The Internet Zealot Responds
One Blyleven Internet supporter is such a zealot that he has guessed as to the motives for the non-support, and even on occasion taken to outing non-supporters or ridiculing them, perhaps in an attempt at persuasion. Let me just say that I have nothing against Blyleven, and have been consistent in my non-support of him. My "no'' vote has nothing to do with the Internet campaign, which has only become apparent in Blyleven's final few years on the ballot, and appears to be effective, as Blyleven's totals have risen precipitously.
- Jon Heyman
After reading Heyman's column on si.com Monday late afternoon, my son Joe sent me the following text, "New Christmas gift request... bumper sticker that reads: 'My Dad is a zealot.'" I wrote back, "One Blyleven Internet detractor is such a zealot that he writes about why he is NOT voting for him every year."
Heyman released his Hall of Fame ballot on Twitter several days ago but devoted his entire column on Monday (sans his picks on the second page) to "Why I didn't cast a Hall of Fame vote for Bert Blyleven, again." Incredible. He mentions Blyleven specifically or refers to him in 24 of the 26 paragraphs that comprise nearly 2,000 words. By comparison, he writes one paragraph on Roberto Alomar, his top candidate; four paragraphs defending his selection of Jack Morris over Blyleven; and a few sentences on a separate page on each of his five other picks (Barry Larkin, Dave Parker, Tim Raines, Don Mattingly, and Dale Murphy).
I'd like to respond to the following excerpts from Heyman's column:
"Blyleven's most vocal Cooperstown supporters don't see him as borderline. They sometimes call his case 'indisputable' or 'undeniable.' I appreciate their enthusiasm, but the reality is that over 14 years of elections, he has received slightly less than half the votes. His supporters may think it is indisputable, but the voters seem to have been torn for 13 years."
Heyman tries to use the fact that Blyleven has received "less than half the votes" against him, yet he himself is voting for Mattingly, Murphy, and Parker, none of whom has even sniffed 50 percent of the vote in a single year. In fact, the individual high among these three is 28.2% (Mattingly in his first year of eligibility in 2001). All three players were greats at their respective peaks but the truth of the matter is that the trio has been polling about 10-20 percent of the vote every year they have been on the ballot.
"In filling out my ballot, I go more by impact than career numbers. Part of that is that I am old enough to have been around as long as every single player on the ballot by this point."
Here we go with "impact" and being "around as long as every player on the ballot" again. I tackled these obsessions two years ago.
"I saw him play his entire career."
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.
"It's not about stats...it's about impact."
"If you put Blyleven's lifetime numbers through a computer, the computer would probably determine that he (and Abreu, for that matter) is a Hall of Famer. But the game is about human beings, not just numbers. It's about impact."
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.
There you go again with impact. You see, it's difficult to argue against impact. There are no numbers. Instead, it's all about feelings and beliefs and all those other intangible goodies that only certain people possess. Just close your eyes and relive the memories, however tainted they may be, of these, ahem, human beings!
"The Hall of Fame is about fame, and Blyleven's greatest fame came not while he was pitching well for five teams over 22 seasons but instead through his extended candidacy and the controversy surrounding it after he had retired."
Fame. I always love that one. Another touchy-feely qualification. Alomar, Larkin, and Parker. Now those guys were famous. Even though Blyleven won two World Championships, struck out more batters than all but four pitchers and threw more shutouts than all but eight in the history of baseball, completed the third-most 1-0 shutout victories ever and the highest total in 75 years, pitched a no-hitter, and had the greatest curveball of his era and one of the best of all-time, he wasn't famous. Or at least not in Jon Heyman's world.
"I, however, would argue that he was very good but not quite great. He assuredly dominated batters and games but he never dominated even one season or certainly a series of seasons."
Sheesh. I have shown otherwise numerous times. Just because Blyleven didn't win the American League Cy Young Award in 1973 doesn't mean he wasn't the best pitcher in the league. He led the AL in WAR (9.2), ERA+ (158), K/BB (3.85), and SHO (9). He ranked second in ERA (2.52), SO (258), BB/9 (1.86), and WHIP (1.12), third in K/9 (7.15) and CG (25), and fourth in IP (325) and HR/9 (0.44). That's one heck of a résumé, no? Nonetheless, he received one point and finished seventh in the Cy Young balloting that season. As I reported six years ago, "One voter out of 24 saw fit to pencil Bert's name into the third slot on the ballot. The other 23 writers ignored him completely. Instead, they voted for Jim Palmer #1, Nolan Ryan #2, Catfish Hunter (and his 3.34 ERA in a pitcher's ballpark) #3, John Hiller #4, Wilbur Wood #5, and Jim Colborn #6. Palmer had two more wins than Blyleven and an ERA that was 0.12 lower. Otherwise, Palmer had inferior stats across the board, including WAR (6.1), ERA+ (156), K/BB (1.40), SHO (6), SO (158), BB/9 (3.4), WHIP (1.14), K/9 (4.8), CG (19), IP (296.1), and HR/9 (0.49), yet he received 88 points, including 14 first-place votes. Go figure.
Did I mention that Palmer also received much better run and defensive support than Blyleven? The Baltimore Orioles scored 4.7 runs per game for Palmer while the Minnesota Twins scored 4.2 for Blyleven. The Orioles led the AL in Defensive Efficiency (.731) while the Twins (.696) ranked eighth out of 12 teams. Looked at it another way, Baltimore (119 FRAA) was 137 fielding runs better than Minnesota (-18). These fielding differences showed up in Palmer's and Blyleven's batting average on balls in play. Palmer had a .234 BABIP and Blyleven had a .292 BABIP. With an infield that included Bobby Grich, Mark Belanger, and Brooks Robinson, the O's (184) also turned a lot more double plays than the Rod Carew-Danny Thompson-Steve Braun Twinkies (147).
Look, if you're into performance, you take Blyleven. On the other hand, if you're like Heyman and care more about impact, you take Palmer because he was selected as the Cy Young Award winner.
As for "a series of seasons," Blyleven led the major leagues in Runs Saved Against the Average (RSAA) over four-consecutive, five-year rolling periods (1971-75, 1972-76, 1973-77, and 1974-78). As I highlighted last January, "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."
"He never finished higher than third in the Cy Young balloting and only four times finished in the top 10, meaning he was never considered among the two best pitchers in his league during his time."
The operative word here is "considered." While Blyleven "was never considered among the two best pitchers in the his league," he was one of the two best pitchers in his league three times as measured by WAR (including twice leading the league in that all-encompassing counting stat) and four times as measured by the rate stat ERA+. He was as overlooked and underappreciated during his playing career as he has been over the first 13 years of being on the Hall of Fame ballot.
"Blyleven was never considered to be in the category of the game's best pitchers during his career. He simply outlasted almost everyone else and kept pitching effectively into his 40s."
There's that word "considered" again. Heyman can side with opinions and I'll side with the facts, thank you. The facts in this case tell us that Blyleven was one of the game's best pitchers during his career. I've given multiple examples of the facts already. As for "simply outlasting almost everyone else and pitching effectively into his 40s," that's not entirely accurate. Blyleven pitched only one season in his 40s and it wasn't very effective (8-12, 4.74 ERA, 84 ERA+ in 133 IP) if the truth be told.
"He never led the league in wins or ERA, though he did lead the league in home runs allowed twice and earned runs allowed once."
This is not only misleading, but it's clearly a low blow. Blyleven led the league in home runs in 1986 and 1987 when he was 35 and 36 years old. He led the league in earned runs in 1988 when he was 37. Of note, Morris, whose HOF candidacy Heyman supports, gave up the second-most number of HR in 1986 and 1987 and was sixth in earned runs allowed in 1988. For what it's worth, Morris led the league in ER and BB, as well as wild pitches six times. All I'm asking for is some consistency in judging players.
"He only received MVP votes twice, finishing 26th in 1973 and 13th in 1989. According to baseball-reference.com, he ranks 936th alltime in MVP shares at 0.09."
Once again, Heyman looks for a reason *not* to vote for Blyleven. Morris ranks 770th all-time in MVP shares at 0.18. No on the guy at 936th. Yes on the guy at 770th. Yup, I get it.
"But it's hard to go back and look at his individual seasons and see a case where he should have ranked in the top 10 in MVP voting in any of his 22 years. He never dominated in any one season and was never among the very best."
Morris never finished in the top ten in MVP voting. If it doesn't apply to Morris, why should it apply to Blyleven? My goodness. Besides, Blyleven dominated in several seasons and was regularly among the very best. I didn't even know who Heyman was six years ago but this article could have been written just for him.
"I did promote Felix Hernandez for the Cy Young, but I still see winning as the ultimate goal in each game, and Blyleven didn't win all that many more games than he lost."
Now that is one strange compound sentence. While I'm glad that Heyman promoted Felix for the CYA, this point proves how illogical or biased he is when it comes to evaluating Blyleven. Hernandez was 13-12 in 2010. He won one more game than he lost, yet Heyman supported him as the best pitcher in the league whereas he won't vote for Blyleven because he only won 37 more games than he lost during his career. Bert's career W-L percentage? .534. Felix's 2010 W-L percentage? .520.
"Blyleven's backers sometimes will also act astounded or even apoplectic over the fact that some, including myself, support Jack Morris over Blyleven. Morris' career totals generally aren't as good as Blyleven's. But with Morris, to some degree, you had to be there."
Heyman admits Morris' career totals aren't as good as Blyleven's. But, you see, with Morris, you just had to be there. I don't get it. You had to be where? If you were there, I was there. Maybe not literally. But I was paying close attention all along. Unlike you, I don't think that means all that much. I mean, did you see every game he pitched? If so, what did you think about this one? Or are you just referring to that one? How much better was that Game Seven performance than Mickey Lolich's 8 2/3 scoreless innings and 4-1 complete-game victory over Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Seven of the 1968 World Series? By the way, Morris and Lolich, both of whom were World Series heroes, had career ERA+ of 105 in a comparable number of innings. Did you ever vote for Lolich for the Hall of Fame? His impact was historic. But maybe you weren't there.
"(Morris) was the ace of three World Series-winning franchises, and while Blyleven also pitched very well in the postseason, he was never the ace."
Who cares if he was the ace in those particular years? Blyleven "pitched very well in the postseason" by your admission. It doesn't matter what you call him. You think it's all about impact and human beings and fame and having to be there and being called an ace. I say performance trumps them all. And, in this regard, Morris was 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA in the postseason, including 4-2, 2.96 in the World Series. Blyleven was 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA in the postseason with better peripherals and 2-1, 2.35 ERA in the World Series.
"Morris has a high lifetime ERA, 3.90. But some of that is due to the 6.19 and 5.60 marks he put up in his final two seasons. And part of it is due to him pitching to the scoreboard, which the very best pitchers could do."
Nice try. If you exclude Morris' last two seasons, he had an ERA of 3.73 (with a ERA+ of 109). By the same token, if you exclude Blyleven's last two seasons, he had an ERA of 3.22 (with a ERA+ of 122). No matter how you cut it, so to speak, Blyleven had a much better ERA and ERA+ than Morris.
As for "pitching to the scoreboard," Jay Jaffe, who was just elected to the Baseball Writers Association of America, debunked that nonsense in his recent annual review of the Hall of Fame cases of starting pitchers, linking to research by Greg Spira and Joe Sheehan that "has long since put the lie to this claim." Sheehan's conclusion? "I can find no pattern in when Jack Morris allowed runs. If he pitched to the score—and I don't doubt that he changed his approach—the practice didn't show up in his performance record."
"In the end, the best are not defined by being consistently good and sticking around long enough to post totals beyond their actual impact. That's what Blyleven did."
Gosh, shame on me. I thought being consistently good and pitching for a long time were huge positives. In fact, in Blyleven's case, he ranks 13th all-time among pitchers in Baseball-Reference WAR with 90.1 because he combined quantity and quality like so few others. By comparison, Morris ranks 140th with 39.3. This stat would suggest that Blyleven was worth 50 more wins above replacement than Morris. Not that WAR is the be all and end all to performance measurement, but that gap is so wide that it would be virtually impossible to bridge via impact alone.
By the way, the four pitchers in front of and behind Blyleven in WAR? Greg Maddux Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Warren Spahn, Randy Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, and Steve Carlton. The four pitchers in front of and behind Morris in WAR? Ed Reulbach, Dizzy Dean, Noodles Hahn, Carl Mays, Ted Breitenstein, Murry Dickson, Harry Brecheen, and Al Leiter.
"Morris. He finished with 254 wins and 175 complete games while leading the league at various times in wins (twice), starts (twice), complete games, shutouts and innings pitched."
Wow. That's really something. Blyleven finished with 287 wins and 242 complete games while leading the league at various times in shutouts (3x), strikeouts-to-walks (3x), innings pitched (2x), games started, complete games, and strikeouts, as well as WHIP and ERA+. Seems pretty straightforward to me. If Morris is a Hall of Famer, he needs to wait until after Blyleven has been inducted to be taken seriously. As Craig Calcaterra has said repeatedly, "You can vote for Jack Morris for the Hall of Fame. You can vote for Bert Blyleven for the Hall of Fame. You can also keep both of them out if you’re a small-Hall kind of guy. You cannot, however, vote for Jack Morris and not vote for Bert Blyleven."
I agree with Craig, which is another way of saying that if Heyman were intellectually honest and consistent, I wouldn't have a problem with him voting for Morris or not voting for Blyleven. To quote Craig, "There are no right and wrong Hall of Fame votes. There are right and wrong approaches to voting however." Well said, my friend.
Blyleven fell five votes shy of the Hall of Fame last year. If everybody who voted for him does so again, this should be the year as it appears that there may be enough voters who are reconsidering his candidacy to finally make it happen.