Blyleven's candidacy gets a boost
Former pitcher still awaiting big call from Cooperstown
MINNEAPOLIS -- Bert Blyleven's quest to join the hallowed halls of Cooperstown will have to wait at least another year.The National Baseball Hall of Fame election results were announced Tuesday afternoon, and for the 11th straight year, Blyleven did not receive enough votes for induction. Only one player was chosen from the ballot by the 543 members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. After nine years on the ballot, reliever Rich "Goose" Gossage received 85.8 percent (466 votes) to finally earn selection. Despite Blyleven falling short again, the former pitcher's candidacy got a big boost this year. Blyleven finished fourth in this year's voting, as he was picked on 61.9 percent of the ballots (336 votes). It was nearly a 14 percent jump from the previous year and his highest vote total to date. In 2007, Blyleven saw his numbers slip to 47.7 percent of the vote after having tallied his then-highest mark of 53.3 percent in '06. To be inducted, eligible players must receive 75 percent of the vote. "It's a nice positive in what I feel is a negative situation," Blyleven said Tuesday afternoon from his home in Fort Myers, Fla. "Because I still feel my numbers are Hall of Fame numbers." The increase in votes this year is encouraging in that it inches Blyleven closer to the 70 percent mark. No player who has reached 70 percent of the vote has not subsequently been elected. And since 1980, only four players have received over 60 percent of the vote and did not eventually end up in the Hall of Fame. Delayed entry into Cooperstown is nothing new. Like Gossage, Tony Perez 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 the longer some players are on the ballot, the more their numbers seem to resonate with voters. For example, Gossage earned 33.3 percent of the vote during his first year on the ballot in 2000 and then watched his total steadily increase over the last eight years. Still, it's an idea that baffles Blyleven. "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."
Blyleven's candidacy has 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.Those who haven't voted for Blyleven point to him having just one 20-win season, two All-Star bids and no Cy Young award during his career. In the key categories -- strikeouts, wins and ERA -- Blyleven only once led his league in any of them. That came in 1985 with the Twins when he led the American League in strikeouts (206). But in a career that spanned from 1970-92 with the Twins, Rangers, Pirates, Indians and Angels, Blyleven ranks near the top of almost every important all-time pitching category. His 287 wins place him 26th on the all-time list. He is fifth in career strikeouts with 3,701 and ninth in career shutouts with 60. Of the top 20 pitchers on the career shutouts list, Blyleven is the only one not in the Hall of Fame. Players are eligible to remain on the ballot for 15 years as long as they receive at least 5 percent of the vote. So Blyleven now has four more years to see if he will reach the 75 percent mark. And no matter if it takes until his final stint on the ballot, the hope for Blyleven still is 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.