Bert Blyleven is the new Ralph Kiner

For supporters of Bert Blyleven being voted into the Hall of Fame, the inevitable finally happened. The Baseball Writers Association of America caved in, as it did with semi-worthy Ralph Kiner and put Blyleven in Cooperstown. Kiner made it on his fifteenth and last year of eligibility; Blyleven, in his fourteenth try.

Blyleven is a middle level pitcher compared to those already inducted, meaning he’s better than some, worse than others. I wouldn’t have voted for him.

Regular readers know that I’m a restrictionist. I believe fewer inductees make for a more exclusive Hall and contend that it should be reserved for only the best and exclude the very good. I’ve said it here before that voting in Blyleven is like allowing $500,000 net worth individuals into the Millionaire’s Club.

I offered a proposal here in July that before new players would be inducted, the older marginal ones ouoght be weeded out. Good bye Early Wynn; hello, Greg Maddux.

Understanding now that my proposal will never be implemented, I’ve gravitated to a more reasonable approach. Let’s limit the number of years a candidate can appear on the ballot. I’m greatly impressed by the idea introduced on this site by Matthew Warburg who proposes that players not appear on the ballot every year but rather over a series of alternate years with higher vote totals required for every stage.

I prefer a somewhat cleaner cut approach: one year, either in or forever out. Consider the marginal Kiner’s curious case.

In 1960, Kiner’s first year on the ballot, he got three votes and finished eighty-eighth on a ballot of 134. By his fifteenth and final try in 1975, Kiner got 75.4 percent of the vote, one more than the total necessary to qualify.

By that time, however, Kiner was a popular New York Mets’ broadcaster, a peer of the group that voted him in, the BBWAA. Television may have helped Kiner get into Cooperstown, just as numerous articles on the Internet were instrumental in getting Blyleven enshrined.

Another idea worthy of consideration is former New York Times baseball writer and BBWA member Murray Chass’ suggestion that certain strict minimum statistical standards be identified. If a player meets them, he’s in. If not, he’s out. As Chass wrote, “everyone can’t make it.” Under Chass’ system, the writers wouldn’t be burdened by the annual drag of evaluating the statistics of dozens of players of different skill levels.

I’m not in a big lather over Blyleven. I recognize that there’s no right and wrong in individual voting patterns. I’m resigned to an ever-expanding Hall.

But I truly dread the years not that far ahead when Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez and others in the steroid gang start their move toward Cooperstown.

9 Replies to “Bert Blyleven is the new Ralph Kiner”

  1. Joe,
    One of the things we sometimes overlook is the fluctuation of how a player is perceived throughout his career and with the passage of time. In an old baseball book of mine written in the early 50’s, while he was in the midst of his seven consecutive home run crowns and before his career ending back injury, it spoke in terms of his greatness, his threat to Ruth’s 60 home runs and even his possibly breaking the all time record. It mentioned how he was the favorite to lead the league again that year and the next and the next. At the same time, he was either the highest, or the second highest paid player in the game. As we know from his famous, “Home run hitters drive Cadillacs” quote, he was paid as one of the greatest players of his time.
    Maybe his injury shortened career and the fact that he played for those dreadful Pirate teams allowed all of us to overlook and under estimate just how much value his power hitting and ability to get on base reflected on his greatness, just as an injury shortened career also diminished the greatness of Al Rosen.
    Instead of looking at the three votes he got the first time on the ballot as reflecting his true value, we might applaud the fact that with the passage of time, the writers did get the vote right. He most certainly would have been voted in by the old timers committee.

  2. @Vinne: thank you for your valuable perspective. Interesting that you mention Al Rosen who is moving up on list of subjects

  3. Nice post. Personally, I wouldn’t have voted for Blyleven either. It’s not that I think he is a poor inductee to The Hall; it’s that I just never considered him to be one of the all-time greats, and still don’t. Meanwhile, my biggest complaint about this year’s Hall vote is the players who did not succeed in getting 75% of the vote. Bagwell, Raines, and Larkin should be in. I’d vote for Larry Walker, too.
    As far as the ideas about how to fix Hall voting, I’d reduce the number of years a player appears on the ballot from 15 down to five, but I’d have their name come up every other year so that they’d at least remain in consideration over a ten-year period.
    Don’t like Murray Chass’ idea. If the voters can’t handle being burdened with, God forbid, looking at the players career stats, then why give them the vote at all? Let’s just put the numbers into a computer, and let the computer decide.
    Nice topic, Bill Miller (The On Deck Circle)

  4. @jjswol: Actually, I have seen Early Wynn pitch. I am old 🙂 Wynn is a generic choice that I picked to represent other good but not great pitchers like Bert Blyleven.

  5. I really enjoyed and appreciated the many of the points you made in this blog. I agree that there are a number of people in the HOF who really do not belong there. My sense is that if the HOF had a section for “Honorable Mention” much like they used to when I was in high school and the “All-County” team was chosen. I think it might appease those who want to honor favorite players who might really not be good enough for the HOF.

    But I do think that you need to find another pitcher to swap out with Greg Maddux.

    I too saw Early Wynn pitch and he was one of the best pitchers of his time and one of the best I ever saw. Only Warren Spahn won more game among his contemporaries. Both Spahn and Wynn were the only pitchers of their generation to win 300 games. No small pitching feat.

    Early was a tough man to face in a game much in the same way that Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale were. He was a strong, intimidating thrower, fearless about fighting for the plate. Wynn was a workhorse leading his league in starts and innings pitched multiple times. He completed almost half of his all his career starts, quite a feat in any era. Wynn also had the most strikeouts of any pitcher in the 1950’s.

    Wynn was also capable of winning games with his bat, hitting over .270 a number of times and displaying good power for a pitcher hitting 17 career homers and over 170 RBI’s. He’s also one of 5 pitchers to hit a grand slam. Wynn was also valuable to his teams as a pinch hitter.

    Wynn’s durability, toughness and skill made him one of the truly dominant pitchers of his time leading the greatest hitter of Wynn’s time and maybe of all time to say about Wynn that he was “the toughest pitcher I ever faced.”

  6. Ralph Kiner’s ascenscion into the HOF always struck me as indicative that the BBWAA often shows poor judgment in their selections.
    I watched Kiner play in the limited playing surroundings of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn on several occasions during the late 40’s, and aside from his ability to hit a long ball, his baseball skills were limited – to put it mildly. He was slow afoot, a poor base runner, and his throwing arm was so mediocre that he was eventually moved from the outfield to first base. This is HOF material?

  7. Very true Vincenzo, Kiner was a one tool player. Although quite great at that one tool, he could not do much else very well. I think this in part had something to do with Branch Rickey unloading Kiner.

    A number of times I’ve seen people compare Kiner’s home run stats as towering over any other Pirate player, which in numbers is true. But it should be noted that Kiner had a massive advantage. Forbes Field was made considerably smaller in those years that Kiner played excep for one. Left field was brought in after Kiner’s rookie year to entice HOF great Hank Greenberg to join the Pirates. The one year Kiner played in the larger Forbes field was one of his lowest homer totals at 23 (although he did lead the WW2 depleted NL in homers that year.

    When Kiner was traded he went to the even friendlier confines of Wrigley field and later to mentor Hank Greenberg’s Cleveland Indians.

    After Kiner left, Branch Rickey took down “Kiner’s Corner” restoring Forbes to its old dimensions. So Kiner never had to contend with the real dimensions of the “airport” known as Forbes Field.

    What is also ironic is that Kiner often later on criticized Roberto Clemente on his throwing and fielding skills. Try and figure that one as being nothing other than sour grapes.

  8. Blyleven , Neikro I don’t think they belong. Ralph Kiner had he played 5 more years would have had incredible batting stats and the man is a class act . Keith Hernandez should get in , fielding has to count, 13 gold gloves ! Chipper Jones is a first ballot and no steroids . Piazza should get in too .

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