A plaque for Bert Blyleven

Back in early November, when the San Francisco Giants were winning the World Series, I mentioned that I had a baseball Bucket List — three things I wanted to see from the National Pastime before I die.  They were:

  1. a postseason no-hitter (thank you, Roy Halladay).
  2. a Giants World Championship (thank you, Sabean, Bochy and Co.).
  3. Bert Blyleven being elected to the Hall of Fame.

Well, I can stop rubbing the lamp, ’cause I got my three wishes.  Today the Baseball Writers Association of America announced that Blyleven (along with Roberto Alomar) would be inducted into the Hall in Cooperstown.  Congratulations, Bert!

And baseball writers … it’s about dang time!

You see, just to get on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, you have to have played at least 10 years in the majors (no easy feat).  The 500-plus voting members of the BBWAA can each put up to 10 players on their ballot.  To stay on it, you need at least 5% of them to pick you as deserving of induction (even harder; at least 15 guys on this year’s ballot didn’t get enough).  And to be elected to the Hall, you need 75% to choose you.  You first get a shot at the ballot five years after you last played, and you have 15 chances at the magic 75% before they give up on you (that happened to one player this year, Dave Parker).

Blyleven was voted in this year with 79.7% of the vote — on his fourteenth try.

(Now, a few people would like to argue that 14 is way too many chances; one of them is a writer I greatly admire, ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons.  To them, I would say that it’s not the player’s fault if the BBWAA’s voters are slow to recognize his greatness.  If all the writers did a better job of studying both the quality of the players already in the Hall and the ones they’re voting for, we might not need to give them 15 tries to get it right.  But many of the writers don’t, so sometimes it takes a few years to build a consensus.  Plenty of great players didn’t get in for several years, including Jim Rice of Bill’s beloved Boston Red Sox (who needed all 15 years before he was elected).  That’s life, folks.)

I’ve been arguing for Blyleven to be elected for about a decade, and most of my baseball-fan friends are probably sick of hearing me talk about it.  A few years ago, I even wrote a monograph detailing the ample evidence for why he deserved to be inducted.  I won’t reprint it here, frankly because it ran 22 pages — there was a lot of evidence in his favor.  (If you want a copy, let me know and I’ll e-mail it to you.)  Suffice to say that his statistics and accomplishments were comparable with those of many no-questions-asked Hall of Famers, he was a winner who improved the records of the teams he played for, he was a clutch pitcher in the playoffs, and he was a general asset to the game of baseball.

So then, why did it take so long for him to be elected?  Well, a lot of little factors.  He played most of his career for mediocre teams, none of them in the big media markets where players get more publicity.  His won-loss record, 287-250, was dragged down by those teams — had he played for more contenders, he’d have reached 300 easily — and he only got to play in two World Series (though he pitched well in both, and in both cases his teams won).  He gave up a lot of home runs — 430 in his career — but there are guys in the Hall who gave up more.  Some peoples career numbers shout “HALL OF FAMER!!!”  His tended to speak in a more measured tone, similar to the one he’s used for the past decade and a half as a Minnesota Twins broadcaster.  But they’re no less deserving.  That’s what I’ve thought all along.

As has Bert Blyleven, who’s been for years a staple of post-BBWAA-announcement sports talk radio shows looking for someone willing to honestly air their disappointment about being passed over.  Most athletes in that situation would put up an “aw shucks, it’s an honor just to be considered, maybe next year” facade no matter how much they seethed inside.  Bert, a blunt-spoken Dutchman (he was actually born in the Netherlands; his parents emigrated to North America when he was a toddler), didn’t play the political game — he seethed right out in the open.  He’d worked hard and accomplished a lot, he felt he’d earned induction, and he was frustrated by the BBWAA’s seeming unwillingness to offer it to him.  It’s very tough to deal with when you feel you’re being treated unfairly or not given your due.  I don’t handle it well, either, so I can hardly slag him for feeling a bit cheated.

But today, he got to give interviews that were a lot happier.  He earned it long ago, but now he’s finally getting the reward for it.  Congrats, Bert.  And thank you, baseball writers, for (finally!) getting it done — not to mentioned finishing off my Bucket List.

Hmmm … now what do I do with myself?

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