The Hall of Fame case for Blyleven (Cont.)
I know that many people don't like giving credit for longevity. And that's because longevity is kind of boring. They would point out that Blyleven only led the league in strikeouts once, rather than pointing out that he had 200-plus K's eight times (only Hall of Famers have done it that many times). They would point out that Blyleven made just two All-Star teams without noticing that he was a second-half pitcher -- he was 115-84 with a 2.93 ERA in August, September and October throughout his career.*
*Funny, I thought we LIKED pitchers who threw well late in the season. I thought we called those guys clutch. I really don't want to mention Jack Morris... still, we just have to bring up the 1987 playoffs once more. Morris was at the height of his powers in 1987 -- he went 18-11 with a 3.38 ERA that year. And his 98-win Tigers were huge favorites over Minnesota in the American League Championship Series.
However, Morris did not start Game 1 of the series -- Doyle Alexander did. Alexander had gone 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA after being traded to Detroit from Atlanta (for John Smoltz). Alexander got rocked in the game -- he gave up a second-inning homer to Gary Gaetti, and another homer to Gaetti in a three-run fifth inning. He still had the lead going into the eighth, gave up a single to Dan Gladden a double to Kirby Puckett and then was taken out... and the Tigers bullpen collapsed.
Anyway, Morris started the Tigers' must-win second game. And he got outpitched by... Bert Blyleven. Morris actually had a 2-0 lead in the game -- Blyleven allowed a two-run homer to Chet Lemon in the second inning -- but Morris gave it back in the bottom of the inning by allowing three. Morris gave up two more runs in the fifth on a single by Gladden. He gave up a home run to Kent Hrbek in the fifth. And... Blyleven cruised along, giving up only one more run (a late solo homer to Lou Whitaker) and took the win.
After four games, the Twins had a 3-games-to-1 lead, and... Blyleven came back to pitch on three days' rest. Jack Morris did not. Blyleven didn't pitch especially great -- six innings, three runs -- but he pitched well enough. He got his second win of the series, the clinching win, and the Twins went to the World Series.
People would point out that Blyleven only once led the league in ERA+ without mentioning that he finished second three times and in the top 5 seven times. They would point out that twice, later in his career, he gave up record-setting home run numbers without pointing out that over a long career his home run rate was better than those of Niekro, Sutton, Marichal, Bunning, Unit, Morris, Eckersley, Robin Roberts, Fergie and Catfish, among many others. People point at wins and losses without considering that Bert Blyleven played for teams that were sub-.500 when he was not pitching. And he lost 99 quality starts in his career (fifth most since 1954) and he had 79 quality start no-decisions (11th most). He lost 139 games when he pitched at least seven innings -- more than any pitcher since 1954. I'm just saying that there might be more than seems obvious at first glance.
The reason I put up the remarkable number of shutouts Blyleven had was not to say that those shutouts should qualify him for the Hall of Fame but only to point out... that he has a remarkable number of shutouts. The thing that I think Blyleven has going against him -- aside from him falling 13 victories short of 300 -- is the enduring image that he was not a great pitcher. He did not win a Cy Young. He did not make many All-Star teams. He did not excite kids when they got his baseball card. The idea that Blyleven was wildly unappreciated in his time does not rest easy in the mind. If he was that good, dammit, we would have noticed.
Well, as far as I know, a shutout is pretty much the best thing a pitcher can do for his team. He doesn't do it alone, of course, but he's the main component. And only eight pitchers in baseball history -- only THREE pitchers since the Deadball Era -- threw more shutouts than Bert Blyleven. Of course, all three of those pitchers -- Warren Spahn (three more shutouts), Ryan and Seaver (one more, as mentioned) -- were slam dunk, first ballot, no doubt Hall of Famers. In fact, as Rich Lederer has pointed out, every single one of the Top 20 shutout pitchers in baseball history are in the Hall of Fame... except Blyleven.
I'll give you one more statistic -- something to think about (I hope). There are shutouts. And then there are SHUTOUTS. I suspect that if a shutout is great, a super-shutout is even better. What's a super-shutout? Right: 1-0. That's the stuff of legend. Your team scrapes together one run and the pitcher makes that run stand up -- they'll write songs for that guy. Jack Morris did it in the World Series and is still remembered for it. Winning 1-0 is magical.
Well, you know what's coming now.
Bert Blyleven won FIFTEEN 1-0 games in his career. And I will bet you that no one -- certainly no one in 50 or 60 years -- had more 1-0 shutouts. I looked at the obvious choices and I have not found anyone yet.
At a glance (since 1954):
Steve Carlton won 12.
Look, the idea is not to convince you that Bert Blyleven belongs in the Hall of Fame. Of course I believe that. The idea is to convince anyone who cares that there might be more to his career. And that Blyleven was damned good.
Look: There are 38 starters in the Hall of Fame since Deadball. Blyleven's 118 ERA+ puts him in the middle third, his 287 wins would rank ninth overall, his 3,701 strikeouts would rank third, his 60 shutouts would rank fourth, his won-loss percentage would be low but still ahead of four others. By the readily available Hall of Fame standards, it seems pretty obvious to me that he's a Hall of Famer.
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