SI Vault
Hotfoot Him to the Hall
Steve Rushin
January 19, 2004
Nobody filled the back of a baseball card better than Bert Blyleven, whose name (Aalbert) and birthplace (Zeist) suggested—with alphabetical ambidexterity—that a whole encyclopedia was inside that 2�-by-3�-inch rectangle.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
January 19, 2004

Hotfoot Him To The Hall

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2

Joe Blyleven had $74 when he left Holland in 1953 for a farm outside Regina, Saskatchewan. Eventually he moved the Blylevens to Garden Grove, Calif., where his son grew up listening to Vin Scully and watching Sandy Koufax, all four men living a North American dream.

As a child Bert taught himself the banana curve, and learned the possibilities of the banana peel. He became da Vinci with a dribble glass. Blyleven is baseball's alltime leader in hotfoots and hood ornaments—setting teammates' shoes alight, adhering bubble gum to the bills of their caps—and a purveyor of more pies to the face than Mack Sennett.

But his magnum opus was authored when he was with California in 1989, during the preseason Angels-Dodgers Freeway Series. As Los Angeles manager Tommy Lasorda conducted a live television interview before Game 1, Blyleven sprinted from the Angels' dugout with a paper plate full of shaving cream. Says Blyleven, "I just smoked Tommy Lasorda in the face."

Swearing that vengeance would be his, Lasorda informed Dodgers Mickey Hatcher and Jerry Reuss of his plan, the next day, to burn Blyleven's street clothes on the field at Dodger Stadium. When Hatcher and Reuss told Blyleven this, he brought a padlock to the ballpark and secured his clothes in a footlocker in the visitors' clubhouse. It's what Blyleven did next, however, that rises to the level of genius. "I took [Angels reliever] Willie Fraser's clothes out of his locker," Blyleven says, "and I hung them in mine."

All of which is to explain how Lasorda came, in the fifth inning of an exhibition game, to disgorge clothes from his dugout, douse them in lighter fluid and set them aflame. And how Fraser came to look out at the pyre and, later, wonder why the hell Tommy Lasorda, a man he had never met, had set fire to his pants.

That alone should put Blyleven in the Hall of Fame, don't you think?

1 2