Baseball BeatJanuary 07, 2009
The Waiting is the Hardest Part
By Rich Lederer

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part

The Hall of Fame voting results will be announced on Monday, January 12. Five more days. For deserving candidates like Bert Blyleven, 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.

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
82.4 - Jim Rice
78.4 - Bert Blyleven
67.6 - Andre Dawson
48.6 - Jack Morris
33.8 - Lee Smith
27.0 - Tim Raines
25.8 - Alan Trammell
25.8 - Tommy John
21.6 - Mark McGwire

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/ 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, Dorky Corky Simpson, didn't see fit to include Rickey on his ballot. There's always someone, right? But, all is not lost as Simpson voted for Blyleven and another personal favorite of mine, Tim Raines. Heck, he even placed an "x" next to Matt Williams' name. That's right, Matt Williams but not Rickey Henderson. I kid you not.

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.


Yeah, but I need to know NOW ...

Thanks for the preview and for including all the links!

Every year a "mortal lock" HOFer comes up on the ballot, like with Rickey Henderson this year, I have to wonder why some people will see fit to not vote for him.

I've been arguing for years that an easy weeding out process in the HOF balloting would be to strip the vote from anyone who passes on a guy like Henderson. Let's see...greatest leadoff man ever, holds numerous records, big-time personality and certainly very popular...but he's not Babe Ruth, who like George Washington is the only guy who deserves an unanimous ballot, so I'll pass on him! Those guys show an obvious inability to hand in an impartial vote.

P.S. I've always been a huuuuge fan of Matt Williams, but even I can't overlook the .319 OBP (plus, you have to raise an eyebrow at his inclusion in the Mitchell Report)

A message to Bert Blyleven:

You should have been in Cooperstown years ago, but keep this in mind when you make it: You owe Rich Lederer a round-trip plane ticket to your induction.

For whatever reason, the HOF voters have decided to give #28 the Rodney Dangerfield treatment. Despite that, Rich has been a persistent, intelligent and articulate spokesman for a very deserving candidate.

Blyleven factoid: His 118 ERA+ is identical to Warren Spahn's.

Tim Cowlishaw just announced on OTH that Bert got his vote on the HoF ballot. (Along with Tim Raines, whom he gave a nice pitch for)

Thank you Rich, for the many articles you have written over the years about how Bert belongs in the HOF. They are right on the mark! I agree with Peter, and believe your articles have made a difference. Hopefully, this is the year he gets voted in!

One more thing.

That ranking of ninth for career shutouts? Since 1925 to present, only 4 pitchers have 60 shutouts: Warren Spahn 63, (sixth all-time), Tom Seaver & Nolan Ryan with 61 (tied for seventh), and Bert with 60 (ninth all-time, and fourth since 1925).

I read somewhere, (but now unable to find stat), that he has the most shutouts in the 1-0 category with 15. No one on the list all the way down to 20th is not in the Hall of Fame.

'Nuff said.

You're welcome, Linda. Bert is third all-time in the number of 1-0 victories, behind only Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson, both of whom were one of the original five inductees in the Hall of Fame (along with Cobb, Ruth, and Wagner).

I highlighted this fact in "Bert Blyleven: Up Close and Personal" in December 2004, "It's All Dutch to Some" in Decemeber 2005, "Answering the Naysayers (Part Two)" in December 2006 and "Blyleven: As Dominant as His Hall of Fame Contemporaries" in January 2007:

"Over the course of his career, Bert was 15-10 (.600) in 1-0 games. His 15 1-0 victories rank third on the all-time list behind Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson."


Rob: Clever. Good one.


You're welcome, David.


Thanks, Al.


Josh: I mentioned that fact in the article above. Cowlishaw is one of eight identified new voters supporting Blyleven, four of whom are voting for the first time.

USA Today's ballots (5 votes) are in:

Henderson 5, Rice 4, Blyleven 4, Morris 3, Dawson 3, Raines 1, Trammell 1, Smith 1, MacGwire 1, John 1

An amazing Bert Blyleven statistic that I wouldn’t wish upon any major league pitcher:
From his 1970 rookie season through 1977 I’ve accumulated his quality starts that I’ve defined as: 6innings, 2earned runs or less; 7,8,9innings, 3earned runs or less; and 9innings+ 4 earned runs or less in which he garnered a no decision or a loss only……

The totals are:
82 games
658 innings
583 hits
185 runs
160 earned runs
184 base on balls
540 strikeouts
2.19 ERA
His record: 0 wins and 53 LOSSES. I repeat 0 wins and 53 losses with a 2.19 ERA

1970 0-3 2.09 9 games
1971 0-6 1.90 9 games
1972 0-9 2.35 13 games
1973 0-8 2.55 9 games
1974 0-8 1.80 10 games
1975 0-6 2.00 10 games
1976 0-8 2.29 15 games
1977 0-5 2.45 7 games

I understand that pitchers put up great games and get snakebit on occasion, but this accounted for almost 1 of every 3 starts, 82 of 279 to be exact or 29%. Show me a Hall of Famer that had to go through this year by year. Fortunately once Blyleven ended up in Pittsburgh and later some good Minnesota teams, this trend eased to what I would consider normal levels (I had researched this in the past but don’t have the numbers on hand)

Imagine 1974, your 17-9 in 27 games, and in the other 10, all of which are essentially quality starts, you post a 1.80ERA and go 0-8. You end up 17-17. If you don’t know the facts, and your voting for the Cy Young award, and you see 17-17. Do you cast a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place vote? Probably not. This is what Blyleven faced in yesteryear, and the same writers, who I contend do not know the facts, are what Blyleven faces every year in the HOF vote.

Go ahead, plug in a different year, or harken back to Baseball-reference and neutralize the stats, do it for every one of Blyleven’s contemporaries. The numbers don’t change much, but for Bert Blyleven, they do. The example given above is my attempt to show why. Teams that didn’t score runs and booted the ball around like it was a soccer match.