Rik Aalbert Blyleven

By Walt Baranger

Bert Blyleven was among the first players with Hall of Fame qualifications to suffer from a now-common malady: Lack of voter constituency.

Bert Blyleven

His career lasted 22 years but he pitched for five different teams (not counting a second stint with the Minnesota Twins), and none in cities with large concentrations of Hall of Fame voters. So Bert has waited since 1998 for enough votes to congeal. We wait too.

Active from 1970 to 1992, Blyleven won 287 games while pitching for some pretty rotten teams. The best you could say about Cleveland in the early 1980s was that they avoided jail time. In a career redolent of Nolan Ryan’s, only three of Blyleven’s teams made the playoffs, a curse that in part explains the lack of Hall of Fame votes.

Blyleven’s big years were 1978 and 1979. He led the Pirates in earned run average, strikeouts and complete games in 1978, and pitched them to a World Series title in 1979. He had four shutouts for the Pirates in 1978 (but nine while pitching for the Twins in 1973).

Although most of his teams aspired to mediocrity, Blyleven amassed impressive career numbers despite them: He is 17th on the modern-era wins list (287); 5th in strikeouts (3,701) and 8th in shutouts (60). His post-season earned run average is 2.47 with a record of 4-1 (.800). His ratio of strikeouts to walks is a healthy 2.80.

He is the only pitcher with 3,000 strikeouts who is not in the Hall of Fame.

He finished in third place in Cy Young Award voting twice — both times after pitching for lousy Cleveland Indians squads. Few fans doubt that he would have won had he played for a contender.

In 1984, Blyleven even led the Indians pitching staff with 21 put-outs, more than twice as many as the next pitcher. His fielding percentage was always near the top of the team, for any position.

Four times he was in the top seven for strikeouts and earned run average, and yet he never figured better than third in Cy Young voting.

He did allow a lot of home runs (430), a lot of hits (4,632) and he hit a lot of batters (155), but sheer longevity accounts for much of that. After all, he is 13th on the all-time list of innings pitched (4,970).

But he got the opportunity to pitch so many innings because he had an overpowering curve ball and the stamina to play for more than two decades. He was a two-time All-Star who faced 20,491 batters and came away with 60 shutouts, making him #9 on the all-time list.

He should be #1 on the Hall of Fame ballots.

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