12/31/10 10:58 AM EST
Blyleven moving closer to place in Cooperstown
Former pitcher was five votes shy of election in 2010
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
Bert Blyleven has grown accustomed to the waiting.The former pitcher and current Twins television analyst is entering his 14th 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. But the anticipation for Blyleven leading up to this year's Hall of Fame announcement in January will likely be the greatest of any year he's been on the ballot. That's after he finished with 74.2 percent of the vote in 2010, leaving him an exasperating five votes shy of seeing his long wait to get into Cooperstown finally come to an end. "Last year, I was surprised that I went from 62 percent to five votes short," Blyleven said in a recent interview from his home in Fort Myers, Fla. "That was very nice. It just means that hopefully this year there will be enough votes to get me inducted into the Hall of Fame. If that does happen, it will be like icing on the cake for me. I had a pretty big cake throughout my career, but this would be the ultimate."
The feeling of many is this might finally be Blyleven's year, but many fans and baseball pundits alike have wondered why Blyleven has been waiting 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. 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. A candidate must get 75 percent of the vote to gain election, and Blyleven had the most support last year besides Andre Dawson, who was the only one elected to the Hall by garnering 77.9 percent of the vote. Roberto Alomar (73.7 percent) also fell just short of election last year, and those players will now be joined on the ballot this year by a group of newcomers that includes Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro and Larry Walker. Blyleven's candidacy has definitely picked 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. Last year's 74.2 percent showing came after he received 62.7 percent of the vote in 2009. 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. 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. "I don't quite understand why it takes so long." 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. "Blyleven should be in," Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer told MLB.com last year after the voting was announced. "The writers are the reason you get in -- and I don't want to disparage writers, because if they hadn't voted for me, I wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame. But it's almost like they forget how good Bert was. "He was just a marvelous player and pitcher -- all those innings. He has more wins than I do, more shutouts. He has a lot more losses, but I think the shutouts are significant. For Bert, this is bittersweet in that you get so close to 75 percent, but he certainly belongs in the Hall of Fame. It looks to me that more writers are understanding that." Delayed entry into Cooperstown is nothing new. Like Rich "Goose" Gossage, who was inducted in 2008 in his ninth turn on the ballot, Dawson also spent nine years on the ballot before being selected in '10. And Bruce Sutter was elected to the Hall in '06 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. Gossage, who earned 33.3 percent of the vote during his first year on the ballot in 2000, watched his totals steadily increase over the following eight years. Blyleven has two more tries to gain the votes from the Baseball Writers' Association of America, including the '11 ballot. For Blyleven, the hope remains that after coming so close last year, this will be the time when the long wait will pay off. "Blyleven in 2011, maybe that's what the writers were thinking all along," Blyleven said with a laugh. "That would be a perfect year to put me in. Hopefully it happens."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.