Hall induction solidifies Blyleven's career
After '14 years of prayer,' former Twin heads to Cooperstown
The autograph postscript, a byproduct of the memorabilia craze of the 1980s, takes various forms. Almost any player will add his uniform number to his signature to reinforce his identity -- Freddie Patek and his No. 2 or Dan Driessen his No. 22. More accomplished players, if asked, might make a footnote of a special achievement -- Tom Glavine 300 or George Bell MVP. And these days, elite players routinely add the game's most treasured monogram to their John Hancocks -- Rollie Fingers HOF.
Bert Blyleven never has added his career victory total, 287, to his autograph, and, in 22 seasons in the big leagues, he never won a Cy Young or MVP Award. And he wore two uniform numbers -- 28 and 22 -- in his six big league stops, so confusion might have resulted had he used one.
Since January, however, since that sweet day when a telephone call forever changed his identity, he has enhanced his signature with the three, upper case letters responsible for the change.
He hasn't waited for the formality of induction -- no need.
"Because once I was voted into the Hall of Fame, once they made the announcement, they weren't going to take that away," Blyleven said last week.
He was pretty confident of that, even if others questioned it.
"I know my mother asked me -- like a week later after I called her up Jan. 5 -- she asked me a week later in her Dutch accent, 'Son, are they still keeping you or putting you into that Hall of Fame thing?' And I said 'Yeah mom. They haven't taken me out yet.'
"But no, I am in. And it is a great honor for me to sign 'HOF' behind my name."
Moreover, all he accomplished -- the shutouts (60), the strikeouts (3,701), the complete games (242) and yes, the 287 victories -- is presented in bold face numbers now. Hall of Fame election does that. Without exaggerating achievement, it embosses and polishes what already has been written.
As Blyleven said in January, "It changes everything. I didn't become a better pitcher when I was elected, but I became a member of a group with all the great pitchers and all the great players. And that does make a difference."
Blyleven moves into the Hall on Sunday afternoon with Roberto Alomar, the second baseman of incomparable dazzle, and Pat Gillick, the architect of winning teams. The door to Cooperstown that seemingly was closed to him has been ajar for six months. It opens wide Sunday, and his plaque, depicting him wearing a Twins cap, takes its place among the plaques of the game's elite.
When he spoke of the pending induction last week, Blyleven might have been rehearsing his Sunday speech.
"Of course, as a baseball player, being part of World Series championships, those are number one," he said. "The 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates and then 1987 here in Minnesota. As a player, those are things you hold on to the rest of your life.
"Going into the Hall of Fame is higher than winning a World Series, believe it or not, in my opinion. It is the ultimate. You are in a fraternity that is so small and so, I guess, nationally recognized. All of a sudden it [changes from] 'Bert Blyleven, Major League pitcher' to 'Bert Blyleven, Hall of Fame Major League pitcher.' It is incredible."
"The stadium, Target Field, is going to be here a long time," he said. "And somewhere down the line, 50 years from now when I'm gone, somebody, some young kid, will go to the ballpark, and he'll say 'Who is No. 28?'And hopefully his father or grandfather will explain who I was and what I did."
What he did for the Twins, Indians, Pirates, Angels and Rangers was throw a nose-to-toes curve ball that was largely responsible for the strikeout total that ranks fifth all time and for the shutouts that rank ninth. Also factor in that he is 14th in innings (4,970) and 27th in victories, and one can see the likely factors that earned him election in his 15th and final year of eligibility for the Hall.
Because of the extended wait, it may seem as if he has been shoe-horned in. But his identity is simply "Hall of Famer," not "HOF, final year elected." The wait -- "14 years of praying," he calls it -- and angst are not forgotten, but election has rendered them meaningless. His plaque will make no mention of them.
"You don't look at it until you retire," he said last week. "I retired after the '92 season. I looked at those numbers and I said, 'Wow, you know, I'm right there with the Walter Johnsons and the guys like that.' So it's kind of cool, not the wins, but other things.
"Baseball is about numbers. And it seems that there are certain numbers that are magic numbers. We just saw Derek Jeter get his 3,000th hit. If he had ended his career at 2,999, would he not be a Hall of Famer? I don't think people, or writers, would say 'no' even though if he didn't get the magic 3,000.
"I looked at my career the same way. I ended up with 287. I think you see it in today's game, the hardest thing to do is to get a win. I had a lot of losses -- 250. But to get a win is very difficult. Things need to go your way. You need the breaks.
"So I had never considered myself a first time Hall of Fame inductee, but I did somewhere, because of my career numbers, that I would be in. It took 14 years. And I just feel that somewhere down the line the writers were looking at, 'Well, Bert Blyleven in 2011.' We'll just wait until then."
And as he said in January: "Blyleven in '11 has a nice ring to it."
Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.