- May 6, 1951
- 6' 3"
- 200 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 6-05-1970 with MIN
The three things that Bert Blyleven was most famous for in his major league career were his hellatious curve ball, one of the best in the history of the national pastime, his penchant for giving up home runs and his ability to stick himself right in the middle of a controversy.
Blyleven’s curve ball was so effective that when he retired in 1992, after 22 years in the majors, he accumulated 3701 strikeouts good for third at the time, fourth now, on the all-time list, 287 wins, 23rd all-time, threw 4970 IP, 13th, and 60 shutouts, good for 9th.
While Bert’s effective curve put him up on most career pitching lists, his desire to challenge hitters also caused him the more than occasional home run. Blyleven’s total of 430 homers given up is the 7th worst total in the history of the game and the 50 he gave up for the Twins in 1986 still stands as a major league record today. The first batter he ever faced in his major league career, Lee May, hit a home run in what would be a sign of things to come.
Despite the home runs, Blyleven still had a fine career, one that could land him in Cooperstown one day. One thing the Holland native also had a problem with was getting into the occasional controversy. With the Twins, the first time around, he became resentful towards the fans that felt, Bert might be more interested in his own personal success than that of the teams. He then demanded a big salary that Minnesota owner Clark Griffith refused to meet, so he was sent off to the Texas Rangers on 1977.
His stay in the Lone Star lasted all of one season when he was involved in the first four team deal in major league history, with the Rangers, Pirates, Mets and Braves. The curve ball specialist came to the Bucs with John Milner with Pirate star Al Oliver and Nelson Norman heading to the Rangers.
Blyleven start in the Steel City was on a very positive note as he went 14-10 with a team low 3.03 ERA and club high 182 strikeouts. That season for the Bucs was a prelude to their magic championship run in 1979. It was also a campaign that saw Bert be on the mound for one of the greatest moments in Pirate history, but afterwards instead of relishing his first world championship in his 10 year major league career at that point, he complained about the way he had been handled by Manager Chuck Tanner.
After a successful 12-5 mark in ’79, Blyleven pitched a complete game in the third and final contest between the Reds and Pirates in the NLCS. Bert was dominant in the 7-1 clincher and had completely shut down the Big Red Machine, helping to give the Bucs the NL pennant. He continued his impressive way in the Series, first tossing six fine innings for a no decision in game 2, and then came up tough in a relief appearance for game 5, the contest that turned the series in favor of Pittsburgh. After veteran pitcher Jim Rooker gave up 1 run in 5 innings, Blyleven shut down the Birds the final four frames allowing Pittsburgh to score 7 runs in the 6th, 7th and 8th, in a comeback 7-1 triumph. Bert won the contest and finished his first fall classic with a 1.80 ERA.
With what should have been his shining moment, Bert turned frustrated and criticized Tanner for not using him properly during the season. The pitcher only had 4 complete games, the first time he had been in single digits since his rookie campaign of 1970. Tanner would go to his bullpen in close games, a strategy that is used almost exclusively in today’s game, and it angered Blyleven who wanted to finish his own game. Tanner was successful with his bullpen and won a World Championship, it made no matter to the angry hurler.
He threatened to retire if the Bucs didn’t trade him before the 1980 season, but eventually recanted on his threat. Some wish he had gone through with it as he went only 8-13, in his worst season as a Pirate. After the year had concluded he was sent off to what was baseball hell at the time, Cleveland, with Manny Sanguillen for Gary Alexander, Victor Cruz, Rafael Vasquez and Bob Owchinko.
End of Career
Blyleven had the last laugh as he resurrected his career in Cleveland with a 19-7 mark in 1984 and ended up pitching successfully until 1992 with Minnesota, winning another title in 1987, and the Angels, that included a phenomenal 17-5 season in ’89 at the age of 38, while the Pirates received almost no production from the four former Indians.
Bert hurt his arm, which required rotator cuff surgery, forcing him to miss the entire 1991 season and effect, costing him the 300 win plateau, which might have given him the key to open the gates to Cooperstown.
While Blyleven truly had a great career, his negative attitude while in the ‘Burgh will always cast a shadow over his name when talking about his time with the Pirates.
Blyleven was a pitching coach for the Netherlands in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
After his first year of eligibility in 1998, Blyleven was widely considered to be the best eligible pitcher not yet in the Baseball Hall of Fame. According to Matt Welch of Reason Magazine, "there had long been a strong case that the Dutch-born curveballista was the most deserving player on the outside of Cooperstown looking in." Still, it was not until his 14th year of eligibility in 2011 that he was elected, with 79.7% of the vote. He currently ranks 5th all-time in Strikeouts, 9th all-time in Shutouts, and 27th all-time in Wins. At the time of his election he was the only eligible member of the 3000 strikeout club, and the only person with 50 or more shutouts, not in the Hall of Fame.
Blyleven received only 17.55% of the vote for Hall of Fame admission in 1998 (first year of eligibility), and his vote total dropped to 14.1% the following year. No player who had debuted on the ballot since 1970 had a vote total that low and later won election to the Hall. However, ESPN.com columnist Jayson Stark stated that "no player has ever — and again, that word is 'ever' — had his Hall of Fame candidacy helped more by the sabermetrics boom than Blyleven." Specifically, according to Welch, "the president and chief investment officer of Lederer & Associates Investment Counsel in Long Beach, California, a guy by the name of Rich Lederer, began spending some of his off-hours writing analysis on the Interwebs about Blyleven's overlooked case."
By 2006, this total had increased to 53.33%. In 2007, Blyleven's total dipped to 47.7% (75% is the minimum required for admission to the Hall). In 2008, he received 336 votes, or 61.9% of the vote. In 2009, he gained only two votes, for a total of 338, 62.7%. In 2010, Blyleven had 74.2% of the votes, missing admission to the Hall of Fame by only 5 votes (0.8%).
Blyleven was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2011 after receiving 79.7% of the vote on his 14th attempt. It’s been 14 years of praying and waiting,” he said on a conference call from Fort Myers, Fla. "I thank the baseball writers of America for, I’m going to say, finally getting it right." Blyleven will be the first Dutch-born player inducted.
Blyleven was inducted into the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame in 2002, and was chosen to the fan-elected "Wendy's- Minnesota Twins All-Metrodome Team" on July 28, 2009. On July 16, 2011 the Minnesota Twins will formally retire Blyleven's number.
In 1996, Blyleven became a color commentator for the Twins. Blyleven's commentary is occasionally risqué for a baseball broadcast, but provides interesting and friendly conversation between him and play-by-play announcer Dick Bremer.
* Minnesota Twins (1970–1976)
* Texas Rangers (1976–1977)
* Pittsburgh Pirates (1978–1980)
* Cleveland Indians (1981–1985)
* Minnesota Twins (1985–1988)
* California Angels (1989–1992)
Career highlights and awards
* 2× All-Star selection (1973, 1985)
* 2× World Series champion (1979, 1987)
* 1989 AL Comeback Player of the Year
* Pitched no-hitter on September 22, 1977
* Minnesota Twins #28 retired
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