The day of Bert Blyleven's entry into Baseball's hallowed Hall of Fame is a day for celebration, so let's begin with a celebration of Blyleven's illustrious career
Bert Blyleven last pitched in the major leagues almost 25 years ago, yet he still occupies the following spots on Major League Baseball's all-time lists:
* 27th in wins,
* 14th in innings pitched,
* 13th in Wins Above Replacement,
* ninth in shutouts, and
* fifth in strikeouts.
Not coincidentally, Blyleven also threw one of the most devastating curveballs anyone's ever seen. In this book, Bill James and I ranked Blyleven's bender as the third greatest in major-league history, behind only Sandy Koufax and Three Finger Brown.
Looking at those numbers (and that curveball, if you ever saw it), you might figure that Blyleven sailed into the Hall of Fame, like most of the game's greatest pitchers. Blyleven certainly thought he would.
He didn't, and he wasn't shy about his frustration. Recently he said, "I vented a little bit, probably in my fourth or fifth year [on the ballot] because I thought these writers just weren't getting it. Look at where my numbers compare with guys who are in the Hall of Fame."
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.
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.