Bert Blyleven

January 6, 2010

I have to admit, I was happy to see the rouge, blanc, et bleu of Les Expos popping from the picture of a smiling Andre Dawson in the following article, hot off the presses, so to speak:

BBWAA Elects “Hawk” to the Hall of Fame 

But my next thought was pity for the ol’ Dutchman shown here, in a 1991 card, late in his long career of sending bamboozled batters back to the dugout. Apparently, he missed Cooperstown enshrinement this time by just five votes. As the only players who missed by a smaller margin (Pie Traynor, Billy Williams, and Jim Bunning) went on to later get enough votes, you’ve got to think that Blyleven’s long wait will be over next year, but who knows? Still, it’s looking more like Blyleven will get his moment in the immortal sun. Also looking good is Roberto Alomar, who got 73.7% of the vote and will probably breeze in next year. Barry Larkin also had a strong first year on the ballot, hinting that he’ll have a plaque before too long. So kudos to all of them.

But let’s face it, today for baseball fans is a day set aside for outrage, more or less. It’s the day when the game itself is in some ways defined, and those who didn’t get to participate in the defining (and plenty who did) get to rail against the parts of the definition that veer so widely from their own.

I’m mostly angry about the relatively weak results for Tim Raines and Alan Trammell. Raines still has some time on the ballot to climb, but I think Trammell is pretty much done for. Maybe some day a revamped, sane Veteran’s Committee can induct him and Lou Whitaker at the same time.

No such hopes for the onetime 1980s answer to Mickey Mantle. I’m not as strong an advocate for Dale Murphy as I am for Raines and Trammell, but it seems odd to me that Andre Dawson would get 77.9% of the vote while Murphy would get just 11.7%. Was Dawson that much better than Murphy? (You can even ask the simpler question by knocking out the “that much”: Was he better?)

It’s an odd thing, this vanishing of Dale Murphy. He was not a Bob Grich or Darrell Evans type when he played, i.e., he wasn’t one of those quiet guys churning out good to great seasons in invisibility, but rather a marquee hero with a nationwide TBS audience back when such an audience was rare. I guess he and Don Mattingly have both been dismissed for the abrupt truncations of their careers.

Which brings us back to Blyleven, who unlike the blazing comet types just kept going and going. He was built for the long haul. Here’s hoping that persistence helps him wait for The Call for one more year.


  1. Having recently read Bill James’s “The Politics of Glory” for the first time, I have given up trying to figure how guys get elected. The HOF used to be the end-all for me when I was younger, now it doesn’t mean so much because (like most of the readers here) I’m a sabernerd (or wanna-be anyway) and most voters aren’t.

    I didn’t think Dawson belonged, but he’s not the worst guy in there. That Tim Raines isn’t in there is absurd to me. I can understand why Bobby Grich or Ken Singleton might slip by a voter, but Raines seems obvious by any criteria. Blyleven isn’t so bad because it looks like he’ll get it next year.

    I remember an old “Who’s Who In Baseball” I had from the year Murphy and Brett and (I think Nolan Ryan) retired, and they had Murphy listed as going in with those guys already, so strong was the assumption he’d make it.

  2. “I remember an old “Who’s Who In Baseball” I had from the year Murphy and Brett and (I think Nolan Ryan) retired, and they had Murphy listed as going in with those guys already, so strong was the assumption he’d make it.”

    That’s really interesting. I’d assumed that the devaluation of Murphy had begun to occur when his production dipped toward the end of his career, so it’s surprising to hear that he was still held in really high regard at the time of his retirement. So what changed in the perception of him between then and now?

  3. The suddenness and magnitude of his dropoff is the biggest factor, I’m sure. But I also think his demeanor has something to do with it. Murph was the pinnacle of humble sportsmanship. He was quiet, kind, self-effacing, and approachable. I can say this with some authority — I attended a couple of Sunday school classes that he taught in 1984 (I also interviewed Bob Horner that same year at a Bojangles Biscuits…each man in his element…).

    And while these are attributes the HOF and the writers who vote for enshrinement therein often claim as aspirational, I believe Murph’s honest embodiment of them rendered him easily forgotten. He would never self-promote, would never secretly enlist the aid of a friendly writer, and has kept a zero profile since retiring.

    It’s okay, though — he doesn’t need it. He’s got the admiration, if not love, of just about everyone who’s crossed paths with him. Murph was the best. What’s a plaque and a speech compared to that?

  4. The baseball HOF is just a messed up organization and by extension so is baseball. I dont’ think there’s another “fame” type of institution that’s as misunderstood and ill-defined as this one. Read the “Politics of Glory” as sb1902 mentioned to really understand it.

    The greatest misconception by most fans and media alike is this institution is for the elite. It’s not and it hasn’t been since 1946. You can’t celebebrate Fred Lindstrom, Dave Bancroft, or George Kell or George Kelly and call yourself an elite institution.

    Also because baseball is such an odd game, (no uniform playing conditions, etc, rule changes, etc.) ranking player becomes very difficult.

    But the biggest problem IMO is they do things like honor the 26th-30th best 2b in history and fail to honor the 11th and 12th in Grich and Whitaker.

  5. Josh,

    The big problem with Murphy is he had 6 great seasons and then basically nothing else. It’s a very odd career for not having been injured or interupted by War. He’s got a very good peak but not the career length.

    Dawson on the other hand had decent career length, but not as great a peak as Murphy. Even his career value is about 130th all time in career WAR which really isn’t that great. there are literally 30 eligible player not in the HOF who have more career WAR than Dawson.

  6. The 1970’s and ’80’s are confusing for the HOF voters. Tucked between the big bats of the ’60’s and 90’s, voters don’t know how to properly evaluate that era.
    I consider myself a tough grader. I am not sure Murphy belongs, and I would not have voted for Rice or Dawson. I have no problem with Blyleven taking 9 years to get in. He is a borderline candidate to me.

  7. Here’s Blyleven’s great advocate Rich Lederer on the near-miss:


    Lederer shines a light on Blyleven’s dominant efforts with the use of an interesting stat called Runs Saved Above Average, which “combines quality (runs saved per inning vs. the league average) and quantity (innings pitched).” He also reiterates the following recap of Blyleven’s standing with regards to more well-known stats:

    “Bert Blyleven ranks fifth in career strikeouts, ninth in career shutouts, and in the top 20 since 1900 in wins. Every eligible pitcher with 3,000 strikeouts is in the Hall of Fame except Blyleven, who has 3,701. Every eligible pitcher with 50 shutouts is in the Hall of Fame except Blyleven, who has 60. Every eligible pitcher in the top 20 in wins since 1900 is in the Hall of Fame except Blyleven and Tommy John.”

  8. Does that mean we have to put Tommy John in also?
    Blyleven was a strikeout pitcher who had a very long career. He was very good for a long time, but I am not sure he was one of the greatest. His durability gives his career some impressive compiled numbers, but he lacks that period of dominance.
    I have no problem with him getting in. But I do have a problem with some of the arguments being made on his behalf.

  9. If you check out the Lederer article, he follows the one mention of Tommy John in the list of accomplishments with some info that clearly separates Blyleven from John.

    I never really thought of Blyleven as being in the same league as Seaver, Feller, Gibson, etc., and I still think of him as a shade below those immortals, but I’ve found it interesting and enlightening to follow Lederer’s deep inspection of the numbers, which makes a really strong case that Blyleven was better than most people thought he was.

  10. I agree that he is better than he gets credit for, and as a tough grader for the HOF, I have no gripes about him being elected. But I also do not consider it an outrage that he has not been elected yet.
    To me he seems like a pitcher who would get in after many years, or even by the veterans committee. That seems like an example of the system working correctly.

  11. The thing I don’t get about Andre Dawson is that the second half of his career he was slow and didn’t play good defense, but it seems his first seven years won the day. The thing that gets me is how little support Tim Raines gets. That is very puzzling to me.

  12. The baseball HOF is just a messed up organization and by extension so is baseball. I dont’ think there’s another “fame” type of institution that’s as misunderstood and ill-defined as this one.

    I would put the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame at the top of the list.

  13. up until the early 1990s, dale murphy was one of the harder answers to that great barroom trivia question asking you to name the one player at each position who had won back-to-back mvp awards (with outfield not broken up into left/right/center). he was in there with some pretty fair company.

    but i remember his slippage very well, as he was on my strat-o-matic team the final years of his career (as were non-hall-of-famers mark mcgwire, tim raines, edgar martinez, and roberto alomar, whose careers were just getting going to some degree back then).

  14. Yeah I’m puzzled about Murph too. Dawson and him have near identical stats…and played almost the exact same seasons, in the same league. How does one person think that one was THAT much better than the other?

  15. I like Bert. I hope he gets in. He amassed some very good numbers on some very bad teams.

    I wonder what his percent of wins is per each season played. Trying to gauge against the Carlton year.

    If Cleveland could have played some decent ball during his stint, he would easily have made the extra 13 wins to get the magical 300 number.

    min was 1st, 5th, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 4th
    tx 4th, 2nd
    pitt 2nd, 1st, 3rd
    cle 6th, 6th, 7th,6th, 7th
    min 4th, 6th, 1st,2nd
    cal 3rd, 4th, 5th

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