Claim to fame: Blyleven finished with 3,701 strikeouts, 287 wins and 60 shutouts, ninth-best in baseball history. I named Blyleven one of the 10 best players not in the Hall of Fame and included him in a poll of players yet to be enshrined. As of this writing, Blyleven is the only player with more than 75 percent of the vote in my poll, besting others like Roberto Alomar, Gil Hodges, and Pete Rose.
Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Blyleven has made 13 appearance on the writers ballot and has two more years of eligibility remaining.
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Before I offer whether I think Blyleven belongs in Cooperstown, let me say first that I think he will almost certainly be enshrined. Blyleven is one of 12 players who have received at least 50 percent of the vote in their 13th year of eligibility from the Baseball Writers Association of America. These players are:
- Rabbit Maranville, 62.1 percent, 1953
- Bill Terry, 72.3 percent, 1953
- Sam Rice, 50.6 percent, 1962
- Red Ruffing, 70.1 percent, 1964
- Ralph Kiner, 75.4 percent, 1975
- Enos Slaughter, 68.9 percent, 1978
- Gil Hodges, 60.1 percent, 1981
- Jim Bunning, 63.3 percent, 1989
- Orlando Cepeda, 57.2 percent, 1992
- Bruce Sutter, 76.9 percent, 2006
- Jim Rice, 63.5 percent, 2007
- Blyleven, 74.2 percent, 2010
Of the group, only Hodges and Blyleven don’t have a Cooperstown plaque. I suspect Hodges might eventually, courtesy of the Veterans Committee and that Blyleven probably will get inducted on his next go-round with the writers in January.
The question is less if Blyleven gets in than when and how. The writers inducted six of the players, Maranville, Terry, Ruffing, Kiner, Sutter and Jim Rice, while the veterans tabbed Bunning, Cepeda, Sam Rice, and Slaughter. Blyleven reminds me of fellow power pitcher Bunning, albeit with better stats and less polarizing political views. Maybe that’s enough for the writers. Interestingly, Bunning got an equal percentage of the vote in his 12th year on the ballot that Blyleven got in his 13th year, on similarly weak ballots. Bunning then saw a drop in his votes, exhausted his 15 years of eligibility, and was enshrined at the first opportunity for the Veterans Committee.
Perhaps Blyleven will also need the veterans, though like I said, I think he gets in with the writers. Rafael Palmeiro is going to hit the ballot this December, he will be shunned, and the writers will need someone to honor. They may turn to Jeff Bagwell, who will be newly eligible as well and looks like a first ballot Hall of Famer. But I think Blyleven should see a boost as well.
I don’t know if I personally would honor Blyleven. Like Nolan Ryan, he lost a lot of games. It’s also hard to picture him as being dominant enough on any one team to denote him wearing their cap on his plaque. Then again, the same can be said for Dave Winfield or any number of Veterans Committee selections over the years. And he’s a better pitcher than a lot of men already in Cooperstown.
There’s something else worth mentioning here. In a classic scene in Bull Durham, Kevin Costner’s character bitterly says that the difference between a .250 and a .300 hitter is one hit a week. In Blyleven’s case, the difference between early enshrinement and where we sit now may have been about one win a year. His average full season, as listed on Baseball-Reference is 14-12 with a 3.31 ERA. If he’d averaged 15 wins, Blyleven would have 309 career victories and would have been inducted in about the same amount of time as someone like Don Sutton.
Sutton won 324 games, played on far better teams than Blyleven by and large, and still needed five tries on the writers ballot to earn his plaque. In fact, Sutton is one of several 300-game winners who were far from first ballot inductions, but ultimately no shot to be overlooked. Even in the modern game, 300 victories still usually equals eventual enshrinement, no matter what.
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.