Hey Man, Your Comments Don't Hold Water
"I never thought [Bert Blyleven] was a Hall of Famer when he was playing, and I saw him play his entire career."
"[His popularity] is based on a lot of younger people on the Internet who never saw him play."
"It's not about stats...it's about impact."
- Jon Heyman on MLB Network, 1/12/09
In case you weren't aware, Jon Heyman is a knowitall. (Bill James combined those three words into one when describing someone else in an email exchange with me a couple of years ago. It hit home with me at the time, but I haven't used the term until today because it just never quite felt as appropriate as it does now.)
Heyman is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated and a baseball insider at MLB Network. He is also a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. According to his biography, Heyman "developed a reputation for breaking major baseball stories while at Newsday, broke the story of Barry Bonds going to the Giants in 1992 (with Tom Verducci, who's been at SI since '93), Alex Rodriguez going to the Yankees in 2004, A-Rod opting out of his $252-million contract in 2007 and Manny Ramirez going to the Dodgers in 2008, among numerous other stories." Note that there is no mention of the countless stories he broke that never materialized.
Let's discuss each of Heyman's comments listed above individually.
Wow, that says it all. I guess there is no need to discuss further. I bet the first time you saw Don Sutton pitch, you said, "Now THAT is a Hall of Famer." Without looking at any stats, you just knew. Maybe it was the way that Sutton walked to the mound. Or the way he wound up and delivered his fastball and curveball. Or maybe it was how he scuffed the ball. If you never thought Blyleven was a Hall of Famer, I'm willing to wager that you never thought of Sutton as a Hall of Famer either. Or at least not until he won his 300th game. But, hey, "it's not about stats...it's about impact."
Conversely, I bet you never considered Steve Garvey to be a Hall of Famer during his playing days. Or Vida Blue, Fred Lynn, George Foster, Dave Parker, Dale Murphy, Keith Hernandez, Ron Guidry, Fernando Valenzuela, Bret Saberhagen, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Don Mattingly, or Jose Canseco. One look at these guys and you just said, "Nope." You knew all along – from the moment they broke into the big leagues through the end of their careers – that the above players weren't Hall of Famers. It's that uncanny eye you have for talent that distinguishes you from the rest of us.
Congratulations, Jon. If you "saw him play his entire career," then so did I. But the truth of the matter is that neither one of us saw him play his entire career. In fact, nobody has seen Blyleven play his entire career. Not his parents. Not his wife. Not his kids. Not any one teammate. Not any announcer, writer, or team executive.
Like me, you may have been alive back then. Like me, you may have even seen him pitch many times. Like me, you may have watched him perform on TV. Like me, you may have even read about him in the newspapers or magazines when he was playing.
Unlike me, you covered Blyleven when he pitched for the Angels toward the end of his career. Unlike you, I umpired a game behind the plate that he pitched. In other words, I saw Bert's curveball, the one that Bill James and Rob Neyer ranked as the THIRD-BEST EVER in The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, up close and personal.
But, when it comes to judging Blyleven's career, none of these facts really matter all that much. You see, I never once saw Babe Ruth play. Or Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, or Walter Johnson. Or Tris Speaker, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, or Joe DiMaggio. But I can still say with 100 percent certainty that all of these players are Hall of Famers. By the same token, I didn't need to see thousands of other players in action to know they weren't Hall of Famers. Being there is great. It's fun. It's memorable. But it doesn't mean you know who is and who isn't a Hall of Famer.
Hmm... I don't know if you were referring to me or not, but it doesn't really matter. Blyleven's Hall of Fame candidacy is not about me (or others like me, irrespective of their ages). But neither is it about you, Jon. Instead, it's about Blyleven himself. You know, the pitcher who ranks in the top ten in strikeouts and shutouts all time and in the top 20 in wins and run prevention since 1900. The pitcher whose career record is indistinguishable from a composite of his eight most similar Hall of Fame peers (comprised of Steve Carlton, Fergie Jenkins, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Robin Roberts, Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, and Early Wynn).
Whether Blyleven's most ardent supporters come from the "Internet" or from a bunch of newspaper writers is neither here nor there, other than the fact that you guys have been given the right – and responsibility, dare I add – of voting and those of us on the outside have no direct say in the matter.
You gotta love this one. Shame on me. I have always been led to believe that stats lead to impact. I guess not. Rather than spending so much time on making the case for Blyleven via the numbers, maybe I should have emphasized the fact that Blyleven pitched for TWO World Championship teams. I won't mention that he was 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA in five postseason series, including 2-1 with a 2.35 ERA in those two World Series because "it's not about stats." According to you, "it's about impact." And, thanks to you, I have now come to realize that Blyleven had little or no impact on the Pirates winning the World Series in 1979 or the Twins winning it all in 1987.
After giving this matter considerable thought over the past 24 hours, I have decided that we should just let Jon Heyman decide who should – and who shouldn't – get elected to the Hall of Fame. Because this knowitall knows it all.