01/07/12 1:37 PM EST
Hall of Fame voting process works correctly
Often, a player's career deserves multiple looks over time
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
His voting percentage didn't simply increase year by year, either. For instance, he got 17.5 percent of the vote in 1998, but only 14.1 percent in 1999. In other words, a couple of the people who voted for Blyleven in 1998 apparently got cold feet in their support.
Did Blyleven say something to offend someone? Look, if you voted for him in 1998, you've got to vote for him in 1999. At least that's how the thinking goes among the people who assess the process.
Likewise, if Blyleven didn't get someone's vote in, say, 2002, it makes no sense he'd get that same vote in 2010. I hear that argument almost every year around this time, and it's almost always followed by a roll of the eyes and a you've-got-to-be-kidding-me smirk.
Well, children, I'm here to defend the process. For one thing, I am a voter. For another thing, I'm that guy.
I did not vote for Blyleven in 2007 or 2008. I did vote for him in 2010. I've gone back and forth on Jim Rice and Lee Smith and a few others, too.
To me, Blyleven is the very best example of why the Hall of Fame voting process works wonderfully. Blyleven got in on his 14th appearance on the ballot because of a system in which voters take second, third and fourth looks at careers, affording a chance to perhaps consider things they hadn't considered before, to emphasize this strength or that weakness.
That voters change their mind is a tribute to the way the thing works, to letting voters keep an open mind and look at a player's career from different angles. When a player gets in, however long it takes, he must be named on 75 percent of the ballots.
To walk on that stage in Cooperstown to receive his plaque, he had to have an overwhelming consensus telling him he belonged to stand up there with Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver and Frank Robinson.
I start from scratch each year. I go back over everything I went over the year before. I do some reading, and sometimes make telephone calls.
For instance, Tim Raines.
I was covering the Orioles during his best years, so I didn't see a lot of him. But I've had dozens of Raines' former teammates, coaches and reporters describe his impact on games.
His speed was game-changing speed, the kind opposing managers attempted to prepare their teams for. Raines was a seven-time All-Star. He's fifth on the all-time stolen base list. He finished fifth, sixth and seventh in MVP voting in 1983, 1986 and 1987.
One year when Joe Torre didn't make the cut, he said, "It's not the Hall of Very Good. It's supposed to be tough to get in. That's why it's special. That's why you see tears streaming down those faces during the speeches."
Raines is a very tough call. He was a very good player, similar to Lou Brock in many ways. It simply comes down to whether he meets each voter's standard for the Hall.
I know dozens of voters who anguish over Raines and over that line separating the very good players and the Hall of Famers.
I've voted for Raines every year he has been on the ballot and will continue to. But I understand the voters who don't believe he measures up.
There's very little lobbying for the Baseball Hall of Fame, in part, because, unlike football, there's enough readily available data to make a decision.
In recent years, there has been some mild campaigning for Blyleven, Barry Larkin and Fred McGriff. But that campaigning is in the form of an email that lays out the basics of the candidate's career.
Our process isn't perfect. For instance, Jack Morris might not have the raw statistics to get someone's vote. However, if you covered baseball in his era, he's much more likely to get your vote.
Morris was a winner, a tenacious, surly bulldog of a competitor who was at his best when his team needed him the most. He didn't win 300 games or a Cy Young Award. He led the American League in victories only twice, one of those in the strike-shortened 1981 season. His 3.90 career ERA would be the highest in Hall of Fame history. He's 42nd on the all-time list in victories, 50th in innings and 32nd in strikeouts.
He's on the Hall of Fame ballot for the 13th time, but didn't get more than 50 percent of the votes until the last two years. He hasn't come close to the 75-percent threshold and probably won't this year.
Still, between 1979 and 1992, Morris averaged 17 victories and 241 innings a season. His ERA over that span was 3.71. He was part of three teams that won the World Series.
Even though he never won a Cy Young Award, he finished in the top five in the voting five times. He was in the top five in victories eight times. Even if some of his numbers don't measure up, there ought to be some consideration of the human element, what he brought to the table, how he impacted others, etc.
Morris' teammates knew he gave them a chance to win, and that the bigger the game, the better he'd be. In seven World Series starts, he compiled a 2.96 ERA.
Now about Blyleven. He was another tough call. Those who didn't vote for him point out that he never led the league in victories and won 20 games only once. In 22 seasons, he made the All-Star Game only twice and never finished higher than third in Cy Young voting.
For a long time, those numbers compelled me not to vote for him. I believed the Hall of Fame was for the guys who were absolutely dominant in their eras. Blyleven's accomplishments were being able to stay in the game for 22 seasons and compete at a high level for most of the years.
I kept looking at his numbers each year and tried to talk myself into voting for him. In the end, it came down to me deciding that longevity matters.
Blyleven was never THE best pitcher of his generation, but he was one of the best over two or three generations. His body of work is incredible: 10 times in the top 10 in ERA, 11 times in innings, six times in victories, 15 in strikeouts.
He's 27th all-time in victories, ninth in shutouts, fifth in strikeouts and 14th in innings.
Blyleven's resume is far different from that of Sandy Koufox, who had a brief, brilliant career. During a five-year period, Koufax was 111-34 with a 1.95 ERA. He led the National League in ERA five straight years and won the Cy Young Award three times. He sailed into the Hall of Fame in his first appearance on the ballot with 86.9 percent of the vote.
There are voters who had a hard time digesting that a long career, a very good long career, also deserved a plaque in the Hall of Fame Gallery beside that of Koufax.
Blyleven missed by just five votes in his 13th appearance on the ballot, and cleared the final hurdle in his 14th time with 79.7 percent of the vote. If he was bitter about the process taking so long, he didn't say it. He seemed grateful that he finally had been rewarded with the game's ultimate honor.
In each of Blyleven's 14 years on the ballot, there were people like me wrestling with putting his career in perspective. In the end, an overwhelming majority of us -- 79.7 percent -- decided Blyleven deserved to be in the Hall of Fame.
From a low of 14.1 percent of the votes in his second year on the ballot to 79.7 percent is a dramatic change. All it means is that a lot of people spent a lot thinking about Blyleven's career and his place in our game.
Perhaps no player has had his resume so analyzed and so discussed. It's one thing to vote for a Koufax or a Gibson. Those are the easy ones. It's much tougher to decide on Blyleven. Ultimately, though, his journey to the Hall of Fame is an example of why the system works.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.