Blyleven: Making my case for the Hall of Fame
Numbers stack up well with others from my era already in Cooperstown
By Bert Blyleven
updated 2:30 a.m. ET, Tues., Dec . 29, 2009
Voting for the Hall of Fame is currently underway. The ballots must be sent in by Thursday, and the new class for Cooperstown will be announced on Jan. 6. This will be my 13th year of eligibility for Cooperstown, and once again Iíll be waiting to find out if Iíve made it.
It hasnít been easy going through this process every year. Iíve been frustrated at times, and Iíve been angry. But that doesnít get you anywhere. After awhile you just learn to accept it. I think Iíve gotten to the point where Iím kind of numb this time of year. The sad part is that I think I do have Hall of Fame numbers, but I feel like I have to defend them because people want to pick them over, and almost belittle what Iíve done. That to me is the negative part of this time of year.
This is not to rag on the writers in any way, shape or form. Over the years some players have come out and said the writers shouldnít have a Hall of Fame vote because most of them have never played the game on such a high level. But itís a system thatís been in place a long time, and the writers have earned their vote through their own longevity in the game. This is the way it has been throughout history so Iím not against it.
Have there been flaws in the system? Yes. Can a writer choose to not vote for anyone? I guess thatís their right. All I ask is that the writers take a good long look at my stats. Not just at my wins and losses, but at the entire body of work. Compare me to other pitchers who are already in the Hall of Fame, particularly those from my era.
I believe that my numbers stack up against anyone.
WHERE ARE THE WINS?
When talk of my Hall of Fame candidacy comes up, usually people like to point at my career win total of 287 as a reason I shouldnít be elected to Cooperstown. The so-called magic number of wins for automatic induction is said to be 300, and obviously I come up short in that department.
But in my opinion, wins are one of the hardest things to come by, and a pitcher can only do so much to control whether he wins a game. You can control your walks, you can control your strikeouts and your innings pitched. You can control whether you go nine innings by the way you approach a game. But one thing you often canít control is wins and losses. Itís very difficult.
When I first came up in 1970 at age 19, I won my first game 2-1. My second game I lost 2-1. So after two starts, I had allowed three runs in 14 innings (1.93 ERA), but was just 1-1. That just shows you how hard it is, and it made me work harder. Maybe thatís why I was able to pitch 22 seasons in the majors, because I was so stubborn.
If you allow one run, but your team doesnít score any runs, then you canít earn the win. If your bullpen gives up a lead after you leave the game, then you canít earn a win. Wins are a product of your team as a whole, and while the starting pitcher plays a significant role in who wins the game, he is not the only factor. The starter can only control so much.
Case in point: I lost 99 quality starts (at least six innings pitched while allowing no more than three runs) in my career, more than all but four pitchers since 1954. And I had 79 other quality starts in which I had no-decisions. Thatís 178 quality starts in which I did not earn a win, yet people knock me for coming up 13 wins shy of 300.
Clearly, wins is a flawed stat, and I think observers of baseball are beginning to realize that. After all, this yearís Cy Young winners were Zack Greinke (16 wins) and Tim Lincecum (15). Both are great pitchers and deserving of the award, but neither led their league in wins.
One thing a pitcher can control is how far he lasts in each start. The better you pitch, the longer you last. This saves wear and tear on your bullpen, which in turn helps the starters who follow you in the rotation. Every time you pitch a complete game, your team benefits. Thatís why I think complete games and shutouts are better stats to look at than wins.
I made 685 starts in my 22 seasons, and threw 242 complete games, so I went the distance in 35.3 percent of my starts. Compare that to Hall of Fame pitchers from my era and I stack up well. Phil Niekro completed 34 percent of his starts, Nolan Ryan 29 percent, Tom Seaver 35.7 percent and Steve Carlton 35.8 percent. Ferguson Jenkins (45 percent) and Gaylord Perry (44 percent) were the most impressive from my era in that department.
There are other negatives I often hear about my career: That I only played in two All-Star Games, and I only won 20 games once. But there are flaws in these arguments as well.
The All-Star Game, as you know, is played in July, in the middle of the season. So the voting for the game is based only on how a player performs in the first half of the season, not on their entire season. Did you know that I was 115-84 with a 2.93 ERA during my career after July?
As far as only winning 20 games once, well that gets back once again to how hard it is to win games. The year I won 20 games (1973), I made 40 starts and threw 25 complete games and a league-best nine shutouts. But I was barely above .500 at 20-17 despite having a 2.52 ERA. The next season, I was 17-17 despite throwing 19 complete games, three shutouts and compiling a 2.66 ERA. In 1985 I had a 3.16 ERA and led the AL in starts (37), complete games (24), shutouts (5) and innings (293 2/3). But despite all of this, I finished 17-16 on the season.
I was on some good teams in my 22 seasons, including two championship teams, the 1979 Pirates and the 1987 Twins. But I also played on a lot of teams that didnít fare too well. Sometimes I felt like if I didnít pitch a shutout, I wasnít going to win the game. Everyone would like to have a strong Yankee offense behind them, but it doesnít always work out that way. I donít know how many times I sat on that bench and watched my team score five or six runs, then the next day when I was pitching I would lose 2-1. That was very frustrating, but there is not much you can do about it.
It is hard to win games, for sure. Even so, my 287 wins ranks 27th on the all-time list. Only six players ahead of me on the list are not in the Hall of Fame. Four of them (Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson) are not yet eligible, but should get in once they are.
Letís look at some of my other key statistics:
- 3,701 strikeouts, fifth all time: Of the 16 pitchers with at least 3,000 strikeouts, all of the eligible players are in the Hall. The players who are not yet eligible (Johnson, Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and John Smoltz) could all get in.
- 4,970 innings pitched, 14th all time: All of the players ahead of me are in Cooperstown except for Maddux, who will be.
- 250 career losses, 10th all time: It might seem odd that I would bring this up, but when you pitch a long time you tend to rack up losses. Again, wins and losses are difficult to control. Of the nine players with more losses than me, only Jack Powell is not in the Hall of Fame, and he had a losing record at 245 -254. The great Cy Young lost more games than anyone at 316.
- 430 home runs allowed, 8th all time: I have been knocked for allowing too many home runs, but Robin Roberts (505), Fergie Jenkins (484), Phil Niekro (482), Don Sutton (472) and Warren Spahn (434) are all in Cooperstown.
- 242 complete games, 91st all time: Hall-of-Famers like Tom Seaver (231), Nolan Ryan (222), Jim Palmer (211), Don Sutton (178) and Don Drysdale (167) all threw fewer complete games than I did. In 1985 I went the distance 24 times, and no one has thrown that many since. Fernando Valenzuela threw 20 complete games in 1986 and Roger Clemens tossed 18 in 1987. Since 2000, no one has thrown more than nine complete games in a season.
- 60 shutouts, 9th all time: Shutouts are the absolute best thing a pitcher can do. Every pitcher with at least 50 career shutouts is in the Hall of Fame except for me. By comparison to the great pitchers of recent times, Clemens threw 46 shutouts, Randy Johnson had 37 and Glavine had 25.
Of my 60 shutouts, 15 came by a score of 1-0, the toughest, most pressure-packed situation in which to operate. By comparison, Steve Carlton won 12 shutouts by a 1-0 score, Jim Palmer won 9, and Phil Niekro 6. Of the recent greats, Randy Johnson tossed four, while Clemens and Martinez each have thrown three 1-0 shutouts.
TO THE VOTING BOOTH
Thank you for allowing me to state my case. I know a lot of the voters never saw me pitch, after all I havenít thrown one since 1992. And thatís fine, I donít have a problem with the way the system is set up. All I ask is that the voters do their homework. Donít look just at my wins and losses, but look at all of my numbers. Look at innings pitched and strikeouts. Look at walks and WHIP. Look at shutouts and complete games. See where I stack up against pitchers from my era, especially those already in Cooperstown.
It has been a long wait, and I could easily end up continuing to wait. But one thing that has been rewarding to me is when I run into great Hall of Fame pitchers like Bob Feller or Tom Seaver and they tell me to be patient and that my time is coming. It means a lot to me when my peers come to me and bring it up, offering words of encouragement.
The pitchers who are already in the Hall of Fame know how hard it is to win a ballgame. How hard it is to put together a career like I have.
Who knows, maybe 13 will be a lucky number for me.
Bert Blyleven writes regularly for NBCSports.com, and is a former two-time All-Star who won 287 games during his 22 seasons in the major leagues. He is currently a broadcaster for the Minnesota Twins.