Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Player Profile: Bert Blyleven

I have 72 cards of Bert Blyleven. This one is from 1985 Topps.

Playing career: Bert Blyleven pitched 22 years in the major leagues, winning 287 games and striking out 3,701 batters. He was an ace pitcher for some mediocre Twins and Rangers teams in the early and mid-1970s, putting up stellar numbers everywhere but the W-L record due to poor run support. In 1977, following a tumultuous September with the Rangers in which he both threw a no-hitter and flipped the bird at the camera in another, nationally-televised game, Blyleven was traded to the Pirates, where he helped the team win the world series in 1979. The next season, however, Blyleven quit on the team, leaving the club for two weeks in the middle of the season and demanding a trade. After the season he was dealt to Cleveland where he returned to putting up excellent numbers for bad clubs. In 1985 he was dealt to the Twins in August for young shortstop prospect Jay Bell. That season, pitching for two teams that would finish a combined 50 games below .500, Blyleven lead the AL in strikeouts, complete games and shutouts. He helped the Twins win the World Series in 1987, and as late as 1989, at the age of 38, Blyleven finished third in the Cy Young voting after a great season with the Angels.

My memories: I started following baseball in 1986, and that was the year Blyleven gave up a then-record 50 home runs, so I had in my mind an image of him as being not very good. However, a look at his full career indicates that he was one of the best pitchers of his era, albeit cursed to play with mostly bad and small-market teams which hurt his national visibility. Although I didn’t have a strong opinion about his Hall-of-Fame candidacy, I had no problem with his being voted into the Hall in 2011.

Where he is now: An announcer for the Twins.

Interesting facts: Blyleven was known as a prankster during his career. He gave so many “hot-foot’s” to his teammates that he was known as the “Frying Dutchman.” The “Dutchmen” part of the nickname refers to the fact that Blyleven was born in the Netherlands. His family moved to Canada when he was two and then to California, where they stayed, when he was five. He grew up thinking his name was Rikaalbert Blyleven. It was only when he was getting married that he found out his real name was Rik Aalbert Blijleven.

In 1982, while rehabbing from an arm injury, Blyleven coached a little league team. In order to make the kids look more like real big leaguers, Blyleven gave the children chewing tobacco.

Google Autocomplete results: He is second when you type Bert B, between Bert Berns, a record producer, and Bert Brodsky, a businessman swindled by Bernard Madoff.

Coming up next: The next profile will be Jay Bobel.

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