400 Down and 5 to Go...
Well, the results of the Hall of Fame balloting were revealed on Wednesday, and it appears as if Bert will be Cooperstown bound Blyleven (as in 2011). The best eligible player not in the Hall received 400 votes, good for 74.2% of the 539 ballots cast. He missed out by 0.8% of the 75% threshold needed for induction.
I first learned that Blyleven fell five votes short of election in an email from Bert minutes before Jeff Idelson, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, announced in "one of the closest votes in history" that Andre Dawson would join Veterans Committee selections Whitey Herzog and Doug Harvey as the Hall of Fame class of 2010 on July 25 in Cooperstown, New York.
From: Blyleven Bert Subject: Re: One More Update Date: January 6, 2010 11:00:50 AM PST To: Lederer Richard Reply-To: Blyleven Bert
Missed by 5 votes
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T
In a subsequent telephone conversation, Bert told me that he received a phone call from Brad Horn, director of communications of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, five minutes before the results were announced. Thinking this may have been the call that every Hall of Fame candidate dreams of, Bert was holding hands with his wife Gayle when Horn told him that he missed out by five votes. Blyleven laughingly said, "You've got to be kidding me, right?" Turns out it wasn't a joke or one of his friends pulling a prank on him.
I initiated the email thread that morning when I sent Bert the latest update on the Hall of Fame balloting as compiled by Repoz, the editor-in-chief of the Baseball Think Factory. Based on 125 full ballots, Blyleven was at 80.0%. I told him: "I thought it was a 1-in-3 shot this year but am now thinking 50-50 with 99.9% certainty next year (if not this year). It's gonna happen, either this time around or next time around. You deserve it, and I'm very happy for you. It's been too long of a wait already. I hope it's just a matter of an hour or so now."
As it turned out, it looks as if it will be at least 8,760 more hours before Bert is rightfully elected to the Hall of Fame. The good news is that his election is no longer a matter of if but when. We only need to round up five more votes.
These needed votes could come from Carrie Muskat, Mark Newman, and Marty Noble at MLB.com and Pedro Gomez, Tony Jackson, and Michael Knisley at ESPN.com. Or from any of the other 133 writers who voted "no."
Maybe Jay Mariotti, assuming he is still a member of the BBWAA next year, will vote for Blyleven once again rather than turning in a blank ballot. Perhaps Murray Chass will reconsider his position, putting into proper perspective Bert's 10-17 record at the age of 38 when he "pitched with a sore shoulder all season long." Heck, maybe Buster Olney and Jon Heyman, both of whom have never voted for Blyleven based on their belief (here and here, respectively) that he wasn't a "dominant" pitcher, will check out the following table and recognize that he was indeed the dominant pitcher during a large portion of the 1970s.
Bert led the majors in Runs Saved Above Average (RSAA) for FOUR CONSECUTIVE FIVE-YEAR PERIODS beginning in 1971-1975 and ending in 1974-1978. RSAA was created by Lee Sinins of the Complete Baseball Encyclopedia. It measures the number of runs that a pitcher saves his team relative to the number of runs that an average pitcher in the league would allow over the same number of innings, adjusted for ballpark effects. The beauty of RSAA is that it combines quality (runs saved per inning vs. the league average) and quantity (innings pitched).
Over the past 50 years, the five-year leaders have included Don Drysdale (1x), Sandy Koufax (3x), Juan Marichal (2x), Bob Gibson (2x), Tom Seaver (2x), Bert Blyleven (4x), Jim Palmer (1x), Steve Carlton (3x), Dave Stieb (5x), Roger Clemens (7x), Greg Maddux (5x), Pedro Martinez (4x), Randy Johnson (2x), Johan Santana (3x), and Roy Halladay (1x). While it may be too early to judge Santana and Halladay, 11 of the other 12 pitchers are either enshrined or will be enshrined (including several "inner circle" Hall of Famers). The only exception is Stieb, whose HOF case was derailed by a relatively short career.
Note: You can access the complete list of leaders since 1900 here.
Should Runs Saved Above Average be too abstract for your tastes, how about if we just dumb Blyleven's Hall of Fame case down to the following four sentences:
Bert Blyleven ranks fifth in career strikeouts, ninth in career shutouts, and in the top 20 since 1900 in wins. Every eligible pitcher with 3,000 strikeouts is in the Hall of Fame except Blyleven, who has 3,701. Every eligible pitcher with 50 shutouts is in the Hall of Fame except Blyleven, who has 60. Every eligible pitcher in the top 20 in wins since 1900 is in the Hall of Fame except Blyleven and Tommy John.
For those who might wonder why Blyleven and not John, please be aware that Bert struck out 1,456 more batters, pitched 14 more shutouts, and had a superior K/BB (2.80 vs. 1.78), WHIP (1.20 vs. 1.28), and ERA+ (118 vs. 110).
Be it RSAA, strikeouts, shutouts, or the fact that he completed fifteen 1-0 shutout victories (the third-most ever and the highest total in 75 years), Blyleven was clearly a dominant pitcher. He should have been voted into Cooperstown a long, long time ago. It would defame the Hall if Blyleven weren't elected in one of his two final years of eligibility. Meanwhile, here's hoping that the same 400 writers who voted for him this year mark an "X" next to his name again *and* at least five additional writers step up and support his candidacy in 2011.
With the help of long-time advocates such as Jim Caple, Jay Jaffe, Rob Neyer, Dayn Perry, Joe Posnanski, and Joe Sheehan, I believe we can convince a number of voters who have either been on the fence in the past or may not have taken the time to understand and appreciate Blyleven's qualifications. These newbies can join the ranks of converts like Caple himself, Bill Conlin, Jerry Crasnick, Peter Gammons, Bob Klapisch, Jeff Peek, Tracy Ringolsby, Ken Rosenthal, T.R. Sullivan (and many, many others), all of whom began to vote for Blyleven at some point during the past seven years.
As they say, "If you can't beat them, join them." For added measure, you'll be on the winning side next time around.