BRUCE MARKUSEN : COOPERSTOWN CONFIDENTIAL
For Bert Blyleven, a third visit to Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame has meant the most.
He first came to the village in 1980 as a member of the defending world champion Pittsburgh Pirates, in town to play the Chicago White Sox in the annual Hall of Fame game. He then returned as a member of the Minnesota Twins’ broadcast team, with whom he has worked for the last 16 years.
This time around, he visited Cooperstown for a more pointed reason: to prepare for his official induction into the Hall on Sunday, July 24.
Dressed casually in jeans and a tan jacket and sporting a crew cut, Blyleven took his orientation tour of the Hall of Fame on Tuesday afternoon, May 3. As he met with reporters in the Hall’s Plaque Gallery, he expressed reverence for the place in which he stood. “If you’re a history buff, a baseball history buff, then you’re in heaven,” said Blyleven in describing the complex that he had toured for the past two hours. “It’s a kid’s place. It’s paradise.”
Born in the Netherlands, Blyleven moved to the States with his family when he was a young boy. Though he spent only a short time in Holland, he will bring some of his own national pride to the Hall. “I’m the first Dutchman in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “That’s very special. I’m very proud of that.”
Blyleven was 6 when his family settled in Southern California. He quickly became a fan of California’s most popular major league team: “I grew up following the Dodgers. I fell in love with baseball in Southern California.”
By watching Dodgers ace Sandy Koufax, Blyleven began to hone his own standout curve ball, which would become the trademark of his long career in the major leagues. “Koufax threw a curve ball that was a drop curve. It went from top to bottom. That’s the kind of curve I threw.”
Blyleven’s father wouldn’t let him throw the curve until he was 14, out of fear that he might hurt his talented right arm. “My father was a big man. He told me not to throw a curve until I was 14, and I listened.”
The advice paid off. Blyleven became one of the most durable and dependable pitchers of his era. In a major league career that spanned 22 seasons, Blyleven posted an ERA of 3.31 and won 287 games against 250 losses. He would have won more, possibly reaching 300 victories, with better run support and better teams behind him.
(The four seasons he spent with the Cleveland Indians in the early 1980s particularly hurt his win total.) Best remembered as a member of the Twins, Blyleven spent half of his career in Minnesota, while also making stops with the Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates, the Indians, and California Angels.
Cooperstown Confidential is at http://bruce.mlblogs.