Thursday, January 8, 2009

Hall of Fame, Part 2: Blyleven

Reader Steven makes some good points about the Hall of Fame in his comment about my last post on Rickey Henderson, which is totally worth reading.

Choosing to make the case for Henderson in the Hall of Fame wasn't exactly a controversial stand. Steven is right that Henderson should be a unanimous selection, but I'm sure some sportswriters -- who (a) stupidly don't believe a player should be inducted on his first try, and/or (b) were slighted or offended by Henderson sometime during his career -- will conspire to keep Henderson from achieving the magical 100% mark. Bill James once said that you could split Henderson in half and each half would be worthy of induction to the Hall of Fame.

I want to tackle a more controversial subject: Bert Blyleven. The hard-core baseball historian community really wants him to finally get the recognition he deserves. Joe Posnanski has a very good explanation of why Blyleven belongs, and I can't argue with any of it. Based on the numbers, Blyleven certainly belongs. The guy was excellent. I will add that his curveball is routinely named as one of the best of all time.

Here's the opposite argument. Blyleven played when I was growing up a baseball fan, and I can't recall anyone ever touting him as a future Hall of Famer when he was toiling for the Indians and Twins. Was he ever truly great? And do non-greats belong?

Lots of people say no. And I might have said no, too, at least before I really took a look at the people in the Hall of Fame. When lots of people think of the Hall of Fame, they think of the inner circle: Mays, Mantle, Ruth, DiMaggio, and so on. But that's not the standard for the Hall. The standard is more like Gabby Hartnett and Dazzy Vance, Duke Snider and Al Kaline. Players who excelled at their positions for many years. To believe in the first standard would mean the Hall would have about 30 members. It actually has over 280.

Does Bert Blyleven belong among those 250+ players? Of course he does.

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