Some of you may know Bert Blyleven as the play-by-play announcer of the Minnesota Twins, or the possessor of the game’s greatest curveball, or a notorious clubhouse clown, but I know Mr. Blyleven as the greatest pitcher currently not enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Blyleven pitched for some poor ballclubs throughout his career: The Twins and the Angels (before their current stranglehold on the AL West) and it is because of this that Bert has been left out of Cooperstown. Put Bert on a New York team or Boston and he’d certainly be in the Hall of Fame.
Bert is in the top 30 pitchers of all-time in career wins, posting more career victories than Hall of Famers Fergie Jenkins, Robin Roberts, Red Ruffing, Burleigh Grimes and Jim Palmer, just to name a few. He is 13th all-time in career innings pitched – every pitcher ahead of him in this department is in the Hall of Fame. Bert is 9th all-time in career shutouts (he led the league on three separate occasions) and 5th all-time in career strikeouts. Unlike swing-and-miss pitchers such as Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton, Bert owned pinpoint control. He is not in the Top 25 all-time in career walks issued while the four pitchers ahead of him in the career strikeout department all issued more walks than Blyleven.
Bert’s trademark was his devastating curveball – widely regarded as the best breaking pitch of his day. Baseball men have always referred to the curveball as Uncle Charlie but Bert’s was known as “Lord Charles.” Many were the time that Bert sent a dismayed batter back to his dugout, dragging his bat with slouched shoulders, after breaking off a curve that struck the batter out.
In 1977, Bert tossed a no-hitter (a feat many Hall of Fame hurlers never accomplished) and two years later he led the Pittsburgh Pirates to a World Series championship, showcasing a sparkling 1.80 ERA for the contest.
The Hall of Fame hasn’t been kind to pitchers from the 1980s: only relief pitchers have been selected from the hurlers who pitched the bulk of their careers during this decade. Yes, Nolan Ryan was pitching during the 1980s as was Don Sutton, but they each saw action in every year on the previous decade: the 1970s. Bert stands head and shoulders above the crop of pitchers from his day that are both in Cooperstown and still left outside the doors of the Hall of Fame. Jack Morris, whose ERA is considerably higher than Bert’s and who also had the luxury of playing with a strong Detroit team, is considered Bert’s greatest peer still left out of Cooperstown. Bert may not have had Morris’ support, but Blyleven held the opposition better than Morris. Bert struck out batters in record numbers and kept the ball close to the plate, not issuing walks in reckless fashion like Ryan and Carlton.
Very rarely do I claim that a player DESERVES to be in the Hall of Fame, but I certainly make that claim for Blyleven. For sustained excellence in all fields (accuracy, strikeouts and keeping the runners off the plate) Blyleven was the best of his time.
Wins: 287/ Losses 250,/GS 685/ CG 242/ IP 4,970/ SO 3,701/ ERA 3.31