Bert Blyleven was finally inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2011. I personally believe it took way too long to get Blyleven inducted but I’m glad it finally happened for him and his family.
Blyleven was the ultimate prankster (I don’t think he’s gone into full retirement mode with the pranks/jokes). The “hot foot” was one of his favorites…must have been the reason for “The Frying Dutchman” moniker. He was the ultimate jokester. He also loves the one-liners, so much so that after the press conference to introduce him and Roberto Alomar to the media after being elected, Blyleven was asked about steroids and he responded with, “I don’t have a vote. All I know is, that when we played, we had hemorrhoids, not steroids.” (New York Times)
Bert’s always been good to me. He can go from cracking a joke one second to breaking down mechanics the next without skipping a beat. While he does like to have fun, he’s also wicked sharp, especially when it comes to the game of baseball. I see him as a passionate, genuine man who had an incredibly long and successful career…and he had a hell of a lot of fun while doing it.
Bert, an analyst and mainstay on the Twins television broadcasts, was kind enough to sit down with me for 10 minutes right before our make-up game in Minneapolis on Monday and he was as gracious, honest and as funny as I expected him to be. Here are my 5+ questions with Bert Blyleven…hope you enjoy.
VR: How have things changed for you, personally or professionally, since being becoming a Hall of Famer?
Bert Blyleven: Well, I don’t think they have. I’m the same person and I get to go to Cooperstown every year now, so that’s changed. I’m doing less games as far as the broadcasting…I’m doing 100 games of the 150, so I have a little more time off to do other things and just enjoy life a little bit more other than away from the ballpark. All in all it hasn’t really changed me.
VR: You were always known as a prankster and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that at all. As a matter of fact, I think you need some of that during the course of a long Major League Baseball season. That said, I remember having some conversations with you while I was at MLB Network about your credentials and whether or not you’d ultimately get in and on the flip side, we spoke about some of the writers out there that didn’t see your career as Hall of Fame caliber…do you think that the reputation of being the prankster and joking around as much as you liked rubbed some of the writers the wrong way?
BB: I don’t think so. Maybe some of the firecrackers I threw underneath them, they didn’t particularly care for but to me the Hall of Fame is the “writers” Hall of Fame the first 15 years. The Hall of Fame is about numbers and my numbers for 14 years stood out there and it was just the matter of that progressive incline, I guess, that I kind of went through…it just took a long time. The complete games, shutouts, wins. It’s hard to win, you guys watch it every night…I watch it every night. It’s hard to win a ball game because everything has to go your way. It’s easy to lose. I don’t know, I don’t think it did but now that I’m in, who gives a shit? <Laughter from both of us>
VR: I absolutely love it and agree with you. Do you think Jack Morris will eventually get in?
BB: You know what, I hope he does. If they look at a pitcher during a certain era, from 1979 to 1991 or ’92, nobody won more games than Jack Morris…162 games I believe (It was from 1980 to 1989 when Morris won 162 games), he completed about around 35% of his starts (Morris started 527 games in his career and completed 175 – 33%), he had shutouts (28), innings pitched (3824 IP in 18 years)…I don’t know, he’s kind of right on that border but I hope he goes in. This is his last year on the ballot and I’m pulling for him but then you have Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, 2 300-game winners and then you have Frank Thomas. If Jack doesn’t go in, then he’ll then go to the Veteran’s Committee where I had the opportunity and I hope to continue to do that, to be on the 16-man panel that elected 3 guys in this year…Deacon White, Hank O’Day & Jacob Ruppert.
VR: That said, are you ok with how the Hall of Fame voting currently conducts it’s balloting?
BB: I wish they would control that a little bit better, Victor, only because Vin Scully doesn’t vote. Dick Bremer, my play-by-play partner, has been doing this for 30 years and he’s seen baseball, he knows who’s good and who’s not and who might deserve to be in. The sad part sometimes is that you hear some writers don’t even vote. Sad part is I heard one year a writer passed away but the ballot was still sent out to him because it was during that time and some intern voted. I remember when, and not knocking Jim Deshaies, but when he was on the ballot because he pitched over 10 years, there was a Houston writer that voted for him for the Hall of Fame and to me, I’m sorry, he should not have the right to vote anymore. You have to take that Hall of Fame ballot with a lot of pride. I believe in my first year there were 375 writers that vote and now I believe there’s over 500 that have that opportunity. There are guys that get a ballot that haven’t seen a baseball game in 20-30 years, so that’s the area I think they should control better or do it more with the guys that are in that era of who they’re voting for.
VR: So you’ve cut back on your schedule, hanging out with the family but you were the pitching coach for The Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic. Has that sparked any interest for you of becoming a pitching coach at the minor or major league level?
BB: To be honest with you, I’ve asked the Twins because I live in Ft. Myers and I’d love to come out and they’ve only responded to me one time and that was after I got into the Hall of Fame. They wanted me to come out and be there for only a week & it’d be more of an autograph session. If the opportunity comes one day, I think I would look at it if the pitching coach job came up. I’m at that point now where I’d think that’d be very exciting. I look at what the WBC…I mean, we did well in 2009. We beat the Dominican team twice and we really pissed them off because they didn’t lose a game this year but we got to the Finals. So, yea, I love talking pitching. The game has changed though, Victor. Pitchers today…I can go sit in the dugout and they don’t talk pitching. When I came up, my fondest memory was sitting in Anaheim Stadium talking to Don Drysdale about pitching. When I came up at the age of 19, I picked the brains of Jim Perry and Jim Kaat, my two teammates. Jim Kaat’s a guy that hopefully goes into the Hall of Fame one day but Jim Perry won the Cy Young in 1970, why would I not want to learn from them? They’ve been through the competitive battles out there and I picked everybody’s brain I could. Players today don’t seem like they want to do that but it is what it is.
VR: You’re favorite player all time?
BB: Oh boy! Harmon Killebrew, Willie Stargell and Kirby Puckett. Not only great players, Hall of Famers…just great people.
VR: Toughest guy you faced?
BB: Uh, anybody with a bat most times. I think Ron Kittle has the most home runs against me (Kittle’s career numbers v. Blyleven – .318/9/16 in 44 at-bats). I didn’t like him…I saw him in Chicago earlier this summer and I told him, “I still don’t like you.” He saw me well. There are certain hitters that you can tell that they just see the release and see the ball quickly and Kittle was one of those. I had better success when I changed my angle toward him but it took me awhile…duh, I’m a pitcher, I’m Dutch, took awhile. I respected every hitter up there and hopefully they respected me an amount because if they didn’t, I’d give them one right in the ribs.
As always, feel free to reach me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Just livin’ the dream…