Jerry Crasnick of ESPN interviewed several Hall of Famers — Craig Biggio, Tom Glavine, Jim Palmer, Barry Larkin and Bert Blyleven — to ask them their thoughts on the various controversies that tend to come up whenever the Hall of Fame is mentioned.
Things like, how to treat guys who were primarily DHs or relief pitchers. What role, if any, “character” should play in a guy’s candidacy. PEDs, obviously. It’s a pretty interesting conversation — all of the guys Crasnick speaks to have a reputation for being smarter than your average baseball player — so it’s certainly worth your time.
Blyleven’s comments were somewhat . . . curious, however. As he has in the past, he’s pretty hard on players who used PEDs while thinking Pete Rose should be in. Which, yes, a lot of you think, but the manner in which he approaches the topic is odd.
Blyleven justifies voters dinging PED guys based on the vision the Hall of Fame’s leaders, Jane Forbes-Clark and Jeff Idelson, have for their institution and “what they expect out of their inductees.” Fair. But he then laments Pete Rose not being in there without mentioning that the reason Rose has never been on the ballot is that Forbes-Clark and Idelson ruled that he not be, presumably because he is not “what they expect out of their inductees.” Maybe he doesn’t realize that’s why Rose isn’t there, I have no idea, but he comes off as praising their character judgments in one instance but slamming it in the next.
More interesting to me, however, is what Blyleven says about how Hall of Fame voters should consider sabermetrics and statistical analysis. Here he is today:
“I’m from the old school, so I don’t really get into the Sabermetrics or analytics. I try to see what’s in a guy’s heart. I’ll look at his hustle and desire and leadership and character. I don’t care what the numbers say. Sometimes they don’t show what a guy really means to a ballclub.”
Again, a lot of baseball players say that. But there is no baseball player who owes his Hall of Fame induction to sabermetrics and analytics like Blyleven does. Blyleven polled below 30 percent on his first six times on the ballot, going a low as 14% in 1999.
In 2003, Rich Lederer founded a website, The Baseball Analysts, and Lederer made it part of his mission to advance Blyleven’s candidacy. As Lederer’s campaign proceeded — joined by many sabermetric voices and fellow travelers — Blyleven’s vote totals climbed. Eventually, of course, he was elected.
Blyleven was always thankful for Lederer’s advocacy and gave him shoutouts for it. Like he did here, to the Washington Post in 2011:
“I thank all of those people in my corner trying to get me into the Hall of Fame, that the day has finally come,” Blyleven said.
Although Blyleven wasn’t viewed as one of the elite pitchers in the game during the era in which he played, his backers argued — apparently quite convincingly — that he should have been. There were the well-known “counting” stats, such as his 60 shutouts (ninth all-time) and 3,701 strikeouts (fifth all-time). But there were also advanced metrics, such as WAR and ERA+, that placed Blyleven’s career in a different light.
“[Lederer] brought out so many stats,” Blyleven said. “[He showed] it wasn’t just about wins and losses.”
To be clear: I don’t think Blyleven is contradicting himself here. It’s possible for him to be thankful for someone for bringing advanced stats to bear in support of his Hall of Fame case while still believing that his legacy is, in reality, a function of hustle and heart, like he said today.
But you’d think he’d believe there are other players who get overlooked despite having his level of hustle and heart too, and that he’d be in favor of those guys being properly assessed the way he eventually became. Sabermetircs and sabermetric advocates are how it worked for him, so you’d think he’d believe it could work for the next Bert Blyleven to come along too.
I dunno. The only definitive takeaway I have of this is that talking to ex-ballplayers is not necessarily the best way to get insight into stuff that isn’t directly related to that particular ex-ballplayer.