Bert Blyleven is what's great about the Hall of Fame.
I say that even though he got in without ever getting my vote. In fact, I say that in part because he got in without my vote.
|It took Bert Blyleven the maximum years' worth of votes to get in. (Getty Images)|
I say that even though Blyleven responded to his election by saying: "I thank the baseball writers for finally getting it right."
What's great about the Hall of Fame is the passion of the debate. What's great about the Hall of Fame is that it isn't easy to get in, that borderline candidates like Blyleven have a chance, but only make it if, over the course of time, their supporters win over enough converts.
What's great about the Hall of Fame is that now that he's in, Blyleven is every bit as much a Hall of Famer as Roberto Alomar (who also made it Wednesday, in his second year on the ballot) or Nolan Ryan (who made it on his first try, in 1999).
Does Bert Blyleven deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?
Absolutely, because nearly 80 percent of the voters this year say he did.
It's amazing that Blyleven could go from 14.1 percent of the vote in 1999, his second year on the ballot, to 79.7 percent and election to the Hall this year. Some will say it's because the electorate has changed over the years to the point where a mediocre win-loss record (Blyleven was 287-250 in his career) can be overlooked in the face of other numbers (60 career shutouts, ninth most ever).
There's no doubt that's a big part of it, and that's fine. But it's also true that voters' opinions of players change over time as the debate goes on.
Jim Rice never had a vote total as low as 14.1 percent, but in his first year on the ballot, not even one in three voters supported him, and years later he got in.
It's not like Rice hit any home runs between 1995 and 2009. It's not like Blyleven threw any shutouts over the past 15 years.
But it is the way the system works, and more than that, it's why the system works. It's why a player can remain on the ballot for 15 years, why players should remain on the ballot for as many as 15 years.
Sometimes it takes 15 years of debate, but over the course of 15 years of debate, we almost always do "get it right."
And what's nice is that once we do vote them in, we don't care how long it took.
As Blyleven himself said after his election, "Getting in is good enough. You have 15 years on the ballot."
Alomar said much the same thing Wednesday, when he was asked on the MLB Network about (surprisingly) not getting in last year, and then waiting.
"It was a long year, but it was worth it," Alomar said. "I'm not going to look back."
He shouldn't, Blyleven shouldn't, and we shouldn't. Some people distinguish between first-ballot Hall of Famers and all others, but I don't. And no one I know of distinguishes between second-ballot picks and 15th-ballot picks.
They're all Hall of Famers.
As Blyleven said, "I'm in with a very elite group that loves the game of baseball as much as I do."
Blyleven has never hidden that love, and he never hid his desire and hope to be elected to the Hall. That's one reason that even those of us who didn't vote for him can celebrate his election.
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Besides, it's not like I would ever argue that Blyleven was a bad player, or even just an average player. In my mind, he was very, very good -- good enough to be right on the borderline for the Hall of Fame.
Others feel the same about Jack Morris, a pitcher I vote for.
As with Blyleven, Morris' vote total has risen over the years, from 22.2 percent in his first year on the ballot (and 19.6 percent in his second) to 53.5 percent this year, the first time he's ever had support from more than half the voters.
He may never get to the 75 percent needed. With Morris, the debate will go on.
"My words to Jack are, 'Don't give up,'" Blyleven said.
With Blyleven, there need be no more debate. All that remains is celebration.
He's a Hall of Famer, a deserving Hall of Famer.
And more than that, he's what is great about the Hall of Fame.