Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven elected to the Hall of Fame

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The votes are in, and two have been chosen for immortality: Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven are Hall of Famers.

Alomar received an even 90%.  Blyleven got 79.7%. Just short: Barry Larkin with 62.1% and Jack Morris with 53.5%. Other notables include Lee Smith (45.3%); Jeff Bagwell (41.7%); Tim Raines (37.5%) Edgar Martinez (32.9%), Mark McGwire (19.8%) and Rafael Palmeiro (11%). The player with the lowest vote total who garnered enough votes to return to the ballot next year is Juan Gonzalez, with 5.2%.  Everyone below 5% will be removed.  There is much to be chewed over in the actual vote totals — and I do so here — but for now, let’s focus on the inductees.

A 12-time All-Star and a 10-time Gold Glove winner, Roberto Alomar was the premiere second baseman of his era. He came up with San Diego in 1988, where he played well — not necessarily great — in his age 20 through 22 seasons. His promise was apparent, however.  Alomar truly burst onto the scene when he was made part of one of the more notable trades in baseball history: along with Joe Carter he was sent to the Toronto Blue Jays for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez. In Toronto his offense ticked-up and he began his string of six-straight gold-glove seasons.  More importantly he was arguably the most important player on the Blue Jays’ back-to-back World Series championship teams in 1992 and 1993.

A free agent following the 1995 season, Alomar joined the Orioles. There his offensive contributions continued to rise — along with the league’s as a whole — and so did his profile, both for better and for worse. The better part: he was truly a national star by the mid-90s. The worse: the September 27, 1996 incident in which he spit in umpire John Hirschbeck’s face during an on-field argument. An ugly scene, the incident has continued to follow Alomar over the years despite Hirschbeck’s public forgiveness. It likely prevented Alomar from being inducted last year, his first year of eligibility.

Alomar had three more years as an elite player following his stint in Baltimore, and they came in Cleveland where he formed one of the greatest double play combinations in modern history with Omar Vizquel between 1999 and 2001. As almost always seemed to be the case, Alomar’s teams won a bunch of ballgames, with Alomar himself playing a key offensive and defensive role.

Alomar fell off a cliff following a trade to the New York Mets prior to the 2002 season, however, and he spent his final three seasons bouncing around the league. That precipitous decline notwithstanding, Alomar finished his career with a line of .300/.371/.443, and compiled 2,724 hits, 210 home runs and 1,134 RBI.  That, combined with his stellar defense, makes him one of the best second baseman of all time, and one of the most well-rounded players in baseball history.

Bert Blyleven was a study in sustained excellence.  While never viewed as truly great during his career — in part because he pitched a time when more elite pitchers roamed the Earth than any other — Blyleven’s Hall of Fame resume is nonetheless undeniable.

Given all the ink that has been spilled over his candidacy, his career accomplishments need little introduction. It’s worth noting a final time, however, that since 1900, Blyleven ranks 5th in career strikeouts, 8th in shutouts, and 17th in wins. There are only seven other pitchers who rank in the top 20 in those three categories, and they are all Hall of Famers. While many have knocked him for his propensity to give up home runs, five of the seven guys who gave up more homers than Blyleven are Hall of Famers themselves: Robin Roberts, Fergie Jenkins, Phil Neikro, Don Sutton and Warren Spahn.  He may not have “felt” like a Hall of Famer to some, but he is a deserving one by any measure.

Part of the “feel” argument used against Blyleven for so many years was the result of him not playing for many truly high-profile teams. The Twins, Rangers, Indians and Angels never grabbed the headlines during Blyleven’s tenure, and the late-70s Pirates had bigger stars holding the attention of the press. Blyleven’s national reputation was probably cemented by a couple of random Sports Illustrated articles written early in his career, in which he was portrayed as a talented pitcher who was somehow incomplete. But he grew as a pitcher after that, and he made each of his teams better even if they didn’t always support him like other elite pitchers tend to get supported. Indeed, Blyleven’s run support was among the worst ever for a pitcher of his caliber. Of Blyleven’s 250 losses, nearly 30% were by one run. In all, he lost 115 games by two runs or less. If a starting pitcher’s job is to give his team a chance to win, Blyleven more than held up his end of the bargain.

It was a long time coming for Bert Blyleven. And, as was noted yesterday, this day may never have come for him had it not been for the efforts of a few Internet zealots pushing his case.  Thank goodness for the zealots, though, because they were right to push it.

Congratulations to Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven. Always elite, now enshrined among the elite.

Marcus Stroman named World Baseball Classic MVP

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United States starter Marcus Stroman was named Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic after helping lead the U.S. to its first ever WBC title on Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. Stroman flirted with a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a double to lead off the seventh before being relieved by Sam Dyson.

Stroman also pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic in Pool C play on March 11. He struggled in Pool F play against Puerto Rico last Friday, surrendering four runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The WBC MVP award understandably goes to a player of the winning team. However, Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands deserves special mention. In 26 at-bats during the WBC, he hit a double and had a WBC-high four home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored while putting up a .615/.677/.1.115 batting line. That’s MVP-esque as far as this tournament is concerned.

U.S. blanks Puerto Rico 8-0 to win first World Baseball Classic title

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The United States handed Puerto Rico its first loss in the World Baseball Classic, winning 8-0 for its first title in the fourth iteration of the tournament.

Puerto Rico starter Seth Lugo was matching Marcus Stroman zero-for-zero through the first two innings, but the U.S. broke out for a pair of runs when Ian Kinsler deposited a two-run home run just beyond the fence in left-center at Dodger Stadium. The U.S. tacked on two more in the fifth on RBI singles from Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen, pushing the lead to 4-0.

Meanwhile, Stroman was dealing. The right-hander, normally seen in a Blue Jays uniform, held Puerto Rico hitless through his first six innings, giving up just a lone walk. The U.S. put together a long rally in the top of the seventh, scoring three runs on three hits, two walks, and a hit batter. Stroman came back out for the seventh but immediately served up a double down the left field line to Angel Pagan. U.S. manager Jim Leyland immediately lifted Stroman from the game, bringing in Sam Dyson who escaped the inning without any further damage.

Pat Neshek allowed a leadoff single to Yadier Molina to begin the eighth, but induced a double-play, then worked around a two-out walk by striking out Kenny Vargas to end the frame.

In the ninth, David Robertson took over. He induced an infield pop-up from Enrique Hernandez. After Pagan singled up the middle, Francisco Lindor sharply grounded out to Eric Hosmer at first base for the second out. Finally, Robertson closed it out, inducing Carlos Correa to ground out to third base, making the U.S. 8-0 victors over Puerto Rico to win the World Baseball Classic.

Puerto Rico had an admirable run, defeating Venezuela, Mexico, and Italy to get out of Pool D undefeated. Then, in Pool F, it beat Venezuela again as well as the U.S. and the Dominican Republic to move to the semifinals. It narrowly edged Netherlands 4-3 in the semifinals to get into the finals.

The U.S. lost to the D.R. but beat Canada and Colombia to get out of Pool C. In Pool F, the U.S. lost to Puerto Rico and defeated the D.R again as well as Venezuela. The U.S. took down Japan in the semifinals to advance to the finals to play Puerto Rico.

The U.S. joins Japan (twice, 2006 and ’09) and the Dominican Republic (2013) as countries to win the World Baseball Classic. The 2017 tournament was a rousing success, setting attendance records, drawing over one million fans to ballparks to take in the games. It will hopefully encourage commissioner Rob Manfred and others to make a concerted effort to make the 2021 tournament bigger and better.