Recapping a Joyous Week
Last Wednesday was a big day for Bert Blyleven and me. Blyleven was named on 74.2% of the 539 ballots cast, a gain of 62 votes and 11.5 percentage points. Within 0.8% of the 75% threshold, Rik Aalbert is now on the cusp of being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The day was made all the more memorable for me when Bert and Peter Gammons mentioned my name on the MLB Network. I was watching the Hall of Fame Class of 2010 live with my son Joe when Blyleven thanked me for my efforts shortly after the results were announced. It was also a nice surprise when Gammons, who had cited my work in his MLB.com article that morning, gave me a shout out later in the segment.
As much fun as it was for me personally, I think Blyleven's surge in the Hall of Fame voting and likelihood of getting elected next year is an even bigger day for the sabermetric movement. You might say, "That's one small step for a sabermetrician, one giant leap for sabermetrics."
While I took up the cause over six years ago to drum up support for a player whose candidacy had been grossly overlooked to that point, I was also motivated to move the discussion for awards and honors from the basic hitting/pitching stats and the "I saw him play and I know a Hall of Famer when I see one" to a more comprehensive and objective approach. With the help of others, I am confident that we are well on our way. We're not finished by any means, but there's no looking back either.
Bill James is the conductor of the sabermetric train, one that has been growing in numbers and gaining influence since he started to self-publish the Baseball Abstracts in 1977. Rob Neyer, who began his career working for James, joined ESPNet SportsZone in 1996 and was perhaps the first baseball writer to post sabermetric-oriented articles on a near-daily basis. The creation of Baseball Prospectus, Baseball-Reference.com, The Baseball Think Factory, The Hardball Times, Baseball Analysts, Fangraphs, Beyond the Box Score, Inside the Book, and other sites has made stats (both basic and advanced) more accessible than ever and generated an onslaught of sabermetric research, studies, and analysis that most of us now take for granted.
If not for the Internet, where would we be? I know the Internet has allowed me to have a voice that wouldn't be possible otherwise. It gave me the opportunity to form the predecessor to Baseball Analysts in 2003, review the Baseball Abstracts in 2004, interview Bert later that year, and meet in person and become friends with Bill and Rob (and countless other writers, analysts, and front office executives, many of whom I now correspond with on a regular basis).
In the spirit of sharing the "fame," I would like to link to the MLB Network video when Blyleven responded to a question posed by Gammons:
Peter Gammons: Bert, do you think the work of some of the guys that have been for you the past five years has really helped your case and helped players around the game that are now active understand exactly what you did as a pitcher?
Bert Blyleven: I think so. You know, a guy, Rich Lederer, out of California...Long Beach, California, with BaseballAnalysts.com, I think has really put up now...You saw what happened this year with [Zack] Greinke and Tim Lincecum winning the Cy Young Awards, not leading their leagues in wins, I think, you know, just shows that there’s more behind just wins, and that’s what Rich has really kind of brought out. In the 70’s and 80’s when I pitched, that you can’t always go off of wins. You have to go off of performance and if you kept your club in the game. So yeah, I mean, I’m very, very proud to say that Rich has been in my corner, as a lot of people have.
While I don't have a link to the closing comments when Gammons mentioned me as part of his summation of the day's events, I was able to transcribe his words:
I thought Bert Blyleven's comments were terrific. He thoroughly understands the process now and I think the light that has been shone on him now has actually made people appreciate how good he was even more, and he knows he's going in. I think the next couple of years will do the same for Alomar and Larkin. I think the fact that people care so much about this now...Rich Lederer has campaigned for Blyleven we've understood. I think we'll see the same thing for Alomar and the same thing for Larkin. I just wonder if sabermetrics had been great 10-15 years ago when Ted Simmons didn't even get 4% of the vote and was only on the ballot one time whether Ted Simmons wouldn't now be a Hall of Famer?
Amen to that, Peter.
In Seven Earn Gammons' Hall Vote, Peter wrote the following with respect to Blyleven:
When one thinks about his run support and career 3.31 ERA, the 13 wins he needed for 300 and first-ballot candidacy seem slight. Hats off to Rich Lederer and others who have sponsored his cause. Think about the fact that his 15 1-0 wins are the most in the last 50 years, and he had more career shutouts than the American League has had the past 18 seasons.
After the results were announced, Rob Neyer put up a "Hall adds one ... but not the one we thought" post on his Sweet Spot blog, which included this excerpt:
Also falling just short -- just five votes short -- was Bert Blyleven, in his 13th try. Consider the progress that he's made, though. In his first three tries, he couldn't clear 20 percent. Five years ago, he cleared 50 percent for the first time. And now he's at 74.2 percent, and will almost certainly join Alomar on the podium next year. And when he's up there, I suspect that Blyleven will have a word of thanks for Rich Lederer.
Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times called Wednesday afternoon and interviewed me for an article that was in the newspaper's print edition the next day.
Bert Blyleven gets closer to the Hall of Fame with an assist
Former pitcher falls five votes short of election to Cooperstown after a campaign by a fan. Andre Dawson is elected.
By Bill Shaikin
January 7, 2010
Bert Blyleven did not get elected to the Hall of Fame on Wednesday. He wanted to thank a few people anyway.
He thanked Harmon Killebrew and Brooks Robinson for their encouragement and support. He thanked Rich Lederer too.
"That was pretty cool," Lederer said.
Killebrew and Robinson are Hall of Fame members. Lederer is an investment advisor in Long Beach.
"I'm very proud to say Rich has been in my corner," Blyleven told MLB Network.
Andre Dawson was the only player elected Wednesday. Blyleven fell five votes short, so close that he might well be thanking Lederer in an induction ceremony next year.
This is about more than a fan on a mission, armed with arguments of all sorts, out to get his man into Cooperstown. This is about concurrent advancements in statistics and technology, enabling fans to share their own methods of evaluating players and engage in a national discussion.
"If not for the Internet," Lederer said, "I wouldn't even have a voice."
Lederer, 54, grew up in baseball. His father, George, covered the Dodgers for the Long Beach Press-Telegram from 1958 to 1968, then worked for the Angels as a publicist.
Lederer made finance his career, but he launched a blog (baseballanalysts.com) in 2003, using statistics old and new to press the case for Blyleven.
No Cy Young awards? Two All-Star game selections? Fewer wins than Tommy John?
Lederer has rebuttals for all those arguments and more on his blog, focusing in part on this question: Just how important are wins anyway?
"If wins lead to the Cy Young Award, and the Cy Young Award leads to the Hall of Fame," Lederer said, "it seems like we're double- and triple-counting the wrong things."
It is unfair, he argues, to dismiss Blyleven because he won 20 games once in a 22-year career. We might not have considered run support, defensive support and such new metrics as "runs saved above average" during his career, but we can now.
Blyleven pointed to this year's Cy Young Award voting. Zack Greinke won in the American League, with 16 victories. Tim Lincecum won in the National League, with 15.
"That shows there's more than just wins," Blyleven said. "That's what Rich has brought out. You can't always go off wins. You have to go off performance."
That's a fair point. So how about a counterpoint: If a player needs a campaign manager, is he truly worthy of the Hall of Fame?
"I realize the inner-circle Hall of Famers are no-brainer-type guys," Lederer said. "I think that is a very select group. I think there are a lot of deserving players whose record should be more closely scrutinized."
By harnessing the power of the Internet and the growing community of baseball bloggers, Lederer and friends have linked merrily, enabling his pro-Blyleven arguments to reach the voters.
And, we should add, with enormous success.
In 1999, Blyleven got 14.1% of the vote. He received 74.2% this year, without throwing a pitch in the interim. No player has ever gotten so close to Cooperstown without eventually getting in.
"It's one small step for me," Lederer said. "I think the bigger story is that people like myself, who aren't writers or voters, can have a say in how these players are viewed and perhaps help their candidacy along."
Several other writers, including MLB.com's Kelly Thesier, SI.com's Joe Lemire, and a certain pitcher-turned-writer over at NBC Sports, highlighted my efforts in raising the awareness of Blyleven's Hall of Fame credentials. Former guest columnists Chad Finn and Jonah Keri reached out as well. And even the SunSentinel's Dave Hyde mentioned me in conjunction with Tim Raines.
Blyleven (and Alomar next), then Larkin, Raines, Alan Trammell, and maybe, just maybe Peter Gammons and I will get our wish on Ted Simmons, and many of us on Ron Santo, Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker, and ...
The Battle Cry of the Sabermetric Revolution marches on.