Bert Blyleven finally got circled.
Actually, Blyleven, the Twins righthanded pitcher who won 287 games in a 22-season career before becoming known to a new generation of baseball fans as the Minnesota team’s TV broadcast analyst, was circled, underlined and X-ed on the ballots of more than 79 percent of voters to gain enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Blyleven, who was to the curveball what Picasso was to painting two eyes on one side of the face, made it into the baseball shrine in Cooperstown, N.Y., in his 14th — and next-to-last — year of eligibility. Hall of Fame rules require votes on 75 percent of ballots cast.
A year ago, Blyleven narrowly missed with 74.2 percent (400 of 539), but had history working in his favor: No candidate ever received that much support without eventually gaining admission to the Hall. But if Blyleven had missed this year and again with the Class of 2012, he would have had to wait another five years before being considered by the Hall’s unpredictable Veterans Committee.
Blyleven finished his career, which included two stints with the Twins (1970-75, 1985-88), with a 287-250 record and 3.31 earned run average. He ranks fifth all-time in strikeouts (3,701), ninth in shutouts (60) 10th in games started (685), 14th in innings pitched (4,969.1) and 26th in victories. He was called both “durable” and “one of the most effective breaking-ball pitchers in history” by Jeff Idelson, president of the Hall of Fame, in making the announcement.
Blyleven, 59, will be joined at the induction ceremony July 24 in Cooperstown by second baseman Robert Alomar, who received support on a reported 90 percent of the record 581 ballots cast, and by longtime front-office executive Pat Gillick, selected by the Veterans Committee.
Alomar was a 12-time All-Star in 17 major league seasons with 10 Gold Gloves and a .984 fielding percentage as the best second baseman of his generation (some might say ever). Given his support a year ago in his first year of eligibility — 73.7 percent — many experts believe Alomar’s notorious spitting incident with umpire John Hirschbeck delayed his enshrinement, with some voters withholding the unofficial “specialness” of first-year induction.
Blyleven had no such incident stalling his acceptance. But among the arguments against his candidacy was the characterization of him as a compiler of stats over a long but not necessarily stellar career. Also, he allegedly wasn’t as revered during his playing days as he has been since, with just two All-Star appearances and no Cy Young awards as the best pitcher in his league.
Others felt Blyleven was a prime beneficiary of either new stats used for baseball analysis these days, the burgeoning focus on them inside and outside the game, or both. Something called Wins Above Replacement, for instance, ranks Blyleven as the 13th most valuable pitcher of all-time.
For me — I have voted for the Hall for more than 20 years — Blyleven’s workhorse resume counts in his favor, not as a detriment. His strikeout total for a player not known as a power pitcher is astounding, and his postseason record with the Twins and the Pirates — 5-1, 2.47 ERA, two World Series titles — also argues for Blyleven’s inclusion.
Then there was that curveball (and its variations), considered the best since Sandy Koufax’s by batters who so often flailed away at it.
Besides Blyleven (I voted for him for 14 years) and Alomar, the rest of my ballot included pitcher Jack Morris, outfielder Tim Raines, relief pitcher Lee Smith and shortstops Alan Trammell and Barry Larkin.