A lot of the resistance to Bert Blyleven’s Hall of Fame candidacy is based on the notion that, while he was pitching, no one thought of him as a Hall of Famer. I think that’s definitely the case. I wasn’t really aware of him as a player — as opposed to a random 1970s baseball card — until the early 80s, and no one at that time was calling him a lock for the Hall. Steve Garvey? Oh yeah, but not Blyleven.
Today Wezen-Ball has a fantastic post, looking at what was being said and written about Bert Blyleven back when he was a young pup in the early-to-mid 70s. lar quotes two old Sports Illustrated stories about Blyleven extensively, and the upshot is clear: everyone thought he was talented; few thought he could truly pitch. lar rightly notes that this impression clearly stuck. Everyone who cared about sports was reading SI in those days and it likely led to the slog that has been Blyleven’s Hall of Fame campaign. A hurdle that, one assumes, is about to be overcome.
In those terms I understand the anti-Blyleven lobby. It’s not easy to change one’s long-held perceptions. But when it comes to the Hall of Fame, it’s essential. Our perceptions of ballplayers are formed when they are young and are based on a handful of games or early accomplishments. Hall of Fame cases, in contrast, are meant to take in entire careers. Because of that, the process rewards those who make an early splash and penalizes those whose greatness is based on a late bloom or sustained excellence.
If you came from another planet in 1965 and watched baseball for the first time, you’d never think Ernie Banks was a Hall of Famer. Same with Ken Griffey Jr. in 2001. Likewise, if you stopped looking at Bert Blyleven objectively in the mid-70s, you could have easily missed out on what made him great. But all three are Hall of Fame players. And, hopefully, all three will be able to call themselves Hall of Famers soon.