Riding the Curve
Bert Blyleven Baffled Hitters with His Breaking Ball
By SAMANTHA CARR
December 13, 2009
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Bert Blyleven struck out batters at a rate matched by few in big league history.
“It (his curveball) was nasty, I'll tell you that,” said Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson. “Enough to make your knees buckle. Bert (Blyleven) was a terrific pitcher – a dominating pitcher.”
|Bert Blyleven is one of 26 players on the BBWAA ballot for the Class of 2010 at the Hall of Fame. (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)|
Blyleven is one of 26 players on the 2010 Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot for the Class of 2010 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Blyleven returns to the BBWAA ballot for the 12th year after receiving 62.7 percent of the vote in 2009.
Among players not currently on the BBWAA ballot, Gil Hodges is the only candidate to receive over 60 percent in any one BBWAA election and not eventually be elected to the Hall of Fame.
BBWAA members who have at least 10 years of tenure with the organization can vote in the election, and the results will be announced Jan. 6. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all BBWAA ballots cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2010. The Induction Ceremony will be held July 25 in Cooperstown.
Rik Aalbert Blyleven was born in Zeist, Holland, on April 6, 1951, and was raised in Southern California. He became interested in baseball when his father took him to see Sandy Koufax pitch for the Dodgers. He was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the third round of the 1969 amateur draft.
He became the youngest player in the majors when he was called up to the Twins on June 2, 1970, after just 21 minor league starts. He gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, Lee Maye of the Senators, but got the win and nine more that season – and was eventually named A.L. Rookie Pitcher of the Year by the Sporting News.
In 1973, Blyleven won 20 games and threw 325 innings. After five years with 200-plus innings pitched and 15-plus wins for the Twins, he requested a trade and went to the Texas Rangers.
Blyleven threw a no-hitter in his last start of his first year with the Rangers against California on Sept. 22, 1977. It was his first start in two weeks healing from a pulled groin. He aggravated the injury at the end of the game and pitched the ninth inning throwing only curveballs to avoid pain.
Often considered to have the toughest curveball of his time, Blyleven threw two different types, the “roundhouse” and the “overhand drop”. He gripped both like a fastball and used a balanced, full follow-through to get movement.
“People used to talked about (Dwight) Gooden's hook, I swear Blyleven's was better,” said Hall of Famer Goose Gossage. “I've never seen anything like it – then or now.”
After the 1977 season, he was traded to the Pirates in a rare four-team trade. The Pirates won the World Series in 1979 and Blyleven went 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in the Series.
He was traded to Cleveland after the 1980 season, and in 1982 was sidelined by an elbow injury and only started four games. He came back strong in 1984, going 19-7 – missing another 20-win season because he missed starts due to a foot injury.
In 1985, Blyleven went back to Minnesota. The following year he established a league record with eight seasons with 200 or more strikeouts. 1987 marked his ninth season with 15 or more wins, and he led the Twins to the World Series with two ALCS wins and another in the World Series.
At age 38, he went to the Angels where he went 17-5 with a 2.73 ERA – possibly his best season – in 1989. For his efforts – from losing 17 games in 1988 and winning 17 games in 1989 – Blyleven won the A.L. Comeback Player of the Year Award.
"The problem with being Comeback Player of the Year is it means you have to go somewhere before you can come back," said Blyleven.
He retired in 1992 after 22 seasons. Blyleven finished his career with 3,701 strikeouts, which still ranks fifth on the all-time list. The other top 16 career strikeout pitchers who are eligible for the Hall of Fame have all been elected to Cooperstown.
He won 287 games, threw 60 shutouts (good for ninth on the all-time list) and posted 242 complete games.
Blyleven is one of only three pitchers to ever win a major league game before his 20th birthday and also win a major league game after his 40th birthday. In 1996, he became a full-time color commentator for the Twins.
“He was as good as there was for a long time,” said Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett. “Bert is up there with the toughest four or five guys I faced in my career.”
Samantha Carr is the media relations coordinator at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum