Blyleven a beast with 242 complete games
NEW YORK -- Bert Blyleven completed 242 games during his 22-year career, which is unheard of today. That he did it with the curveball being his trademark pitch is even more amazing.
Not only did the new Hall of Famer have stamina, he also had endurance. To pitch so deep in so many games says a lot about his right arm and the mechanics he used to throw a baseball.
"That's when men were men back then," Blyleven quipped on Thursday during a press conference he shared with fellow electee Roberto Alomar at the famed Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. "I liked to finish what I started. It was that simple."
During an era when the sport is obsessed with pitch count, Blyleven is refreshing.
He was joking when he tossed out the line about being a man, but there was hidden truth to it.
Pitchers are babied today and it's my belief that's why so many suffer injuries. It's a mental thing as much as physical. When pitchers reach a certain count, say 100, they suddenly think it's time to turn the game over to the bullpen.
The electronic pitch-count message board in stadiums is almost as important these days as the scoreboard.
Blyleven, finally elected on Wednesday in his 14th year on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot, started 685 games. That alone puts the 242 complete games in perspective. Add to that his 60 shutouts and nearly 5,000 innings pitched and it's obvious why he detests pitch count.
"The game has changed," he said. "The pitch count has come into play. We used to pitch every fourth day, now they pitch on the fifth day. And they have their agent complain if they go more than six innings.
"Watching the game night in and night out, believe me, these guys are bigger and stronger. There's no reason why they cannot go deeper in ball games. Nolan Ryan is trying to change that in Texas. Hopefully, they'll get back to that."
Asked why it's the way it is today, Blyleven said he didn't know, but pointing to his head and heart added, "I think it's here and here -- a lot of combination of things.
"It's just the way I was brought up. It was bred inside of me. You want to finish what you start. I am very happy I pitched in the era I did. Shutouts meant something. Winning 1-0 meant something. My ultimate goal was to give my team a chance to win."
And he did it with a daunting curveball that was second to none. Few pitchers in baseball's storied history had the ability to throw it as well.
Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, Blyleven's hero growing up, comes to mind. I'm not sure, though, that Sandy's was any better.
Blyleven learned to throw the pitch in his Southern California backyard after his family came to the United States from the Netherlands by way of Canada.
"It was self-taught and I recommend that a young man with a great arm does not throw a curve until he's 14 or 15 years old," he said. "Just develop a good fastball, a good off-speed pitch.
"For me, I used a lot of visualization. When I first learned it, I did it by watching Sandy Koufax, or listening to Vin Scully. Back then they had the 15- to 20-inch mounds. They were like pyramids, but Sandy's ball would be a drop. That's how I pictured my curveball. I visualized it on the wall I threw against -- a canvas target my dad put up for me. I wanted it to drop -- a ball that goes form 12 to 6 [on an imaginary clock]. I threw it and threw it until I could develop it."
That Blyleven could throw a pitch that puts such a strain on the arm and complete so many games without injury is astonishing.
"When I first came up to the Major Leagues at 19 I threw across my body," he said. "I recoiled and landed on my heel. Marv Grissom put down a folding chair where I landed. He told me I had to step across and use the lower part of my body. Marv saw that I was throwing mostly all arm at such a young age.
"He put that chair down and said, 'I want you to step left of that chair.' I said, 'Marv, but what if land on the chair?' He said if I did that I'd break my neck, but that's the old school of pitching. He got me to open up a little and that really helped my curveball. Because to throw a breaking ball you have to bend your back and get your arm through."
Year after year, game after game, start after start Blyleven's work ethic never faltered.
His late father, Joe, had much to do with that -- a reason why Blyleven at one stage during the often frustrating 14-year journey to Cooperstown vented his bitterness for not being elected while his dad was alive.
"My father was always there to encourage me," Blyleven said. "He told me to work hard. I delivered newspapers as a kid. I worked nights when I was in high school. He said it would pay off."
The work ethic, not to mention the magical curve, propelled him during 22 years in the Major Leagues. It all came together on Wednesday.
This time, though, it was a fastball -- right down the middle.
It was the one pitch Bert Blyleven had been waiting for all those years.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.