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Friday, July 22, 2011

A Big Day for # 28

This weekend, Bert Blyleven will officially be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Most of us Twins fans have been clamoring for his induction for years now, as has Bert himself. The truth of the matter is that his election was a long time coming--way too long, in fact. I'm no sabermatrician--in fact I'm not even really advanced when it comes to traditional baseball stats--but Blyleven's peripheral numbers, when viewed through the lens of the many subpar teams he played for, made him a shoo-in in my book.

Think for a second about where Bert, if he were in his prime in 2011, would be on the Twins' depth chart. There is no argument he would be our ace. In fact, his services would be right up there in terms of demand with pitchers such as Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay. And, maybe, that fellow from Detroit named Verlander who seems to be pretty good at throwing a baseball this year.

Perhaps a better analogy is Zack Greinke. He earned a Cy Young award in 2009 for winning only 16 games for the hapless Kansas City Royals. Greinke is representative of the sea change that has taken place in baseball statistics and voting for awards: no longer are wins the dominant statistic for pitchers. Greinke's case suggests that if the statistics available today were available (and relied upon) when Blyleven played, there likely would have been Cy Young awards and more All-Star teams for Blyleven.

I wrote this in 2009 for the Star Tribune in support of Blyleven. It was by no means groundbreaking or well researched, but I was, by that time, getting very irritated as each year passed without receiving the requisite number of votes. I realized immediately after writing that letter, however, that I wrote it to the wrong audience: everyone in Minnesota knew about Blyleven, and I'm sure all HOF voters with any Minnesota connection were already voting for him in the first place. It was the old-time, East Cost voters that likely thought that Blyleven wasn't worthy, whether it was a result of not achieving the magic 300th victory, only having made 2 All-Star teams, or having surrendered many home runs. The next year, 2010, I tried to submit better-researched and more convincing letters/op-eds to east coast papers and sporting publications, to no avail. All else being equal, I'm sure if Bert had been a (you pick the major market team from the east coast), his plight would have attracted much more attention, and the fantastic work of Rich Lederer would not have been necessary.

But this isn't a post to complain about the inequities of the Hall of Fame voters. Hall of Fame voting is goofy and steeped in strange traditions--sort of like electing a Pope. This post is to celebrate Bert. I had the good fortune of meeting Bert when I was a kid at spring training in Ft. Myers. Ironically, it was in 1993, the year that Bert returned to MN, but failed to make the Twins out of camp, and subsequently retired. We saw him in the parking lot waiting for a ride. I shook his hand and said I was a big fan. He was as nice as he comes across on the FSN broadcasts where he makes his "second" career. Now, Bert will be waiting for a ride from the Otesaga Resort Hotel to take him to the Hall of Fame, where he will add another Twins hat to the collection. Congrats, Bert.

Summer baseball, a team in contention playing a division rival, and a Twins player getting inducted into the Hall of Fame: a good weekend to be a Twins fan.

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