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Posted at 3:42 PM ET, 01/ 5/2011

His long, frustrating Hall of Fame wait over, Blyleven takes high road

By Dave Sheinin

There was not a trace of bitterness in Bert Blyleven's voice as he addressed members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America on a conference call that ended moments ago. That same austere body -- or, rather, its 10-year members -- had left Blyleven dangling for 13 years, effectively announcing every January that his career had been unworthy of the Hall of Fame. Now, that same body (and many of those same voters) was saying the opposite: Blyleven was in.

When his opportunity came to chide the BBWAA for making him wait so long, Blyleven instead thanked the voters: "It's been 14 years of praying and waiting and I thank the [BBWAA] for -- I'm going to say, finally getting it right. Thank you."

The curious case of Bert Blyleven, in a strange way, shows how the Hall of Fame voting system, while not perfect, actually works the way it should. Yes, that five-year period from the end of a player's career to his eligibility for the ballot is really necessary, in order to gain some perspective on his career in relation to that of his peers. And this time, the 15-year window of eligibility -- before a player's name is dropped from the ballot and into the wilderness that is the Veterans' Committee -- felt just about perfect. Over the course of 15 years, perspectives can change, insights can be gained, and revolutions -- in this case, what might be called the sabemetric revolution -- can take hold and alter those perspectives and insights.

As Blyleven seems to understand, he probably never would have gained election to Cooperstown were it not for the efforts of a loyal and passionate group of advocates on his behalf on the Internet. On his conference call Wednesday, Blyleven cited one of them by name: Rich Lederer, who writes at the blog, and who took up Blyleven's Hall-of-Fame cause seven years ago. More than anyone else, Lederer is responsible for educating voters about Blyleven's career.

"I thank all of those people in my corner trying to get me into the Hall of Fame, that the day has finally come," Blyleven said.

Although Blyleven wasn't viewed as one of the elite pitchers in the game during the era in which he played, his backers argued -- apparently quite convincingly -- that he should have been. There were the well-known "counting" stats, such as his 60 shutouts (ninth all-time) and 3,701 strikeouts (fifth all-time). But there were also advanced metrics, such as WAR and ERA+, that placed Blyleven's career in a different light.

"[Lederer] brought out so many stats," Blyleven said. "[He showed] it wasn't just about wins and losses."

By Dave Sheinin  | January 5, 2011; 3:42 PM ET
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Congratulations to Bert on his selection for the hall of fame! My experience with him has been late in the game, primarily enjoying his work on the Minnesota Twins broadcasts here in the Twin Cities. Bert brings warmth and humor to the broadcast experience, and his very candid style is a major reason we enjoy it so much. As a fan it's been difficult to watch him be passed by for so many years. I know that this meant the world to him, and it will be a point of pride for Minnesota Twins fans as well. Well done, Bert! Somebody circle that man!

Posted by: NateSolberg | January 5, 2011 11:03 PM | Report abuse

Blyleven didn't deserve it, in my view. He was a very good but never quite top pitcher for parts of a long career. Like Nolan Ryan, many years equals compiled numbers. Sixty shutouts is not huge in a 20 plus year career, a good part of which was played in the four man rotation era. As for the advanced stats, yes, his WAR was 60, (Wins over replacements, what you expect to win with the player on your roster instead of the guy you call up from AAA. However, that averages out to three wins a year. Your starting ace had better be worth three wins a year to you over the guy from AAA!

Posted by: Nemo24601 | January 6, 2011 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Nemo...Your comment that Blyleven's career WAR was 60 is not exactly correct. It was 90.10, which is 50% better than 60. As a reference he is 13th all time and all of the players with a career WAR of higher than 70 are in the Hall (with the exception of not eligibles Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Mike Mussina). Also "Sixty shutouts is not huge" is rediculous. He is ninth all time in shutouts and every player with more than 50 shutouts is in the Hall. He is deserving of being enshrined in the hall of fame and it's about time.

Posted by: wimbo | January 7, 2011 2:57 PM | Report abuse

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