Rich Lederer, Bert Blyleven, and Purity of Spirit
Before I jump into this thing I would like for readers to understand that, while this is Rich Lederer’s joint, he allows his fellow writers full editorial latitude. He’s never asked to see anything I’ve written before it went up on Baseball Analysts, for better or worse. Rich is on the west coast, I am on the east coast, and that means that this thing will appear atop the site before Rich rises Thursday morning. If he’s uncomfortable when he wakes up and sees it, oh well. He deserves his day in the sun and damned if I’m not going to do my part to make sure he gets it here.
There have been really nice tributes written around the web already. Criag Calcaterra said he probably wouldn’t have his gig at NBC’s Hardball Talk if not for Lederer. Alex Belth wrote a really nice blog post at Bronx Banter about how Rich was one of the original baseball bloggers, “a hobbyist”, and it’s a distinction I want to touch on further. More on that in a bit. Matt Welch of the Libertarian publication, Reason, chimed in too. And, of course, there was Jon Paul Morosi taking to his big media sports page to make sure the masses understood how Bert Blyleven went from 26.3% of the Hall of Fame vote the year before Rich wrote his first Blyleven article, to the cusp of immortality.
Rich asked if I would join him at Baseball Analysts late in the year back in 2005. We had forged an internet friendship through blogging over the previous couple of years and he said he liked my writing. I was floored, and it just so happened that my professional life was ramping in a way where I would have to scale back daily writing. Baseball Analysts allowed me a chance to write less frequently for a much, much larger audience.
Our connection runs deeper, though. My wife is a Long Beach native, where her parents still reside. As regular readers may know from the Jered Weaver posts or Area Code Games updates, Rich also lives in Long Beach. We took in this Angels-Red Sox game together in Anaheim and Rich stopped by our engagement party four months later in December of 2005. We’ve played golf with my father in law at Recreation Park Municipal Course, Rich’s Country Club and Trump National LA. We’ve taken in a Rays-Sox game at Fenway Park and dined together in Boston’s North End with Rich’s son Joe and my wife Johanna. We’ve had countless spirited baseball and political debates over too many Happy Hours on Second Street in Long Beach. Rich and his wife Barb were there at my wedding in Palos Verdes.
Rich, 25 years my senior and 3,000 miles away, is now one of my dearest friends, and it’s all because of the internet. That’s a timely idea today, too, because Bert Blyleven is a Hall of Famer because of the internet. It took a long time and assists go out to guys like Calcaterra and Joe Posnanski and others, but when Rich published Only the Lonely the day after Christmas in 2003, it was pretty much checkmate.
Every pitcher with 3,000 or more strikeouts who is eligible is in the Hall of Fame except for one pitcher. His name? Well, for those of you who may be color blind, the lone exception is none other than Rik Aalbert Blyleven. As shown, the Holland-born righthander ranks fifth all time in strikeouts. Other than Mr. Blyleven, there are only two pitchers--Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson--on the above list who are not in the Hall, and both will surely be inducted on the first ballot. Bert Blyleven, Only The Lonely.
Go back and have a look at the post yourself. It’s masterful in how plainly Rich is able to make the case. Blyleven was being held to an unfair standard.
Along the same lines of the flattening effect of the internet, I want to get back to that point Alex Belth made about Rich being "a hobbyist." It’s what I am too (it’s late here in NYC, I'm exhausted, and I have two more days at this conference), and I think that "hobbyist" status should equate to, if anything, more credibility and not less. Rich has no commercial aspirations at all, no agenda, no ax to grind. It’s not why he writes. And yet, as Hall voter after Hall voter started to admit that Rich’s persuasiveness was selling them on voting for Blyleven, others cringed.
Jon Heyman was the most famous of these writers, recently labeling Lederer an “internet zealot” while he spent 2,000 words writing an internet article on a player for whom he WAS NOT going to vote. Rich has had a series of mocking back-and-forths with Heyman over the years, although Jon was never man enough to identify Rich by name publicly. I love a good FJM’ing of mainstream nonsense, don’t get me wrong. But I always thought those Heyman episodes were a little unfortunate since, in (appropriately) taking the fight right back to Heyman, a professional with a much broader platform, Rich came off at times in a way that sells short just how sweet of a man he is.
Rich is sweet, you bet he is, but he also will never back down from his principles. He knew he was right. The mainstream quote that has stuck with me all year long was this one from the blogger Murray Chass.
Am I right? Yes. Why? Because my opinion counts and his doesn’t. My ballot was one of the 539 counted in the election. He did not have a vote. Therefore, his opinion is worthless as far as the election is concerned.
There it is, as plain as day. A non-voter’s HOF opinion is "worthless as far as the election is concerned." Boy oh boy, would that be news to Bert Blyleven. There’s just no way at all he would have been elected to the Hall if not for Rich Lederer, a non-voter of course.
It's too great of a day, however, to focus on the Blyleven holdouts. To bring it back, what Blyleven finally getting into Cooperstown means to me is a triumph of purity. Purity of truth in that Rich, time and again, employed logic and rational argument to make his point. Purity of spirit in that Rich’s motives have never been commercial. He thought Bert Blyleven deserved to be in Cooperstown, so he sat down to make his case. And finally, purity of unadulterated love of baseball. It’s the foundation of my friendship with Rich, it’s the foundation of why he started this site, it forms the foundation of many of his very warmest memories of his late father, George Lederer.
And I guess that’s why I find myself becoming a bit emotional as I write this. It's strange but somehow this whole thing has a lot of meaning, even over and above the road map to Cooperstown it offers Tim Raines and Jeff Bagwell. It’s perhaps the greatest and most tangible triumph of Sabermetric writing outside of actual front office influence, and if George Lederer were alive to see it all, holy hell would he be proud. His son, already having built a successful investment management career that has afforded his family opportunity and comfort, decided he’d write about baseball because, well, he wanted to. Rich Lederer, “the hobbyist” as Alex Belth calls him, toppled entrenched flat-eartherism to ensure that a man’s life’s work would be recognized appropriately. And now, Bert Blyleven, an all-timer in every regard as meaningful pitching metrics go, will get his due.