Blyleven, Kelly are excellent ambassadors
Twins are well represented by Hall of Fame pitcher, former skipper
MINNEAPOLIS -- Bert Blyleven broke up his news conference on Sunday with Tom Kelly by announcing he had to throw batting practice for the World Team in the SiriusXM Futures Game.
"Well, we all know you can do that well," Kelly deadpanned.
"Just lay it in there, baby," Blyleven responded before the laughter could die down.
Blyleven played for the Twins from 1985-88 when Kelly was the manager, and that included their 1987 seven-game victory over the Cardinals in the World Series. It was Blyleven's second tour with the Twins, who are hosting their third All-Star Game this week.
There couldn't have been two better ambassadors from the Twins franchise, which transplanted here from Washington in 1961. Blyleven managed the World Team and Kelly brushed off the managerial dust balls to run the U.S. squad.
Blyleven was still laughing about Kelly's batting-practice crack after the World team lost, 3-2. Blyleven's career as a Futures Game manager evidently is over at 0-1.
"[Kelly] should know about that," Blyleven said about his batting practice prowess. "He was the manager the year I let up 50."
Blyleven was referring to the 50 homers he allowed in 1986, followed by the 46 he left up in '87, that championship season. In his 22 seasons, Blyleven was pelted for 430 homers. He also won 287 games, started 685, completed 242 of them and struck out 3,701 batters, fifth on the all-time list.
When Blyleven pitched from 1970-92, there was no such thing as pitch counts, and he said there would be no counts for any of his pitchers in Sunday's game. In the end, he used all 10 of them, getting Padres Colombian right-hander Tayron Guerrero in to face the last batter of the eighth, Peter O'Brien. He struck him out on three pitches.
"The thing is, if we tied it up he would have had to pitch the bottom of the ninth," Blyleven said about Guerrero, a hard-throwing prospect at Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore. "And if we went into extras, he would have pitched two innings. That's just the way the game goes."
Old school to the very end.
Blyleven finished the 1985 season in Minnesota, the last time the Midsummer Classic was played here, crosstown in the Metrodome, where Kelly piloted the Twins to another World Series victory, this time in seven games over the Braves in 1991. Kelly's 16-year tenure as a manager ended in 2001 with a .478 winning percentage, and at 63 he's still a consultant for the organization.
Still, no one can question the notion that Kelly is the most successful manager in Twins history. No other has won a World Series title. The Twins have only been to one more, a 1965 loss to the Dodgers in seven games.
Blyleven is a Hall of Famer, elected in 2011 along with second baseman Roberto Alomar and general manager Pat Gillick. The late Kirby Puckett and Harmon Killebrew are the lifetime Twins whose plaques also hang in the Hall. Add Rod Carew, who played a substantial portion of his career in Minnesota, plus Paul Molitor, Steve Carlton and Dave Winfield, all with cameo roles. Carew, who played here from 1967-78 and is still a spring presence, is slated to throw out the first pitch for Tuesday night's 85th All-Star Game.
But Blyleven is ubiquitous. He was drafted by the Twins in 1970 and played the first 5 1/2 years of his career here. For the past 19 seasons, he has been a television analyst and voice of the club, which means that many more local fans have heard him opine about games than pitch in them.
He's the first and only native of The Netherlands in the Hall and has been pitching coach for the Dutch during their last two surprising runs in the World Baseball Classic, losing a semifinal game to the eventual champion Dominican Republic in 2013. Blyleven loved it. Add his experience as a manager this year and even at 63 years old Blyleven might have a future outside the broadcast booth.
"God bless you," he said. "I've never been offered that, so I enjoy what I do on the broadcast side, but I also enjoy the teaching part. I feel like I have a lot to offer, but I offer it on the air right now, so that's fun. We're talking about something that's not there."
Maybe it should be. The admiration between Kelly and Blyleven was apparent on Sunday and perhaps it wouldn't be a bad thing to recycle some of these guys back into active roles.
"I respect the heck out of TK," Blyleven said after the game.
Evidently, the feeling is mutual.
"When Blyleven pitched, if you didn't get excited as a player then you shouldn't be wearing a uniform," Kelly said. "It just felt that when he was pitching you were at a higher level. That's why the walk up crowds were always better. You look in the paper and see who's pitching today. '[Frank] Viola's pitching. Let's go. Blyleven's pitching. Let's go!' I don't know what it is, but they're so emotional. They pitch up there at this level and you have to get up there with them."
Kelly's discourse went on and on after Blyleven excused himself to throw BP, a fresh approach that would be more than welcome on a daily basis in today's game.
"Nah, if I did this every day I'd be a [jerk]," Kelly said.
Let us be the judge of that.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.