- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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I can certainly understand why many writers don't vote for Bert Blyleven on their Hall of Fame ballots. I didn't vote for him for several years, either.
And every time I sealed the envelope and mailed my ballot without placing a check next to his name, I was left with such a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach it was as if I had actually eaten a Yankee Stadium hot dog. Each year, that feeling grew worse and worse until two years ago when I finally decided to vote for him. And after doing so, I felt no nagging second thoughts that I had made a mistake.
Why does Blyleven belong in Cooperstown? Before I get into that, I should disclose here that I know Blyleven, covered Blyleven and like Blyleven. He even gave me a hotfoot when I was just starting out as a beat writer, which I considered a rite of passage. One of baseball's most notorious pranksters gave me a hotfoot -- short of having Jose Canseco inject steroids into my rear end, it was about as close as I'll ever come to entering that private club called major league baseball.
So I'm not completely unbiased. But that's not why I vote for Blyleven. I vote for him because of these simple compelling numbers:
287: That's the number of games he won. Only one eligible pitcher (Tommy John) has ever won more without getting elected.
242: Believe it or not, that's how many complete games Blyleven threw. Yes, really -- 242 complete games. By comparison, Roger Clemens has thrown 118. We're comparing different eras, yes, but not that different. After all, their careers overlapped for eight seasons.
60: That's how many shutouts he pitched, nearly as many as Clemens and Pedro Martinez combined (63). Only eight pitchers threw more -- Walter Johnson, Grover Alexander, Christy Mathewson, Cy Young, Eddie Plank, Warren Spahn, Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver. That's some pretty good company.
3,701: His strikeout total, which was the third-highest total in history when he retired. Even now, only Ryan, Steve Carlton, Clemens and Randy Johnson have more.
True, Blyleven only once won as many as 20 games in a season. Yes, he made only two All-Star teams. And he never won a Cy Young, nor was he ever considered the game's best pitcher. But he was a damn fine pitcher for a very long time (he threw a no-hitter and helped two teams -- the '79 Pirates and the '87 Twins -- win world championships) and his curveball was the one against which all others were judged.
Granted, Blyleven wasn't as good as Seaver or Carlton. But the Hall of Fame isn't just for those players. It has room for players who were just a cut below that standard. It has room for Blyleven.
Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," was published by Plume. It can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.
Bert Blyleven wasn't an all-time great pitcher -- he's just a cut below that standard. But he, no doubt, deserves a spot in Cooperstown.