While it may be January, in Minnesota that means Twins Fest, a weekend in the dead of winter dedicated to the fans of the Minnesota 9. It also means it is time for my annual “Why isn’t Bert Blyleven in the Hall of Fame?” rant.
Granted, outside of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, the Twins roster isn’t exactly a cavalcade of household names, and a big chunk of those names have less than 3 years experience “at the major league level,” to quote Bert Blyleven. However, that’s no excuse to shaft this team on the exposure they deserve. But if you are a Twins fan, you know what it’s like to watch great players toil in obscurity as Minnesota is a small-market team west of the Appalachian Mountains. Of course, that means the Twins might as well play their home games on the 8th moon of Neptune as far as ESPN is concerned.
Like I said, this is nothing new. Harmon Killebrew spent the 60’s being overshadowed by the likes of Mickey Mantle, even though the Killer had more career homers than the Mick. Rod Carew spent the 70’s watching Carl Yasztremski get all the attention as a hit machine, even though Carew was a far-superior all-around player. And Kirby Puckett got robbed of a 1991 MVP award just because Cal Ripken, Jr. had one of the two better-than-slightly-above average seasons in his 20-plus-year career.
Possibly the most egregious example of this small-market bias explains why Bert Blyleven can’t get into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Sure he didn’t spend his entire career in Minnesota, but he did pitch the entirety of his career in the relative obscurity of what would become known as the “small market team,” meaning Minnesota, Texas, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Minnesota again, and the California Angels.
Although it would have given me nausea on the Mr. Creosote scale to see it, my assertion is that had Blyleven pitched for the Yankees, he would have been a superstar. Just for fun, consider the following comparison of Blyleven’s career numbers to Yankee legend and Hall-of-Famer Whitey Ford.
- 287 wins – 25th All-Time (51 more wins than Ford at 236)
- 3.31 career Earned Run Average (2.75 for Ford, who never pitched in the Designated Hitter era, or after the pitcher’s mound was lowered before the 1969 season)
- 4,970 innings pitched – 13th on the All-Time list (3,170 for Ford)
- 3,701 strikeouts – 5th on the All-Time list (1,956 for Ford)
- 685 career starts – 9th on the All-Time list (438 for Ford)
- 242 complete games (156 for Ford)
- 60 shutouts – 9th on the All-Time list (45 for Ford)
- Two World Series Championships: 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates and 1987 Minnesota Twins (4 for Ford, who pitched the whole of his career with the Yankees)
- Won 20 games in 1973 (Ford only won 20 games twice, in 1961 and 1963)
- One of only three pitchers to ever win a Major League game before his 20th birthday and also win a Major League game after his 40th birthday.
Let’s just digest some of those numbers. First, lets start with a career Earned Run Average of 3.31. In my mind the two best arbiters of a dominant pitcher are ERA and strikeouts. Granted, a career ERA of 3.31 doesn’t get him high on any lists, but then again, nobody would be considering the advent of the Designated Hitter and the lowering of the mound after the 1968 season. If that weren’t enough, a great share of the career ERA leaders are from the dead-ball era prior to 1919. But I have an inkling that if you were to ask any American League manager after 1973 if an ERA of 3.31 is far more than respectable, I suspect the answer would be a resounding “Yes!” If you don’t believe that, go look how many Cy Young winners since then have had higher ERAs.
As for strikeouts, Blyleven was 3rd all-time when he retired, and he is the only eligible pitcher with 3,000 strikeouts not inducted – passed only by Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson, and the next nine behind Bert in strikeouts are eight members of the Hall of Fame and one “for-sure” future member, Greg Maddux.)
Go here to match Blyleven’s Hall of Fame resume against several current members and some “sure-thing” future members of Cooperstown. It is easy to see that Bert’s numbers easily merit induction to Cooperstown, but it just never happens. Then, there’s the stuff numbers don’t measure. The pure smooth that only Bert’s knee-buckling curveball brought, yet the with personality brought by a guy whose off-day past-times are rumored to have included setting Tom Kelly’s shoelaces on fire. It’s the same odd combo that can sell you a house while making “Beavis and Butthead” type jokes about his broadcast partner.
But until Blyleven is in that Hall, it can never be a true hall of greatness, rather just a hall of fame.
Ok, I’ve had my rant, and I’m good until the next time Bert doesn’t get the votes. But at least now, I’m going to file this with the rest of the things that I deal with in my tried-and-true means of anger management. For those of you fortunate enough to view Bert’s work as the Twins color guy, I give you the Bert Blyleven drinking game. Break it out on Opening Day and enjoy…
Take one drink whenever:
- Bert says “Major League Level”
- Bert says “According to my California math”
- Bert says “Get to that balance point”
- Bert says “Run Support”
- Bert circles somebody
- Bert claims to know the answer to the AFLAC trivia question
Take two drinks whenever:
Bert makes reference to the number of days until his birthday
Bert talks about the advantage of drilling a hitter
Bert says something about umpires not knowing how to call a curveball for a strike
Bert takes a shot at his booth-mate
Bert actually knows the answer to the AFLAC trivia question
Bert makes reference to the fact he gave up a ton of home-runs in his career (double if he mentions Ron Kittle)
Take three drinks whenever:
Bert has a rant about pitchers getting babied/not pitching enough innings
Bert has a rant about pitchers being afraid to throw inside
Bert reads the name of the town from the signs of people he’s circling (double if the town is in North Dakota)
Take four drinks whenever:
- Bert plays a prank
- Bert tells a story about his major league career (double if the story involves either the 1987 Twins, the 1979 Pirates, or Ron Kittle)
- Bert circles somebody because it’s their birthday (that means seven drinks if Bert says the birthday circle recipient’s town, and eleven drinks if they happen to be from North Dakota)