Tuesday, January 13, 2009

On Bert Blyleven

Look. Chances are Bert Blyleven will eventually make it into the Hall of Fame. But he didn't this year. And that's flat-out ridiculous. But there's a double-standard among these guys. Because a pitcher who threw almost 5,000 innings and struck out 3700 batters with a 3.31 ERA has no reason not to be counted among the game's all-time greats.

But because he pitched in Minnesota, Texas, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and California, he didn't have a spot in a high-profile market like New York or Boston or Chicago. But if a player leaves Minnesota/Texas/Pittsburgh/Cleveland/California for New York, Boston or Chicago he gets crucified because he's clearly after the money. Look at someone like Tony Oliva, 8-time All-Star outfielder with a .304 average - who qualifies as a Hall of Famer on three of four Hall of Fame monitor stats. But because he played in a small-market, he doesn't get the press.

So the writers can't have it both ways. You can't penalize a guy for not playing in New York, and then crucify a guy for choosing to play in New York. This is the easiest time of year for sports writers, because they get to write 10,000 words on who they voted for and why, but there has to be some accountability and transparency somewhere.

The home run - and the public's perception of the home run has changed. Ty Cobb led the American League in 1909 home runs with 9. Nine home runs led the AL. Nine. Batting averages have changed. Hugh Duffy hit .438 in 1894. Joe Jackson as a rookie hit .411. The triple has changed. The stolen base has changed (thank you, Rickey). But the strikeout has not changed.

Batters have been swinging as hard as they can since the New York Knickerbocker's set down some rules in the 1840s. The ball hasn't really changed in size since about 1910. The bat hasn't changed terribly much. So the strikeout is the great leveler. And only four pitchers have struck out more batters than Bert Blyleven (and that includes Clemens, who is on the verge of attaining Voldemort status) in the history of the game. Of the top 20 players on the all-time strikeout list, 13 are eligible for the Hall of Fame, and 11 of them are in. Only Mickey Lolich - with almost 1000 less strikeouts than Blyleven - isn't in. And 19 pitchers BEHIND Blyleven on the total wins list are in.

If Blyleven struck out 3700 guys in pinstripes or against the backdrop of the Green Monster, they would have sold the movie rights by now.