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This is what Blyleven is up against

Jan 7, 2010, 3:32 PM EDT

Blyleven AP.jpgIt’s generally accepted that having fallen five votes short this year, Bert Blyleven’s induction in 2011 is a foregone conclusion.  That’s certainly the sensible position. And if I had to bet, I’d wager that he makes it. Part of me still wonders, however, if we haven’t seen his candidacy’s high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

A couple of reasons for this.  The first one is hearsay, but it’s plausible hearsay. Brooks, from SPORTSbyBROOKS tweeted the following a few minutes ago: “Guy in BBWAA told me today that if Bert hadn’t campaigned so hard, he’d have gotten in LAST year.”  Sure, that’s probably just snarky chatter, but there’s no denying the fact that (a) Blyleven and his surrogates have spilled an awful lot of virtual ink on his case in recent years; and (b) that kind of thing grates on people after a while.  Backlashes have been borne of less.

The second reason is best displayed by the Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell, who spent some time today explaining why he won’t vote for Blyleven.  It was mostly about how Blyleven doesn’t feel like a Hall of Famer in his gut, but he reached for this gem to support his position:

When Chuck Tanner got him in Pittsburgh the word went around that Chuck
had decided, over BB’s protestations, to take him out of late-and-close
games because he’d never had the stomach for it. “Take him out before
he can lose.” Tanner never said it in public.

And to be fair, Tanner and Blyleven had a famous dustup in Pittsburgh because Tanner slotted Blyleven into a strict five man rotation and would take him out of games in late innings for relief pitchers, which was still fairly novel in the late 70s. But here’s Chuck Tanner, interviewed by Jerry Crasnick two years ago:

“I loved Bert because he was a competitor,” Tanner said. “Other than
that one time when his feelings got hurt, I never had a problem with
him. That son of a gun never wanted to come out of a game.”

The “never wanted to come out of a game” line is usually used to support a guy’s Hall of Fame case, not denigrate it, and Tanner certainly believes that Blyleven is a Hall of Famer. When it comes to Blyleven’s competitive fires, are we to take his manager’s word for it, or are we gonna take Boswell’s “word went around” stuff?

Doesn’t matter, because Boswell believes what he thinks Tanner believed, and Tanner’s own words to the contrary won’t dissuade him. In light of that, why should we think that Blyleven being five meager votes short of induction will give Boswell any greater reason to change his mind? And why, for that matter, should we think that Murray Chass and Jon Heyman, who come up with new reasons to vote against Blyleven every year, are simply going to cave?

At some point people become entrenched in their opinions, and the more people fight to change a person’s mind, the more that person sticks to their guns.  Boswell will die with that “word went around” crap in his head. Chass is always going to think what Boswell did in his age 38 season outweighs everything he did over the previous 17 years.  Who knows what Heyman thinks, but he sure as hell isn’t going to change his vote next year.

Again: I think Blyleven makes it next year. But I don’t think, like so many other people, that it’s a foregone conclusion.

(hat tip to BTF commenter Guapo, who found the Tanner quote in this thread).

  1. Pitchers Hit Eighth - Jan 7, 2010 at 3:44 PM

    Don’t forget the tools like Mariotti who make a point to send an empty ballot just so they can talk/write about how contrary they are.
    Can’t get in on the first ballot, but then can’t get in because they’ve been on the ballot “for years and years”?
    What a joke.

  2. Moses Green - Jan 7, 2010 at 3:53 PM

    Boswell is using an imaginary rumor he heard years ago that confirmed his suspicions. This is what most people use information for, to confirm their pre-existing biases. Boswell probably also heard a rumor that Wins and Losses are the best way to judge a pitcher.
    Wait, here’s Boswell on why Blyleven really doesn’t belong, from the same chat: “He only won 20 games one time and more than 17 only twice! ”
    Exclamation point. Although it really deserved a rimshot. What a clown. More evidence that the BBWAA should be torn down to the ground and either rebuilt or have their HOF responsibilities handed to people who understand statistics better.

  3. Josh - Jan 7, 2010 at 3:57 PM

    I’ve heard that BBWAA members don’t receive a HOF vote until they have 10 years’ tenure. If that’s true, then the voting demographic changes slightly every year, bringing in new voters (who are most likely younger than the average HOF voter from the previous year).
    It seems reasonable that these new voters are the ones for whom printed debates on HOF qualifications columns are most relevant, being that they are new voters (though to be fair, they’ve likely been thinking about these issues for many years prior). Also, since anecdotally the SABRmetrically inclined are younger writers and fans, the new voters are likely to be more receptive to statistically-grounded arguments than the average voter from the prior year.
    Also, at least every once in a while the voter pool will lose an older voter, which we can conjecture would have opposite effects to adding a younger voter.
    Is there a listing anywhere of BBWAA membership and tenure? This would allow us to see who will gain a vote next year, and perhaps inspect their columns for hints toward their disposition.
    At the very least, this slow evolution of the pool should counteract some of the petrification of opinions that Craig describes.

  4. lar @ wezen-ball - Jan 7, 2010 at 3:57 PM

    I’m with you all the way, Craig. I don’t exactly believe Blyleven won’t get in next year, but I bet his chances are a little further from 99% than most people want to admit (80%? 85%?). With the potential anti-Bert backlash that’s likely coming, he could certainly lose a few votes. And if he doesn’t make it in on try #14, it’ll be impossible to predict what would happen on #15.
    And it’s not like that would be unprecedented (… sure, Bunning had some ridiculous ballots to compete with (Yaz, Bench, Morgan), but I wouldn’t underestimate the writers’ ability to pull the rug out from somebody out of spite.
    I’d still be he’s going in, though, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if he doesn’t.

  5. John Willumsen - Jan 7, 2010 at 4:00 PM

    “At some point people become entrenched in their opinions, and the more people fight to change a person’s mind, the more that person sticks to their guns.”
    Truer words. Kind of sad indictment of human interactions really. Even calm, rational people with normal sized egos dig in their heels all the more when they are challenged, especially if they’re challenged by ideas that they struggle to fully grasp and that weren’t a part of their own personal intellectual development. It’s not a personality flaw, it’s an unfortunate characteristic of the human brain–arising, no doubt, from all sorts of evolutionary factors and random genetic mutations and so on. Of course there are people with the willingness and ability to have their minds stretched beyond what they already believe, and in the right context, almost everyone can be made to see (if not always embrace) reason. The problem is opposition is precisely the wrong context.
    I think the reasons that this debate rages on are misunderstood. This isn’t about stat heads validating themselves. Nor is about Mr. Blyleven. At it’s root, this is about justice. As I understand it, entry into the Hall of Fame improves (and possibly validates?) the lives of the people in it. And as I understand it, Bert Blyleven is someone worth rooting for as a person as well as a baseball player. These two items are debatable to some degree. What’s not debatable (in spite of how much it’s debated) is that Blyleven’s contributions to his baseball teams were such that he should be in the Hall of Fame. He helped his teams win to such a degree that he is inescapably worthy of that “honor.” So what’s blocking him? People who are having a hard time understanding concepts that are foreign to them and are based on things that can be (somewhat) difficult to understand. So this is a situation of those in a position of power denying someone something that he clearly earned simply because of intellectual laziness, ignorance, intransigence, what have you. This is a miscarriage of justice. Mr Blyleven is being denied that which he earned fairly and through years of effort. It is, therefore, incumbent on all right-thinking people to protest and protest loudly.
    Of course this brings us back to the initial problem, protesting loudly all too often not only doesn’t change minds, but creates an even stronger wall. If someone knows the way around this, please step forward. Ultimately, baseball is often an arena in which a microcosmic battle of progressiveness vs. anti-intellectualism plays out. Bert Blyleven’s HOF case is one of the many skirmishes that make up this extended battle. Here’s hoping the good guys win.

  6. KR - Jan 7, 2010 at 4:00 PM

    Boswell doesn’t actually vote for the HOF, he was just saying how he would vote if he did. The Post doesn’t let their writers vote.

  7. Largebill - Jan 7, 2010 at 4:03 PM

    Your evidence of the entrenchment is pretty good. When people have to go to great lengths to justify a position they are not likely to step back from the position. Fortunately, Bert doesn’t need a lot of voters to switch. He, as you said, will not get votes from the Heyman’s of the world. Having said that, I do think there are some who will be influenced by hearing that it is inevitable. No one hwo has been vocal against Bert will switch, but there are close to 600 voters. Is it possible that turnover alone can make a difference? New guys reach the 10 year minimum in order to vote each year and some pass on so it is not the exact same electorate each year.

  8. Hal Horn - Jan 7, 2010 at 4:13 PM

    take him out of late-and-close games because he’d never had the stomach for it. “Take him out before he can lose.”
    What a joke. Yeah, this man who *only* completed 242 games, more than Seaver or Ryan among others, “never had the stomach” for “late and close”. “Never had the stomach for late and close”, yet he completed 15 1-0 victories AND 60 TOTAL shutouts, 9th all time.
    If he “never had the stomach for late and close”, as Boswell believes, why did Tanner let him close Cincinnati out in the NLCS clinching 3rd game in ’79?
    Or more significantly, why would Tanner bring in a pitcher who “didn’t have the stomach for late, close games” with the Pirates facing elimination in Game 5 of the World Series in ’79 in the 6th inning with the score tied at 1-1?
    Boswell thinks Tanner really believes Bert couldn’t handle late and close games? Tanner’s words contradict that now, and more importantly, his actions contradicted that falsehood THEN when the chips were down.

  9. jwb - Jan 7, 2010 at 4:25 PM

    To give Boswell a bit of a break, there are couple of scenarios where Boswell and Crasnick can both be right:
    – Boswell said “the word went around. . .” not “Chuck told me many years ago, off the record. . .” So Tanner may have said something like this a few hours and a few double scotches after a maddening late inning loss to a reporter in hotel bar. Then the word went around the pressbox and was regarded as gospel by Boswell. Perhaps Tanner, is his more sober moments, never believed anything of the sort.
    – Perhaps Tanner really did believe this at the time, but has changed his opinion as one of his former players is nearing such a great honor.

  10. Frank - Jan 7, 2010 at 4:29 PM

    I am 56 years old, old enough to remember Blylevin’s entire career. He was a good pitcher with a great curve. NOT a HOF member. No Way

  11. Adam Adkins - Jan 7, 2010 at 4:30 PM

    I’d be flat out shocked if Circle Me doesn’t go in next year. 74.2%! I don’t think there are any no-doubters coming on the ballot–meaning, no doubt they go in–so Bert should have smooth sailing.

  12. Aarcraft - Jan 7, 2010 at 4:46 PM

    Thank you for that outstanding piece of objective evidence, Frank.

  13. Loren - Jan 7, 2010 at 4:59 PM

    Side note unrelated to Blylevin’s chances or the legitimacy of arguments for or against it:
    The quote from Tanner doesn’t refute Boswell’s rumor.
    “That son of a gun never wanted to come out of a game” is consistent with Tanner pulling Blylevin “over BB’s protestations”.
    Tanner may have loved the competitive fire but still not wanted him in the game.
    It’s nitpicky sure, but come on Craig, it wasn’t that long ago that you were a shyster!

  14. Paul - Jan 7, 2010 at 5:56 PM

    Craig: Just wondering, on what grounds are you attacking Boswell’s reputation as a reporter? Personally, I trust him that he’s done his work before throwing something like that out there.
    Also, read his post today a bit closer and note that he doesn’t even have a vote. Why attack a guy for not giving a good enough reason when he doesn’t even vote!

  15. Kevin S. - Jan 7, 2010 at 6:33 PM

    Why do you think Blyleven’s getting blowback from such a spirited campaign to get him elected, but Rice was able to use it to get in?

  16. Craig Calcaterra - Jan 7, 2010 at 7:36 PM

    Who’s attacking his reputation as a reporter? I have no doubt that someone once told him that Chuck Tanner once said those things. However, I take great issue with the fact that he relies on 30+ year-old hearsay to defend his views on Blyleven, when (a) his statistics speak so much louder than that hearsay; and (b) the source of that hearsay supports Blyleven for the Hall of Fame.
    As for Boswell not having a vote, hey, I missed that. But that’s kind of beside the point anyway. For one thing, he’s an influential voice, and that matters. More generally, Boswell’s position is merely indicative of many people who do have a vote, so it doesn’t diminish the point (i.e. that there are people who decided what they felt about Blyleven decades ago and will never change their minds).

  17. Phil - Jan 7, 2010 at 9:46 PM

    Hi, Frank. I can play your game. I’m 61 years old and I, too, saw all of Blyleven’s (first loss of credibility – you spelled his name wrong) career. A Hall that has room for Jim Rice, Bruce Sutter, Don Drysdale, Phil Rizzuto and all the Veteran’s Committee mistakes from the ’40s and ’70s has room for a man that’s 5th all time in SOs, pitched 60 shutouts and 15 1-0 wins.
    Sometimes it’s about quietly sustained excellence. Or to quote Maria Muldaur – “It’s not the meat, it’s the motion.”

  18. Paul - Jan 7, 2010 at 10:19 PM

    I suppose I just took this: “or are we gonna take Boswell’s ‘word went around’ stuff?” and this: “Boswell will die with that ‘word went around’ crap in his head” as knocks on his credibility. And as far as those who made up their minds and will never change, I suppose I’m in the camp that wonders why minds change 15 years after a guy retires anyway, so I’m apt to defend him for sticking to his guns.

  19. Phil - Jan 7, 2010 at 11:03 PM

    His credibility is damaged, though, by his inability to refine his view of the game when presented with new information. Hell, he doesn’t appear to even want to process that information on any level.
    He and I are contemporaries and I remember when I though he was the best writer about the game around. His view was fresh and engaging, like Pos is now (who is my son’s contemporary).
    Minds change – and should change – when new information is available. Sabremetrics has put new information into the discussion. That information should be critically reviewed and challenged just like any new evidence should have to withstand review. And there’s certainly still room for the observational approach, but we now know that a player’s career should be evaluated with all the available info.
    Remember that minds are like parachutes. They only work when they are open. Boswell – and too many of his colleagues – are non-functioning parachutes.

  20. Moses Green - Jan 8, 2010 at 6:56 AM


  21. Megary - Jan 8, 2010 at 8:57 AM

    When writers (or anyone for that matter) use statements such as “the word went around” as a backbone for conviction without any supporting evidence, then said case can be dismissed immediately. It doesn’t necessarily make the argument untrue, but as any first year law student knows, without corroborating evidence, gossip alone would never be enough to get to a jury.
    And thanks Moses Green, because not enough people use “Huzzah” anymore.

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  23. Stepanie Aruizu - Feb 4, 2010 at 10:35 AM

    Hello everyone remember the TTC guy was caught napping? Surprise surprise, yesterday a second TTC bus driver, who was already 15 minutes late decided to take his regular 7 minute ‘donut break’, leaving his passengers sitting in the bus. He even threatened the passenger that confronted him! Check it out, (and digg it to make it viral) –

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