Thursday January 7th, 2010

When the clock struck two in the afternoon, Bert Blyleven and his wife, Gayle, sat down in their Fort Myers, Fla., home to watch the Hall of Fame voting results on the MLB Network.

Blyleven was again disappointed by the results -- in this, his 13th year on the ballot, he missed election by a scant five votes out of 539 cast -- but encouraged that he received nearly 12 percent more votes this year than last, moving within a point (74.2 percent) of the necessary 75 percent.

According to the BBWAA, Blyleven's five-vote margin was the fifth smallest in history. Nellie Fox (1985) and Pie Traynor (1947) both missed by two votes; Billy Williams (1986) and Jim Bunning (1988) both missed by four. All of them were eventually elected.

"I have to take the good and the bad," the longtime pitcher said in a telephone interview later in the afternoon. "It's been a long ride, with a lot of ups and downs. There's been some venting on my side, but I think today it's more joyous than negative."

He was gracious in defeat, even calling into the MLB Network show to congratulate the lone electee, Andre Dawson, and to thank the increasing support he's received, up from a low-water mark of just 14.1 percent of the votes in his second year on the ballot in 1989.

About this time last year Blyleven, the 22-year veteran who amassed 287 wins, 242 complete games and 3,701 strikeouts with the Twins and four other teams, said that the waiting game was "frustrating" and, after rattling off several of his key statistics, pronounced them to be "definitely Hall of Fame numbers." On Wednesday afternoon, however, he spoke positively about the support he's received on the Internet, particularly from Rich Lederer of and Bill Hillsman, who created the Web site, Lederer, in particular, has been a voracious defender of the pitcher's credentials, so much so that his company's site has a dedicated "Bert Blyleven Series" section with 27 stories.

"Out of all of this, I've found some new friends," Blyleven, now a Twins broadcaster, said. "Hopefully, that'll help some of the naysayers go on the other side of the fence."

He at least has the backing of many of his peers, noting phone calls, text messages, e-mails and handwritten notes from the likes of Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew and Brooks Robinson and former teammates Rick Sutcliffe, Frank Viola and Dave Boswell, to name a few. By 5 p.m., Blyleven said he still had another 30 phone calls to return.

Also aiding his case has been a growing awareness among writers that a pitcher is not the sole determiner of his won-lost record. Alongside Blyleven's 287 wins, after all, are 250 losses. Blyleven points to this year's Cy Young award winners, Zack Greinke of the Royals and Tim Lincecum of the Giants, as examples of this progressive thinking; neither of those pitchers was close to his league's wins lead.

Blyleven admitted that "of course" he'd rather go in by the writers' ballot than by the veterans' committee -- a panel of former players who revisit Hall candidates five years after their 15 years on the ballot expires -- but said he wouldn't advocate a change to the voting process.

"It's been this way forever, so why change it?" he said. "Even though the fans would probably have a big input on whether somebody goes into the Hall of Fame or not, it's been the sportswriters' honor to do what they do. These guys have worked very hard at being beat writers. How you get on that, I'm not really sure, but 10 years [to gain voting rights] is a long time. A lot of these guys take a lot of pride in the voting."

Five writers this year submitted blank ballots, but even had those five not voted at all, Blyleven would still have fallen short, with 74.8 percent.

Blyleven is in a precarious place, watching his career be scrutinized for Hall worthiness perhaps more than any prior candidate, thanks to revised attitudes toward certain statistics and the accessibility of the Internet. He'll have two more chances on the writers' ballot. Voting momentum being what it is, he's a very likely candidate for enshrinement in 2011, but after a baker's dozen of misses, Blyleven has learned to take nothing for granted.

"I am looking forward to next year," he said, "but I'm not counting on it that I'll go in."

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