The Waiting is the Hardest Part
The waiting is the hardest part
When you rank fifth in career strikeouts, ninth in shutouts, and 27th in wins (and 19th since 1900), you take it on faith that you will be elected to the Hall of Fame, just like virtually all of the pitchers immediately ahead of and behind you in these three categories. After being snubbed 11 consecutive times (and with only three more chances after this year), you take it to the heart when you're Only the Lonely and don't get the necessary 75 percent of the vote.
I don't think it is petty to suggest that the Baseball Writers Association of America, as a whole, has gotten this one wrong for a long time. Too long. Blyleven should have been inducted in his first year. Yes, he is that deserving. But if you want to reserve that honor for the Cobbs, Ruths, Wagners, Mathewsons, Johnsons, Gehrigs, Williamses, Musials, Mantles, Mayses, Aarons, etc., that's fine. I mean, it even took Joe DiMaggio a few attempts before he was elected. (The truth of the matter is that the Yankee Clipper didn't even have to wait what has since become a minimum requirement of five years once a player retires.)
The good news is that Blyleven is polling in the right direction.
YEAR VOTES PCT 1998 83 17.5% 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% 2007 260 47.7% 2008 336 61.9%
I look for Blyleven to approach 70 percent this year. Every day you see one more card and it gives me the confidence that The Hall of Fame Case for Bert Blyleven is being understood by more and more voters. There is no denying the fact that he has been as dominant as his Hall of Fame contemporaries.
Thanks to Repoz at the Baseball Think Factory, we can actually see how well Blyleven is doing among the approximately 14 percent of the precincts that have been reported at this point.
% on 74 Full Ballots
98.6 - Rickey Henderson
While Blyleven sits above the magic threshold now, the results of these published full ballots may overstate how he is faring among the larger electorate. As Repoz told me in an email, "the jobless/blogless/retired old codger vote that is still waiting for Harry Breechen's name to come up on the ballot" may not be as likely to vote for the likes of Blyleven. But we'll take it nonetheless.
Blyleven was named on 82 of the 126 full/partial ballots (65 percent) publicly announced last year compared to 62 percent of the 543 total ballots cast. According to Repoz, Bert has picked up eight new voters and lost two this year. The eight newbies are: Mark Gonzales, Dan McGrath, Phil Pepe, Bob Verdi, and first-time voters Tim Cowlishaw, Carter Gaddis, Jeff Jacobs, and Sean McClelland. Bill Kennedy and Mike Nadel are the two voters who apparently thought Blyleven wasn't as deserving this year as last. Blyleven may get a bump from the ESPN/USA/MLB.com blocks that should be released no later than Friday.
A large number of this year's partials are from the pro-Rickey Henderson/pro-Jim Rice articles where the voters make little or no mention of the rest of their ballot. Henderson, in his first appearance on the ballot, and Rice, in his final year of eligibility, are garnering the most attention. Amazingly, one writer,
In the case of Henderson, it's not whether he will get elected, it's whether he will break the record for the highest percentage of the vote total ever (currently held by Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver with 98.8 percent). Like it or not, Rice looks as if he will receive the required 75 percent as well. Blyleven and Andre Dawson appear to be the only other candidates with any realistic shot this year with the former perhaps leapfrogging the latter for the first time.
The numbers game is working against Blyleven this year. According to Chris Jaffe of The Hardball Times, "In the last half-century, the BBWAA elected three players in only four elections. None of those votes (1972, 1984, 1991, and 1999) are good comps for 2009. On top of that, it's very difficult for two backloggers to win a plaque in the same year, so [Blyleven and Dawson] are unlikely to join Rice. In the last 30 years, there have been only four times more than one backlogger made it in."
If not in 2009, then one of the next two years is shaping up as a good opportunity for Blyleven to finally earn his due. While I would be in favor of Roberto Alomar and Barry Larkin in 2010 and Jeff Bagwell in 2011, I'm not at all convinced that any of these three players will make it in their first attempts. As such, Blyleven could be the odds-on favorite to have his day in Cooperstown in one of the following two summers, especially if he beats out Dawson this year.
Memo to BBWAA: Don't let this go too far. Memo to Bert: Don't let it get to you. While the waiting is the hardest part, it's going to feel like something from a dream very soon.