Aficionado heavily invested in Blyleven
Rich Lederer is an investment manager. Stock and bond portfolios are his thing. He is the president and chief investment officer of Lederer & Associates Investment Counsel in Long Beach, Calif.
But Lederer loved batting averages long before calculating his first P/E ratio. He is a baseball guy. His father, the late George Lederer, covered the Los Angeles Dodgers for the Long Beach Independent-Press-Telegram through their first 11 seasons on the West Coast.
Lederer has since taken up the family business — as a hobby. In 2003, he founded a baseball blog, now called BaseballAnalysts.com. He writes at night, after his real job is done. The website hasn’t made him rich or famous. Yet, his words may soon resonate through the game’s most hallowed corridors.
If Bert Blyleven is elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday, he will have Rich Lederer to thank.
Well . . . I suppose Blyleven should first thank his right arm — the one that produced 287 wins (more than Jim Palmer), 3,701 strikeouts (fifth all-time) and 60 shutouts (ninth all-time).
After that, the gratitude goes to Lederer’s noggin.
Blyleven has climbed steadily in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voting since the founding of Lederer’s website. Blyleven, who polled below 30 percent on his first six times on the ballot, reached 74.2 percent last year. That did not happen by accident.
Seven years ago, Lederer took up the cause of spreading awareness about Blyleven through sabermetric analysis. He targeted the people whose opinion of Blyleven mattered most — the hundreds of sportswriters who form the Hall electorate.
So, Lederer wrote and blogged and analyzed. He called and emailed writers. He even attended the winter meetings once — direct marketing, if you will. He targeted writers who had a national profile and might therefore influence other votes.
It has been a grassroots campaign, unlike any other in the Cooperstown annals. Lederer is demonstrating that a part-time blogger — an entity unknown to most sports fans and journalists one decade ago — can shape opinion within one of the game’s most traditional organizations.
“The only problem I have with the word ‘campaign’ is that it makes it sound like this was orchestrated with Blyleven’s blessing, and that couldn’t be further from the case,” Lederer said over the phone this week. “I’ve talked with Bert, and I’ve emailed with Bert, but we’ve never even met in person.
“I’m not even sure how to describe it. I don’t know if ‘campaign’ is the right word or not — I’m kind of at a loss. It’s just something I got behind, because I felt he was very deserving. And this is a way for me to follow in the footsteps of my dad, to put to use my love of baseball and analysis. It’s been fun.”
Fun, yes, but in a painstaking way. At this time of year, he sounds like a whip in the House of Representatives, hoping the votes come in as expected. Blyleven missed the 75 percent cutoff by just five votes last year. Lederer wants to make up the deficit now, rather than take any chances with what would be Blyleven’s 15th — and final — time on the writers’ ballot next year.
Some writers reveal their ballots ahead of time, so Lederer has a gauge of the early precincts. He described himself as “cautiously optimistic” but wouldn’t use the word “confident.” He is disappointed that one writer who supported Blyleven in the past didn’t vote for him this time. Lederer also is aware that Maury Allen, the longtime New York Post sportswriter who died last year, had been a Blyleven voter.
“I’ll admit to having sent Bert, via email, some of the early tabulations,” Lederer said. “I always tell him, ‘This is a small sample size. I’m just keeping you informed.’ ”
Overall, the outlook for Blyleven is good. Lederer’s fellow sabermetrician Chris Jaffe, of The Hardball Times, predicted Blyleven will earn admission with 80 percent of the vote.
If Jaffe’s calculation is correct, Wednesday will offer the sabermetric community another occasion to mark their growing relevance in the larger baseball discussion. Statistically minded analysts kept Blyleven’s name in the conversation long enough for the traditional writers to come around.
“For Blyleven, there has been a loud, long outpouring of commentary on various websites,” said Christina Kahrl, executive editor of Baseball Prospectus, a leading sabermetric publication.
“Thirty years ago, (voters) might make phone calls and ask each other, ‘Which way are you leaning?’ The debate, such as there was, was limited. Now, it’s more dynamic, and the Internet created an ease of access to materials. Sean Forman’s Baseball-Reference.com is there, and it’s so easy to extract information from it.
“There is no doubt that Blyleven has symbolically become ‘The Guy’ for the sabermetric community. Bert Blyleven isn’t a sabermetrician himself — that’s not the point. It’s that the dude did the stuff he did, and he deserves the credit.”
One irony is that Blyleven’s candidacy has blossomed while that of Jack Morris — who is perhaps better known to the average fan — appears to have stagnated. In 2010, Morris was nearly 10 percentage points behind where Blyleven stood at the same stage of his eligibility.
Lederer has battled the perception that Blyleven wasn’t widely viewed as a Hall of Famer during his playing career. With Morris, the opposite was true. Morris made more All-Star teams than Blyleven and finished with the most victories in the 1980s. He is remembered as a dominant pitcher in big moments, due in large part to the 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.
After that game, a story on the UPI wires began with these words: “Jack Morris may have pitched himself into the Hall of Fame Sunday night.” But two decades later, statistics are obscuring sentiment. Blyleven had the lower ERA and better WHIP, along with a very good postseason pedigree of his own.
George Lederer, who died of melanoma in 1978, didn’t live long enough to cover that memorable ’91 World Series. But he knew what historic moments looked like, having witnessed Sandy Koufax’s brilliance for four pennant-winning teams. The elder Lederer was a Hall of Fame voter himself, often showing his ballot to young Rich.
Now, his son is on the verge of delivering new perspective to the game’s ancient institution.
“The Internet flattens the world a little and allows someone like me to have a say, an audience, and indirectly participate in the discussion,” Rich Lederer said. “I enjoy that. If not for the Internet, it would be next to impossible for me to have an impact on those types of things. It’s been a great vehicle. People say there have been more words written about Bert’s candidacy than anyone else in the history of the Hall of Fame.”
If the wait ends on Wednesday, happy blog postings will spring up around the web, from mainstream and sabermetric writers alike.
Then they will face the question: Which cause comes next?