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.
We wrote a lot about Casey Kelly on this site circa 2010-12.
It was understandable. Kelly was a big-time draftee for the Red Sox and famously split time as a shortstop and a pitcher in the minors, with some people even wondering if he could do it full time. The Sox put the kibosh on that pretty quickly, as he became the top overall prospect in the Boston organization as a pitcher. He then made news when he was sent to San Diego — along with Anthony Rizzo — in the famous Adrian Gonzalez trade in December 2010.
He made his big league debut for the Padres in late August of 2012, holding a pretty darn good Atlanta Braves team scoreless for six innings, striking out four. He would pitch in five more games in the season’s final month to not very good results but missed all of 2013 and most of 2014 thanks to Tommy John surgery.
He wouldn’t make it back to the bigs until 2015 — pitching only three games after being converted to a reliever — before the Padres cut him loose, trading him to the Braves for Christian Bethancourt who, like a younger Kelly, the Padres thought could be a two-way player, catching and relieving. That didn’t work for him either, but I digress.
Kelly made a career-high ten appearances for a bad Braves team in 2016, was let go following the season and was out of the majors again in 2017 after the Cubs released him a couple of months after he failed to make the team out of spring training. He resurfaced with the Giants this past season for seven appearances. The Giants cut him loose last month.
Now Kelly’s journey takes him across the ocean. He announced on Instagram last night that he’s signed with the LG Twins in the Korean Baseball Organization. He seems pretty happy and eager about it in his little video there. I don’t blame him, as he’ll make $1 million for them, as opposed to staying here and almost certainly winding up in a Triple-A rotation making $60K or whatever it is veteran minor leaguers make.
This was probably way too many words to devote to a journeyman heading to play in Korea, but we so often forget top prospects once they fail to meet expectations. We also tend to forget all of the Tommy John casualties, focusing instead on the Tommy John successes. As such, I wanted to think a bit about Casey Kelly. I hope things work out well for him in the KBO and a baseball player who once seemed so promising can, after a delay, find success of his own.