01/04/10 5:58 PM EST
Blyleven hopes long Hall wait is over
Winner of 287 games makes ballot for 13th time
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
For Blyleven, the month symbolizes hope that his long wait to get into Cooperstown might finally be ending.Blyleven is entering his 13th year on the Hall of Fame ballot, and he is still searching for the one honor that is noticeably missing from his 22-year career. "I think each year it probably gets harder and harder because time is running out," Blyleven said in a recent interview from his Fort Myers, Fla., home. "There have been a lot of nice articles written on my behalf, which I guess is a positive. It's curiosity. That's the word that kind of comes this time of the year. Just out of curiosity, I want to see if I am elected or if my votes get closer. Is it going to be another year away or is it two years and then I go to the Veterans Committee? Who knows? I guess it's the time of not knowing." There are many fans and baseball pundits alike who have wondered why Blyleven has yet 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 all-time 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. His 60 shutouts are ninth all-time. And Blyleven also ranks 13th all-time in innings pitched with 4,970. But despite the long list of accomplishments, Blyleven must sit back and wait again this January to see if his dream is finally realized. There is reason for Blyleven to be optimistic in 2010. A candidate must get 75 percent of the vote to gain election, and only Andre Dawson (67 percent) had more support last year among those not elected than Blyleven (62.7 percent). Closer Lee Smith (44.5 percent) is next on that list, and they're joined on the ballot this year by a group of newcomers that includes All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar, Reds superstar shortstop Barry Larkin and Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez. Results of the election will be announced on Wednesday, and Blyleven plans to be watching to see if he gets in this year. "Out of curiosity, I'll be watching," Blyleven said. "I'll see where my percentages are. I think that everybody that is on that ballot, whether it's Roberto Alomar or Dawson or Larkin, all the guys that are maybe on the doorsteps, they'll be watching too and listening." The 62.7 percent showing in 2009 was Blyleven's highest vote total to date after he received 61.9 percent of the vote in 2008, which was a nearly 14-percent jump from '07. The increase in vote totals for Blyleven is encouraging in that it inches him closer to the 70-percent mark. Every player who has reached 70 percent of the vote has gone on to subsequently be elected. And since 1980, only four players have received more than 60 percent of the vote and did not eventually end up in the Hall of Fame. "I think that my numbers speak for themselves, that they are Hall of Fame numbers," Blyleven said. "But it's up to the writers to decide when and if the time is now or whenever to put me in. A guy like Rich Lederer with baseballanalysts.com has really been in my corner, and I think that's the big thing. Bill Hillsman, a local guy right there has kept up bertbelongs.com and compares my numbers to guys in the Hall of Fame. ... I just read a nice article from Jim Caple with ESPN.com, that at one time he didn't vote for me, but now he did because I think in today's baseball they look at numbers so much differently than I think the writers did maybe 15, 20 years ago." Blyleven's candidacy has definitely 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. While Blyleven appreciates the increased support he's received over the years, he doesn't quite understand what has changed. "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." Those who haven't voted for Blyleven point 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. In the key categories -- strikeouts, wins and ERA -- Blyleven only once led his league in any of those stats, and that came in 1985 with the Twins, when he led the American League in strikeouts (206). But those who played against him believe that Blyleven should already be in Cooperstown. "The writers never had to face him," Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett said a few years ago. "If they did, they'd vote for him. He was as good as there was for a long time. Bert is up there with the toughest four or five guys I faced in my career." Delayed entry into Cooperstown is nothing new. Like Rich "Goose" Gossage, who was inducted in 2008 in his ninth turn on the ballot, Tony Perez also 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 that the longer some players are on the ballot, the more their numbers seem to resonate with voters. Like Gossage, who earned 33.3 percent of the vote during his first year on the ballot in 2000, he watched his totals steadily increase over the following eight years. Blyleven has three more tries to gain the votes from the Baseball Writers' Association of America, including the '10 ballot. And no matter if it takes until his final stint on the ballot, the hope remains for Blyleven that one day the long wait will pay off. "It's very important to me," Blyleven said. "There are so many other things in the world that are more important than that. But it's something that is important to me."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.