By Rich Lederer
There have been a number of articles and interviews published over the past two weeks about my efforts to help Bert Blyleven get elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. As much for my personal reference as anything else, I am linking to these stories below in chronological order.
From Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Blyleven a Hall of Fame character, player, dated July 18, 2011:
"I think the internet helped me a lot. I feel like a guy like Rich Lederer with baseballanalysts.com brought out my numbers. Probably with Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez winning Cy-Youngs when they didn't have the most wins. Wins are hard to come by. It's hard to win a ballgame. It's easy to lose but it's hard to win."
Chris Jaffe, The Hardball Times, 10 things I didn’t know about Bert Blyleven, dated July 18, 2011:
10. Blyleven and Rich Lederer combined to defy recent trends
Jim Caple, ESPN, Hall of Fame needs to rethink its ballot, dated July 20, 2011:
About 10 years ago, there was a debate at the late, great Rob Neyer Message Board about Blyleven’s Hall of Fame chances. At that time only 15 to 20 percent of the electorate supported him.
To answer the question, I went to my usual modus operandi: I looked at recent historical trends. It showed that of the last 20 guys elected to Cooperstown by the BBWAA (as of then), none had ever received 20 percent or lower of the vote in any election they were up for. None had ever fallen below 30 percent. Or 40 percent. The worst election by any of 20 guys who had gone on to election was one time Tony Perez finished exactly one vote shy of 50 percent.
If you went back further, you could find guys who’d risen up: Billy Williams, Luis Aparicio, Bob Lemon. But that’s the problem, you had to go way back. Many new voters had entered the mix, and old ones passed on. I assumed Blyleven had no chance with the current BBWAA.
But he did. Thanks in no small amount to a campaign led by Rich Lederer to get Bert Blyleven into the Hall of Fame, Blyleven saw his vote total gradually rise up, election after election, until he got in. With the power of the internet, Lederer’s persistence—and, oh yeah, Blyleven’s own solid case—he’ll have a nice weekend in upstate New York this year.
Note that since the Neyer Board discussion ten years ago, things have already shifted. Gary Carter, Rich Gossage, Jim Rice, and Bruce Sutter have all gotten in, after initially finishing under 50 percent. But Gossage and Sutter are relievers, and the Hall is still trying to figure them out. Carter only had one really low year, and it was never as low as Blyleven. Rice benefited from an orchestrated movement by the Boston press corps.
None spent as many years as low on BBWAA ballots as Blyleven. If you’re a fan of sabermetrics, and of internet-based populism, this weekend’s induction ceremony is thus a double victory—one for Blyleven and one for Lederer.
Consider Blyleven. I didn't vote for him for several years before finally seeing the light, thanks in large part to blogger Rich Lederer's insightful writings pleading his case. And eventually, 80 percent of writers agreed with Rich and decided Blyleven belonged in Cooperstown. But we nearly ran out of time before coming to that conclusion. We elected Blyleven in his next-to-last year of eligibility, and Jim Rice in his final year.
David Schoenfield, ESPN, Bert Blyleven a deserving Hall of Famer, dated July 21, 2011:
The thing about Bert Blyleven's Hall of Fame case was that there was no precedent for leaving out a pitcher of his caliber. It just took baseball writers a long time to figure this out, thanks in no small part to the efforts of blogger Rich Lederer, who tirelessly campaigned for Blyleven's case (click here for Rich's writings on Blyleven).
Tom Hoffarth, Daily Breeze and Press-Telegram, Blyleven's Hall of Fame route went from old to new school, dated July 22, 2011:
From Vin Scully's lips to Rich Lederer's computer to Bert Blyleven's plaque in Cooperstown.
Minneapolis Star Tribune, Bert Blyleven timeline: A lifetime of baseball, dated July 23, 2011:
...He heaps plenty of praise for his eventual induction on a campaign over the past eight-some years by Lederer, who created the site BaseballAnalysts.com as a way to re-interpret career data.
Lederer, whose late father George covered the Dodgers for the Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram during the team's first 11 seasons in L.A. and then did public relations for the Angels, started to crunch Blyleven's numbers back in 2003 and built a case that slowly enlightened the Hall voters.
"You look at the new age that we are in with the Facebook and (Twitter) and the online, all that stuff is very important, because I think, as writers that do vote, that is your job to look at numbers," Blyleven said. "And that is what I think Rich Lederer brought out. He brought my numbers out a lot more."
Jon Weisman of the DodgerThoughts.com blog called Lederer's achievement "the most effective grass-roots campaigns for Cooperstown ever." Dave Studenmund, the editor of The Hardball Times, wrote it was "greatest story of Sabermetrics on the Internet."
Lederer, an investment banker in Long Beach who used to deliver the Press-Telegram on his bike, said he wrote about 20 stories about Blyleven. Having it linked and read by other voters were key to getting the word out.
"Such praise from my esteemed peers not only feels good but means I achieved what I set out to do 7 1/2 years ago, which was simply to get Bert Blyleven elected to the Hall of Fame," said Lederer, leaving today with his wife to Cooperstown to join in Blyleven's induction ceremony.
"I have no doubt that my dad would have enjoyed the whole experience, from reading my articles, to watching Blyleven's vote totals increase year-after-year to Bert's election and induction. I only wish Dad were here because I'm quite sure that he would have accompanied me to Cooperstown for this very special day.
"I know one thing. Bert would have received one more vote every year if my dad, who was a member of the BBWAA from 1958 to 1978, were still alive. Just as Bert will be thinking about and thanking his father, who passed away in 2004, I will be thinking about and thanking my dad, too."
2004 – A California blogger, Rich Lederer, starts making a statistical case for Blyleven’s inclusion in the Hall of Fame. Blyleven was named that year on slightly more than one-third of ballots; 75 percent is needed to get into Cooperstown.
Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times, Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven never gave hitters an even break, dated July 23, 2011:
What Blyleven didn't know yet was that he had an Angel in his corner. Or a former Angels publicist's son, anyway.
Kevin Roderick, L.A. Observed, Angeleno weekend in Cooperstown, dated July 23, 2011:
Rich Lederer, a Long Beach investment advisor whose father once worked for the Angels, began making a statistics-based case for Blyleven's induction on the blog baseballanalysts.com in 2003. Among other arguments, Lederer noted that Blyleven would have easily eclipsed 300 victories had he received run support that matched the league average.
"I wasn't quite sure what impact it would have," said Lederer, who also lobbied baseball writers over the phone and in person, attending baseball's winter meetings in Anaheim in 2004.
Blyleven soon was a new buzzword among baseball writers, many of whom had previously dismissed his accomplishments as a function of his longevity. His vote total jumped from 17.5% in his first year on the ballot to 79.7% this year, the biggest leap since Duke Snider was elected in 1980 after receiving just 17% of the vote 10 years earlier.
Upon his election in January, in his next-to-last year of eligibility, Blyleven thanked Lederer. He then provided tickets for the induction ceremony — in the Blyleven family section. Lederer will be seated near Blyleven's mother, Jenny, 85, who will make the trip to Cooperstown from Garden Grove.
It will be heavily (and emotionally) SoCal when the baseball Hall of Fame inducts its new honorees this weekend. Former Angels pitcher Bert Blyleven goes in, and that means that Los Angeles blogger Rich Lederer will be on hand. His logical and unceasing case over seven years is the reason Blyleven was elected to the hall, and the pitcher invited the blogger to stand beside him in Cooperstown, N.Y. Forget the "Moneyball" movie, these guys could make a great baseball buddy flick — and they only met this year. Lederer's pre-flight post today:
Rob Neyer, SB Nation, Baseball Hall of Fame: Bert Blyleven, Finally, dated July 24, 2011:
My wife and I are leaving for Cooperstown this morning for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Sunday. We will be joined by our son-in-law Joel and my brother Tom and his wife Jeannie this weekend. If not a baseball trip of a lifetime, it should prove to be an unforgettable memory for not only the honoree himself but all of us as well.
There will be a lot of baseball fans and bloggers applauding Lederer along with Blyleven.
I looked. You looked. Bill James looked. Rich Lederer looked. Rich Lederer really looked. We all saw a pitcher who belonged in the Hall of Fame.
Kelsie Smith, Pioneer Press, For Bert Blyleven, the smell of success can be pretty foul, dated July 24, 2011:
But for a long, long time the writers -- the writers in the Base Ball Writers Association of America, who vote for Hall of Famers -- just didn't see it that way. The writers have made a great number of mistakes over the years, most of them ultimately rectified. But if you're looking for evidence that the writers have massive blind spots, look no further than their history with Bert Blyleven.
In his first year on the ballot, Blyleven was named on 17 percent of the ballots. In his second year, he dropped to 14 percent. He didn't cross the 50-percent threshold until his ninth try.
Think about that ... For eight years -- and presumably the six years before that, too, when he wasn't yet on the ballot, which makes 14 years -- more than half the (supposed) greatest baseball experts in the world didn't think that Bert Blyleven and his 287 wins, 60 shutouts and his 3,701 strikeouts belonged in the Hall of Fame.
Of course it seems preposterous now, and all the guys who voted for him this time around, all 79.7 percent of them, will probably say it was just a matter of time. But the truth is that if not for Rich Lederer's one-man campaign, Blyleven might still be waiting. Fortunately, Blyleven's mom is still going strong at 85, and she was planning to attend the induction ceremony this weekend. Unfortunately, all those foolish writers who failed for so many years to vote for Blyleven did keep his father from attending; Joe Blyleven died of Parkinson's Disease in 2004.
Being in the Hall of Fame doesn't make Bert Blyleven a better pitcher, all of a sudden. In your mind and mine, Blyleven's exactly the same pitcher tomorrow as yesterday.
But let's not pretend that being in the Hall of Fame doesn't matter. It obviously matters a great deal to him, and presumably to those close to him. That's enough. That's enough for the writers to take their duties as Hall of Fame voters seriously. And while I prefer to think the best of my colleagues, most of whom have been exceptionally kind to me over the years, when I look at what happened to Bert Blyleven for all those years, I detect a frightening lack of seriousness.
For much more about Blyleven and the Hall of Fame, just poke around Baseball Analysts.
His first year on the ballot, 1998, Blyleven received 17.5 percent of the vote. A player needs 75 percent to get into the Hall of Fame, but Blyleven wasn't too worried; he knew he wasn't a first-ballot player. Then in 1999, he dropped to 14.1 percent.
Glenn Miller, The News-Press, Long wait finally over, dated July 24, 2011:
"It took Harmon four years to get in," he said of Twins icon Harmon Killebrew. "Other pitchers like Don Sutton, guys that I thought my numbers were comparable to, I thought four or five years, maybe the sixth year, is when you'll see that big increase. But it went from like 17 (percent) to 14 to 17 to 19 or 20, and it was just a slow process, and I'm thinking, 'My California math is telling me that in 15 years I'm still going to be at 30 percent. I ain't getting in this thing.' "
After his second-year drop, Blyleven continued a steady rise, except when he fell from 53.5 percent in 2006 to 47.7 percent in 2007. But with a growing appreciation of Blyleven's achievements, thanks in large part to an Internet campaign spurred by Rich Lederer of baseballanalysts.com, his percentages kept climbing. In 2010, he came within five votes of 75 percent. Finally, this year, 79.7 percent of voters put him on their ballots.
"The day we've all been waiting for," said Rich Lederer, a Long Beach, Calif., resident who spent years touting Blyleven's credentials on a website, baseballanalysts.com.
Richard Griffin, Toronto Star, Better late than never, but Blyleven still bitter, dated July 24, 2011:
“I was just talking to Peter Gammons (of MLB Network),” Blyleven began. “He told me that he didn’t vote for me and then he asked me to do an interview with him.”
Blyleven refused the interview.
For the past 10 years, a fan named Rich Lederer has been conducting an annual campaign to get Blyleven into the Hall, using the same arguments that helped Felix Hernandez win the Cy Young Award last year and Zach Greinke a few years ago with the Royals. As Lederer persisted, and as the analysis of numbers changed, more people were convinced.
“All of a sudden he talks to Rich Lederer and all of a sudden, it’s, ‘Oh my God, he had 60 shutouts, oh my God, he pitched almost 5,000 innings, 287 wins’ and all this other crap, and all of a sudden 14 years later I get in,” Blyleven continued, using Gammons as the example of all that kept him out this long.
The wait was made worse by the fact that Blyleven’s father Joe passed away in 2004 and his mom Jenny is 85, and the trip from the west coast was difficult.
“All of a sudden, it’s hello, do your homework. Maybe the internet stuff will wake up some of the writers that maybe should look at Jim Kaat’s numbers, at Tommy John’s numbers, or guys that maybe should be here that aren’t here. Tony Oliva is another one. Al Oliver, it could go on and on about guys that maybe should be here. I thanked Rich Lederer.”