Friday, July 15, 2011

Blyleven Gets His Due

After years of waiting, Bert Blyleven is finally getting his due. On Saturday the Minnesota Twins will retire his number and later this month he'll be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

When I was kid going to Brewers games, Blyleven was one of the visiting players I always looked forward to seeing. His pitching style was effortless and his curveball broke so much it just had to be an optical illusion. But it wasn't. It was often said by announcers at the time that he had the best breaking ball ever.

Still, a long career (22 seasons) and a lot of wins (287) weren't enough to get him into the Hall of Fame for years. A lot of the argument against him centered around the idea that he was just a compiler, someone who put up good numbers only because he hung around so long.

I am suspicious of the "compiler" argument. I have heard it used several times to denigrate the accomplishments of Hank Aaron. Yes, Aaron had a long career; almost all legendary players do. But he was a great player from the start of his career and had the grit to break the game's greatest record in the face of death threats and vile racial insults. And he he was in the two three in homers, RBI, runs scored and hits when he retired. In short, he is the definition of a Hall of Famer.

Blyleven, of course, is not Aaron. His winning percentage is not the best, but he often had mediocre or even hapless teams behind him.

While there are some number that (automatically) make a player worthy of enshrinement, like 300 wins, 3,000 hits (at least prior to steroids), I have always thought Hall of Famers can be spotted while they are in the midst of their careers.

Bert Blyleven seemed worthy then, and I am happy to seem him finally get the honor.

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