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No doubt that Alomar, Blyleven belong
The annual unveiling of the Baseball Hall of Fame vote isn’t as gleeful as it once was. The specter of steroids has complicated matters. The PED bogeyman will be an unwelcome guest in these proceedings for at least another decade or two.
Yet, here’s what we had on Wednesday: Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar, two eminently qualified candidates, earning admission to the Hall.
Did every deserving candidate make it? Of course not. That’s the nature of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote, in which 75 percent support is required to gain entry.
I’m not currently part of the electorate, but if handed a ballot this year, I would have checked the boxes for Jack Morris, Barry Larkin, Alan Trammell, Edgar Martinez and Tim Raines, too.
Blyleven and Alomar, though, stood out as having the strongest cases among the group.
Until the did-he-or-didn’t-he PED question became such a weighty issue for the sport, voters were simply tasked with admitting those players who maintained the Hall’s high standards.
Many scribes held fast to certain litmus tests: 3,000 hits, 400 (later 500) home runs, 300 wins. No more. We can thank sabermetricians for broadening the scope of analysis to include more nuanced statistics and fairer comparisons.
It’s not only about the numbers. But let’s face it: Baseball is a numbers game, whether you prefer ERA or WAR. It’s absolutely fair to evaluate candidates based on where their career performance falls among players who were previously enshrined. Really, that is the point of the exercise.
And, within that context, there is absolutely no doubt Blyleven and Alomar belong.
Let’s look at Alomar first.
Ryne Sandberg, elected in 2005, is the closest thing to a contemporary that Alomar has among second basemen in the Hall. They started opposite one another in the ’91, ’92 and ’93 All-Star games. When Sandberg retired (for good) in 1997, Alomar was in the midst of his remarkable streak of 12 consecutive All-Star appearances.
Sandberg is credited with revolutionizing the position. He was the consummate pro who demonstrated that second basemen could be elite defenders and run producers. But Alomar did him one better, turning the position into a powerful ballet. Not only was Alomar a better defender than Sandberg — as measured by Gold Gloves and the eyeball test — he also finished his career with more RBI and a higher OPS.
If Sandberg deserved to be in the Hall — and he absolutely did — then Alomar is a slam dunk. He probably should have gone in last year. It’s possible that some writers levied a one-year penalty for the John Hirschbeck spitting incident. I don’t agree with that, but I get it. And it’s moot now, anyway. Alomar is in the Hall of Fame because he was one of the greatest players of his generation.
As for Blyleven . . . Well, he probably looks at Alomar’s one-year wait as something resembling a 15-minute flight delay.
Blyleven finally won his way to Cooperstown, on his 14th year on the ballot. As I wrote earlier this week, he is the first Hall of Famer whose candidacy was definitively advanced by the sabermetric community.
A lot of minds had to be changed over the years — Blyleven polled at just 17.4 percent, as recently as 2000 —– but his career achievements were ultimately placed within the proper context.
In retrospect, the case for Blyleven shouldn’t have been that hard to make. He won 287 games and could have easily hit 300, had he pitched for better teams that offered more run support. Of the six pitchers determined by Baseball-Reference.com to be his closest statistical comparisons, five are in the Hall of Fame: Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, Robin Roberts and Tom Seaver.
Blyleven went 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA in the postseason and pitched for two world champions, which satisfies the “gamer” requirement. He ranks among the top 10 all-time in strikeouts and shutouts. He was an excellent pitcher for a very long time. On Wednesday, he finally received his due.
There are flaws within the Hall of Fame selection process, and there is a painful lack of consensus on how to deal with the steroid issues. But this year, the BBWAA is sending two obvious Hall of Famers to Cooperstown. At a decidedly imperfect moment in baseball history, that’s worth celebrating.
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