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Bert Blyleven falls just short of Baseball Hall of Fame

Known almost as much for his fun-loving pranks as for his pitching accomplishments, former Minnesota Twins righthander Bert Blyleven had his sense of humor tested again today when he fell just short of election to baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Hold off on the whoopee cushions, then, for those reserved seats in Cooperstown for the Class of 2010 induction ceremony this summer. 

The righthander from Zeist, Netherlands – whose curveball was regarded as one of baseball’s most elusive ever, second perhaps only to Sandy Koufax’s – received 400 votes — 74.2 percent of the vote, just shy of the 75 percent needed for induction. Voters (current and retired members of the Baseball Writers Association of America) elected only Andre Dawson, a slugger who played for the Montreal Expos, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox and Florida Marlins.

Blyleven’s devilish clubhouse antics earned him attention but his pitching skills paved his way through 22 seasons as a major league pitcher, 11 of them spent all or in part with Minnesota; he began with the Twins as a 19-year-old in 1970, then returned to anchor their staff at age 36 to the 1987 World Series title. He posted some enormous statistics — old-school numbers that look better with each passing season next to those of the game’s more modern, more pampered arms — but they still have not swayed enough voters.

The obvious question regarding Blyleven’s candidacy for the Hall and his varying support among voters through the years is: What changes? He threw his last pitch in October 1992. Some voters have questioned his lack of a Cy Young Award, his lone 20-victory season and his failure to reach 300 career victories. Yet Blyleven’s vote totals have crept upward, and a year ago, he received 338 votes (62.7 percent), 67 shy of the 405 needed.

Blyleven’s 4,970 innings pitched (14th in major league history), 3,701 strikeouts (fifth), 242 complete games (91st) and 60 shutouts (ninth) still didn’t overcome the fact that his lifetime won-lost record (287-250) left him 13 victories shy of that almost automatic Hall threshold. Blyleven, 58, a popular Twins broadcaster in recent years, now has just two chances left at enshrinement under the Hall’s 15-year eligibility period.

He still hopes to join Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Kirby Puckett among Twins alumni who played most or all of their careers with Minnesota. Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield and Steve Carlton also spent time with the Twins and are honored in Cooperstown.

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