Blyleven reaches winner's circle in Cooperstown

Blyleven reaches winner's circle in Cooperstown

Blyleven reaches winner's circle in Cooperstown
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Bert Blyleven had grown accustomed to the waiting, the uncertainty and the frustration that seemed to come every January along with the Hall of Fame announcement.

But on Wednesday, in his 14th year on the Hall of Fame ballot, Blyleven's long wait finally came to an end.

One year after finishing an exasperating five votes short of election, Blyleven got the call saying that he was indeed on his way to Cooperstown, having received 79.7 percent of the vote. Seventy-five percent is the required amount to become a Hall of Famer, and Blyleven safely cleared that mark with 463 votes.

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And now the man who has become known for the "Circle Me Bert" slogan in his 15 years as a television analyst for the Twins can circle July 24, 2011, on his calendar as his date of induction into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.

"It's an honor to be elected into such an elite group, it's been 14 years of praying and waiting," Blyleven said. "I thank the Baseball Writers' [Association] of America, I'm going to say, for finally getting it right."

Blyleven, 59, is the fourth player to enter the Hall of Fame as a Twin, joining Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett.

Joining Blyleven in this year's class is Roberto Alomar, who earned election in his second year on the ballot with 90 percent of the vote.

In the minutes before the official call came from the Baseball Writers' Association of America a little after 1 p.m. ET, Blyleven was at his home near Fort Myers, Fla., with his wife, Gayle. The two immediately began to make phone calls to family and friends -- the first being to Blyleven's mother, Jenny -- and it capped off what he and his wife both described as a nervous morning.

Having been through the ups and downs of 13 previous years on the ballot, Blyleven spent Wednesday morning picking up his wife's favorite Dunkin Donuts coffee and getting some of his golf clubs re-gripped for former teammate Tim Laudner to use next week while he's in town for the Twins Fantasy Camp. Despite coming so close last year to election, Blyleven said that he didn't assume he would get in this year, and due to being superstitious, he didn't even pack for his trip to New York until officially learning the news when the phone call came.

"It's been a whirlwind," Blyleven said after his press conference at the Twins' Minor League complex on Wednesday afternoon. "I'm still numb. But it's not going to change me in any way except now you're a Hall of Famer."

It is finally Blyleven's year to call himself a member of baseball's elite Hall of Fame group, which he said fittingly came in 2011, considering that "Blyleven in '11 has a nice ring to it."

Still many fans and baseball pundits alike have wondered why Blyleven had to wait so long to receive enshrinement in Cooperstown. In a career that spanned from 1970-92 with the Twins, Rangers, Pirates, Indians and Angels, he's near the top of almost every 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. He ranks 13th all-time in innings pitched with 4,970. And his 60 shutouts are ninth all-time. Prior to Wednesday, Blyleven had been the only pitcher in the Top 20 of the all-time shutouts list that had yet to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

While Blyleven pitched for a total of five different teams over the course of his 22-year career, there is no question that he's most strongly associated with the Twins -- having pitched for the club in two separate stints (1970-76, 1985-88).

After being drafted by the Twins with a third-round pick in 1969, Blyleven made his debut for them at the age of 19 in 1970. He won 10 games that year for a team that included Killebrew, Carew, Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat. He was traded during the '76 season, but Blyleven returned for his second stint with the club in the mid-80s and helped lead the Twins to their first World Series title in 1987. And during those stints in Minnesota and now his many years as one of the club's broadcasters, Blyleven has cemented himself among the most beloved figures within the Twins' organization.

"I am thrilled that Bert will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame," Killebrew said in a statement released through the Twins on Wednesday. "I could not be happier if it was my own son. I played in the first game Bert pitched for the Minnesota Twins in 1970. He's been a credit to the Twins organization and all of baseball. I wish it wouldn't have taken so long, but now that he is in, it's wonderful."

Blyleven's Hall of Fame candidacy picked up steam in recent years, thanks in large part, the pitcher said, to support he received through Internet campaigns, including Rich Lederer of baseballanalysts.com.

After receiving just 17.5 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot in 1998, Blyleven's total dropped to 14 percent in '99. But since then, Blyleven's vote totals have jumped nearly every year. Last year's 74.2-percent showing came after he received 62.7 percent of the vote in 2009.

"I've always said that I believe my numbers speak for themselves and I felt I should be in the Hall of Fame," Blyleven said. "I'm very happy that the writers got it right this time ... although I could have waited five years less [laughs]."

Those who hadn't voted for Blyleven in recent years pointed to the pitcher lacking the benchmark achievements like 300 victories or a Cy Young Award 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.

But over time, voters have seemed to take a broader view at Blyleven's statistics. Although it's ultimately up to the Hall of Fame to decide what cap he'll wear when he's inducted in July, Blyleven believes that it will belong to the organization that he still calls home today -- the Twins.

"I assume, I'm sure, I'll go in as a Minnesota Twin," Blyleven told Fox Sports North shortly after the announcement. "Most of my career was in a Minnesota Twins uniform."

Blyleven said he plans to continue broadcasting with the Twins, although he'll have to take a break from the booth on July 24 to give a speech and take part in his induction at Cooperstown as a Hall of Famer. And while his father, Joe, who passed away of Parkinson's disease in 2004, won't be there in person, Blyleven said it will be a special moment knowing that his dad is watching his induction from an even better seat.

"My mom said to me today, 'Your dad would be so proud,'" Blyleven said. "And I said, 'I know he would, Mom.'"

A native of Zeist, Netherlands, Blyleven spent most of his childhood growing up in Southern California, but he never lost his ties back to his home country. There was certainly a lot of excitement in the Netherlands on Wednesday with the news of Blyleven's election, including from Orioles pitcher Rick VandenHurk, who is the only active Dutch-born player in the Majors.

"Of course growing up I was a fan, he was a Dutch-born Major Leaguer who dominated as a pitcher," VandenHurk said. "I got to work with Bert during the '09 [World Baseball] Classic when he was our pitching coach and that was an awesome experience. He taught me a lot. We kept in contact and he follows my career and has helped me a lot ever since.

"His career and numbers in the big leagues are amazing. I have deep respect for Bert, and it's so awesome that he's a Hall of Famer."

Having spent so many years waiting for this moment, Blyleven was asked what he will do next year at this time since he'll already be an inducted Hall of Famer when the new class is selected.

"I'm going to root for Jack Morris and for anybody that's been on the ballot a long time," Blyleven said of the pitcher who received 53.5 percent of the vote in his 12th year on the ballot. "Because I know what they are going through. I hope Jack makes it. Now that he's pushed for me, hopefully it opens the door for him."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Kelly's Corner and follow her on Twitter at kellythesier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.