Wednesday, February 16, 2011

#98 - Bert Blyleven

It's nice how these work out sometimes. The last post with a HOF guy had a lefty pitcher on the left side. This one has a brand new Hall of Fame pitcher on the right side who was a right-handed pitcher. Here Bert Blyleven is showing a pretty intense gaze in Oakland. '73 was a pretty intense season for Bert. Despite pitching pretty well, by mid-May he was 2-6 with a 4.08 ERA and he felt his rhythm was off. It was decided that he had developed a hitch when releasing the ball which was affecting the break on his famous curveball. As a cure, a handkerchief was placed on the mound in front of the rubber and each time he completed his motion he would follow through and pick up the hanky. The exercise must have worked because he went 5-1 immediately after its employ and then went 13-10 the rest of the way. It would be his only 20-victory season. I gotta admit it's a little surprising that for all the good numbers Bert put up in '73 he doesn't get an honor card, not even a "5."

Bert Blyleven was born in the Netherlands and grew up in Canada and California. Drafted by the Twins in '69 he flew through the minors and when Luis Tiant got hurt in 1970 Bert was called up to replace him in the rotation. He threw a shutout in each of his first two starts and went 10-9 with a 3.18 ERA. He then assumed duties as ace of the Twins' staff, a position he held through early '76. At the time of this card Bert was mid-way through a streak of six years in which he would record 200 or more strikeouts a season. Continuing to put up very good pitching numbers, he continued his - barely - winning ways with the Twins through '75. In '76 frustration with the Twins' mediocre records caught up to him and he complained to management. The response was a trade to Texas during the season with Danny Thompson for Roy Smalley, Mike Cubbage, and Bill Singer. Bert kept on putting up nice numbers for his new team over the next season-and-a-half, recording around a 2.75 ERA to match a .500 record. Prior to the '78 season he went to Pittsburgh in a huge four-team trade that moved Al Oliver, Willie Montanez, and John Milner, among others.

Blyleven's move to the NL was nearly perfectly-times as he joined an emotional, rising club. For the Pirates he threw well though his ERA would move up a notch to the top side of 3.00, though it was still well better than league average. After winning 14 in '78 he went 12-5 in a '79 in which he satisfied his post-season jones, pitching superbly in the post-season, winning a game in both the playoffs and the Series. In '80 he had a losing record,was unhappy again and was traded to Cleveland prior to the '81 season. For the Indians he pitched very well in the '81 strike year, going 11-7 with a 2.88 ERA. But he then got hurt in '82 and in '83 and went a combined 9-12 with a high ERA. In '84 he came back strong with a 19-7 record, 2.87 ERA, and his highest Cy standing, third place. But in '85 Cleveland was going nowhere and when Bert asked to be traded mid-season he was sent back to the Twins in a deal that brought the Indians Jay Bell, among others. He finished strongly that season, won 17 in '86, and as the young Twins were establishing themselves rode his 15 wins with them to be a Series champ again in '87. That year he won two against Detroit and went 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA against St. Louis. A poor '88 followed - he led MLB with 17 losses - and for '89 he went to California. There he had his last hurrah, going 17-5 with a 2.73 ERA and five shutouts, winning Comeback Player of the Year. He had a subpar '90 for the Angels, got hurt in '91 and wrapped things up in '92. He went 287-250 with a 3.31 ERA, 242 complete games, 60 shutouts, and 3,701 strikeouts. He was a two-time All-Star as well and his post-season stats were quite good: 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA. He was elected to the Hall this year.

Since '96 Bert has been an announcer, establishing himself as a fun-loving opinionated color guy. While researching this post I found it pretty amusing how often he was described as "shy" when he was younger. It sure ain't the case now.

The Dutch certainly comes through in Bert's formal name. In '70 TSN gave him quite an honor. Both Topps and TSN named rookie teams and awards. Topps didn't even have Bert on its '70 team. They had Carl Morton and Les Cain. I think TSN gets the nod in this case.

Let's connect the two B boys like this:

1. Blyleven and Willie Stargell (coming up soon) '78 to '80 Pirates;
2. Stargell and Bob Bailey '62 to '66 Pirates.

1 comment:

  1. I have met Blyleven twice, once as a fan and once as press. He was excellent both times. Very nice and attentive.