Blyleven waiting for the Hall to call
Former All-Star hoping 12 years on the ballot is enough
For most people, the month of January symbolizes hope at the start of a new year.For Bert Blyleven, the month symbolizes hope that his long wait to get into Cooperstown might finally be ending. Blyleven is entering his 12th year on the Hall of Fame Ballot and he is still searching for the one honor that is noticeably missing from his 22-year career. There are many fans and baseball pundits alike who have wondered why Blyleven has yet to receive enshrinement in Cooperstown. In a career that spanned from 1970-92 with the Twins, Rangers, Pirates, Indians and Angels, he's at the top end of almost every all-time pitching category. That includes 287 wins, which is 27th on the all-time list. Blyleven is fifth in career strikeouts with 3,701. He is 11th in games started with 685. His 60 shutouts are ninth all-time. And Blyleven also ranks 13th all-time in innings pitched with 4,970. But despite the long list of accomplishments, Blyleven must sit back and wait again this January to see if his dream is finally realized. However, there is reason for Blyleven to be optimistic in 2009. A candidate must get 75 percent of the vote to gain election, with former Red Sox slugger Jim Rice (72.2 percent), former Expos and Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson (65.9 percent) and Blyleven (61.9 percent) standing as the top three returning vote-getters on this year's ballot. For Blyleven, the 61.9 percent total is the highest since he was first put on the ballot in 1998. It was also a nearly 14-percent jump from the previous year. The increase in vote totals for Blyleven is encouraging in that it inches him closer to the 70 percent mark. Ever player who has reached 70 percent of the vote has gone on to be subsequently elected. And since 1980, only four players have received more than 60 percent of the vote and did not eventually end up in the Hall of Fame. "It's a nice positive in what I feel is a negative situation," Blyleven said after last year's ballot results were announced. "Because I still feel my numbers are Hall of Fame numbers." Rickey Henderson, whose career spanned 25 years and nine teams, headlines the newcomers to the 2009 Hall of Fame ballot. Henderson, who has never announced his retirement, last played for the Dodgers in 2003. The 1990 American League MVP is the all-time leader in runs scored (2,295) and stolen bases (1,406), and he is second in walks (2,190). Live coverage of the Hall of Fame's announcement on Jan. 12 can be seen on MLB.com.
Blyleven's candidacy has definitely been picking up steam over recent years. After receiving just 14 percent of the vote in 1999, his second year on the ballot, Blyleven's vote totals have jumped nearly every year.While Blyleven appreciates the increased support he's received over the years, he doesn't quite understand what has changed. "I don't know what the writers look at and why, all of a sudden, one year you don't vote for a guy and the next year you do," Blyleven said. "It seems I always find myself this time of year defending my numbers more than admiring them." Those who haven't voted for Blyleven point to the pitcher lacking the benchmark achievements like 300 victories or a Cy Young Awards that often equal an induction into the Hall. Blyleven had just one 20-win season during his career along with just two All-Star bids and no Cy Young awards to his name. In the key categories -- strikeouts, wins and ERA -- Blyleven only once led his league in any of those stats, and that came in 1985 with the Twins, when he led the American League in strikeouts (206). But those who played against him believe that Blyleven should already be in Cooperstown. "The writers never had to face him," Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett said a few years ago about Blyleven. "If they did, they'd vote for him. He was as good as there was for a long time. Bert is up there with the toughest four or five guys I faced in my career." Delayed entry into Cooperstown is nothing new. Like Rich "Goose" Gossage, who was inducted last year in his ninth turn on the ballot, Tony Perez also spent nine years on the ballot before being selected in 2000. And Bruce Sutter was elected to the Hall in 2006 in his 13th year on the ballot. A total of 14 Hall of Fame players have been on the ballot for at least 10 years before being voted in by the writers. Historical perspective could have something to do with the change in opinion. It seems that the longer some players are on the ballot, the more their numbers seem to resonate with voters. Like Gossage, who earned 33.3 percent of the vote during his first year on the ballot in 2000, he watched his totals steadily increase over the following eight years. Blyleven has four more tries to gain the votes from the Baseball Writers' Association of America, including the '09 ballot. And no matter if it takes until his final stint on the ballot, the hope remains for Blyleven that one day the long wait will pay off. "I look at it as I only have four more years and I can't predict if a writer is going to change his vote," Blyleven said. "Why did Bruce Sutter get in after 13 years or Goose Gossage after nine? It's nice to see my numbers increase, but hopefully they'll just keep going up in a positive direction until I'm headed to Cooperstown."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.