At long last, Bert Blyleven’s telephone rang with the news of his “Call to the Hall” and I found it high time to answer some of his staunchest critics who are opposed to his induction. So, this morning I started my day with some strong coffee and historical baseball statistics. I researched Bert’s stats against the following flame throwers: Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Don Sutton, Jim Palmer, Vida Blue, Luis Tiant, Roger Clemens, Roy Halladay and a few other hurlers. A few key statistics I noticed was innings pitched and complete games. Bert, the curveballer, stacked up so well with all these guys in these key categories. With Blue and Carlton, it should be mentioned that seasons where they exceeded 300 i.p., the next season they typically suffered (Carlton in ’73 after his historic ’72 campaign and the same with Blue in ’72 with the A’s). With respect to Bert’s durability, he was consistent much further into the latter part of his career than Seaver and many others.
It is amazing that all these guys (including Palmer, who I thought was not as rugged b/c of his GQ, Jockey underwear ads image) would complete up to 25 games in a season, pitching every fourth day! Some of the biggest differences that held Bert back in his quest for 300 victories were the teams he played on vs. the likes of Seaver and Sutton (both played for big market teams and we know how that goes in the eyes of the media, i.e. the H.O.F. voters….) Those two in comparison to Bert played on better teams, in bigger markets, with presumably a better supporting cast– which was crucial, I surmise when it comes to pitching that many innings b/c the starting pitcher really needed the team to come through offensively and defensively in order to get the “W”.
What amazes me in particular with the Dutchman, is how a man could pitch as many innings in the “Pre-Tommy John surgery” era with the curveball as his deadliest weapon. I presume that he must be icing his pitching elbow constently to this day because the physical toll the curve ball places on the elbow and its’ ligaments. By today’s standards, his durability would be unmatched! An obvious comparison, would be to examine the current generation’s work-horse pitcher. Roy Halladay has lead the Major leagues innings pitched in recent seasons and is generally regarded as the “Iron Horse” of this generation. Well, in Roy’s best season he topped 266 innings pitched. Take that into consideration, when many of his peers would find it a stretch to pitch much more than 200 innings in a season.
It is fun to compare Halladay’s best in this era to that of Blyleven and others from previous generations who were able to top 300 innings pitched during their busiest seasons. Even in his 16th year in the big leagues, the red-head himself pitched in 37 contests, logging an arm-numbing 293 innings (325 innings was his Topps- misspelling intended), completing an astounding 24 games, 5 of them for shutouts. To put that number into better perspective, he had 19 complete games that year without the likes of Joe Nathan to relieve him and his win/loss record was 17-16. Basically, when the man took the mound, he was as likely to surrender his ground as General Custer was at HIS LAST STAND! Let’s see that occur in today’s game, while earning a fraction of the fortune that C.C. Sabathia signed for a few seasons ago!
Now, I am not pretending to be blinded by the numbers of the past simply because today’s game has changed and become more specialized/sophisticated. I am sure guys in today’s game could physically match the stats of yore, however it would be thought to be a very poor “investment” by those signing the paychecks to assume that kind of risk with these pampered thoroughbreds. After all, with all the Sabermetrics involved in today’s game, G.M.’s across the league would be losing jobs on the reg, if they were to roll guys out there with arms worked over like some Taco Bell shredded beef. Well, Bert and the gang of his generation (see Nolan Ryan’s stats if you don’t believe me) did risk it and the best of his generation should be rewarded for it, as Bert is on this occasion.
In the end, Bert was a winner and leader with each of his stops in the MLB. It flabbergasts me that these guys could pitch as many innings as they did and still keep an e.r.a. below 3 runs/game and a w.h.i.p. in the low 1.00’s– Bottom line, he was a guy that put up historical stats, competed with the heart of a lion and won World Championships playing for small market teams. As a fan of parity in professional sports, I am glad that he was able to help deliver titles to cities that really appreciate their athletes. For that reason, we should find solace in knowing Mr. B has joined the ranks of his esteemed brethren, enshrined in Cooperstown immortality!
(Btw, how are those vitamins treatin’ ya, Mr. Palmiero?? –Don’t you wag your finger at ME!!!).