, huh?
ERA SO W CYA TOT
Blyleven 7 13 2 3 25
Carlton 5 12 8 6 31
Glavine 5 1 8 6 20
Clemens 12 16 11 10 49
Ryan 5 18 3 6 32
Jenkins 0 8 7 5 20
Sutton 4 3 4 5 16
Guidry 3 5 4 4 16
Johnson 8 13 10 9 40
Hmmmph. Blyleven doesn't look so bad now. Funny how that works. Instead of placing seventh out of nine under Olney's methodology, Blyleven now ranks in the center, trailing only Clemens, Johnson, Ryan, and Carlton while beating out two Hall of Famers in Jenkins and Sutton and one HOFer-to-be in Glavine (as well as Guidry). Looks like an argument on behalf of Blyleven rather than against.
In his second year on the Hall of Fame ballot, in 1999, Blyleven got 14.08 percent of the vote. I can find only one example since 1969 in which a player ever polled that low among writers and was subsequently elected -- Luis Aparicio, who got 11.97 percent of the vote in 1981 and was elected in 1984.
What does this have to do with anything? The writers got the vote wrong. What else is new?
What I wanted to hear from his peers, the guys who faced him, was this: He was easily among the most dominant pitchers of our generation; he wasn't Seaver or Carlton, but he was right there behind them. If I had heard that from even half of those I talked to, I would've reconsidered my vote. What I heard from almost all of them was this: He had a great curveball and he could be really tough. I wanted to vote "yes" for Blyleven; I did not.
Whom did he poll? Obviously not George Brett. "He was as good as there was for a long time. Bert is up there with the toughest four or five guys I faced in my career. Hopefully, he will get in. I'd think he'd be a perfect fit."
"Was as good as there was for a long time." Sounds pretty dominant to me. And coming from one of the best hitters of his generation to boot, a player who happened to face Blyleven more than any other batter this side of Reggie Jackson.
"Bert is up there with the toughest four or five guys I faced in my career." I would imagine so. Brett went 27-for-117 vs. Blyleven with only 2 HR, good for a batting line of .231/.281/.342. Boy, that Blyleven guy must have been lucky to do so well against a three-time batting average champ and first-ballot Hall of Famer like Brett.
"Hopefully, he will get in. I'd think he'd be a perfect fit."
[Additional reader comments and retorts at The Baseball Think Factory.]