MINNEAPOLIS -- 'Tis the season once again for former pitcher Bert Blyleven, and we're not talking about Christmas. It's Hall of Fame voting season, and Blyleven, who's on the ballot for the ninth time, will have to wait and wonder as members of the Baseball Writers Association of America publicly debate his credentials and privately make their decisions. Some are baffled why it's taken this long for Blyleven to receive enshrinement. In a career that spanned from 1970-92 with the Twins, Rangers, Pirates, Indians and Angels, he's in the top end of almost every all-time important pitching category.
That includes 287 wins, which is 25th on the all-time list. He is fifth in career strikeouts with 3,701. He is ninth in games started with 685. His 60 shutouts are also ninth all-time. But many are still not convinced, since he lacks benchmark achievements like 300 victories or a Cy Young Award. He also had only two All-Star Game invites. "It's a little frustrating, but I've had to kind of roll with it," said Blyleven from his home in Fort Myers, Fla., last month. "You try to get [voters] one-on-one and persuade them a little bit." Blyleven is the only eligible pitcher among the top 13 in strikeouts not in the Hall. He is one of only two pitchers in the top 20 in games pitched not inducted. Of the top 20 pitchers in shutouts, only Blyleven is not in. Blyleven is also currently 13th all-time in innings pitched with 4,970, and every pitcher ahead of him is a Hall of Famer, along with many who are behind him. Even in negative categories, the 54-year-old is part of some elite company. He ranks seventh all-time in most home runs allowed, with 430. Every pitcher ahead of him, except Frank Tanana, has been enshrined at Cooperstown. Blyleven also holds the single-season record for home runs allowed (50 in 1986). Voters have shown signs of coming around. After getting under 30 percent of the vote his first six years on the ballot, Blyleven's total increased to 35.9 percent in 2003 and was 40.9 last year. Eligible players must receive 75 percent of the vote to be inducted.
"My numbers have increased slowly," Blyleven said. "At least it's moving towards 75 percent and not declining."In an effort to increase his voting totals, a Twin Cities marketing firm has launched a campaign to promote Blyleven. A Web site was created called Bertbelongs.com, and the pitcher and current Twins television analyst appreciates the grass roots support. It does some of the homework for the voters, especially for those in the younger generation who did not get to see the right-handed curveball artist pitch. "It's nice because they compare my numbers with the current Hall of Famers and see how I rank," Blyleven said. "I don't want to sound negative, but [the writers] don't know how difficult it is to win a Major League game or to stand on the mound and not get run support." Another issue that seems to have plagued Blyleven is a lack of visibility during his career. He pitched for many mediocre clubs and never played for any high-profile or large-market teams. There were several high points with some of those teams, including World Series titles with Pittsburgh in 1979 and Minnesota in 1987, and a 5-1 postseason record with a 2.47 ERA. He boasts a 1977 no-hitter for the Rangers, a 20-win season in 1973 and two All-Star Game appearances in 1973 and 1985 with the Twins. "He was as good as there was for a long time," Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett said about Blyleven last year. "Bert is up there with the toughest four or five guys I faced in my career. "Hopefully, he'll get in. I'd think he'd be a perfect fit." Even with a 2006 class that's thin on prominent names -- including Bruce Sutter, Rich Gossage and Jim Rice -- Blyleven wasn't optimistic this would be his year. But he hoped he was wrong. "I know my numbers speak for themselves," he said. "Hopefully, the writers will see the same thing."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.