(Long Island, N.Y.) When you make the long trek north to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, one expects to see a collection of plaques of the all-time greats of the game. The quaint little town has been a place for sports fans to make a sometimes annual pilgrimage and it should go without saying that any player who isn’t a slam dunk to get in shouldn’t.
When you consider the fact that less than 300 players have been elected since the first class in 1936, thousands more have not. But that is selling the legendary players a bit short. Need an example? Cy Young had to wait a year before getting in after that inaugural quintet that included Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner.
This year’s ballot had some quality names on it, but only one (Roberto Alomar, Jr.) was a ‘sure thing.’ The BBWAA cast their votes and right-handed pitcher Bert Blyleven joined Alomar in receiving more than 75 percent of the ballots. Both will be inducted in the official ceremony on July 24.
Not taking anything away from Blyleven, but he is not Hall of Fame material. The bearded one had a very nice five-team, 22-year career, but he finished with a 287-250 record and a 3.31 ERA (in a period when that was not considered low, as it is today).
Blyleven ranks fifth on the all-time strikeout list with 3,701 in 4,969 1/3 innings, pitched 242 complete games and 60 shutouts, all impressive statistics. He was also an integral part of two World Series championship teams in Pittsburgh (1979) and Minnesota (1987).
In comparison, Johnson – better known as “Barney” or “The Big Train” – spent every one of his 21 years as a member of the original Washington Senators, not exactly a team known for winning. His career mark was 417-279 with a 2.17 ERA, 3,509 strikeouts in 5,914 1/3 innings, 531 complete games and 110 shutouts.
Johnson won two MVP Awards (1913 and 1924), led the American League in ERA five times, wins six times, innings pitched five times, starts four times, complete games six times and shutouts eight times. Blyleven led the AL in innings pitched twice, strikeouts once, starts and complete games once each and shutouts three times. No MVPs or Cy Young Awards (an accolade that was not around during Johnson’s era) for Blyleven, either.
That’s not to say that everyone has to live up to someone as gifted as Johnson, but there has been a huge drop off with the latest starters who have been elected. Don Sutton (1998) and Phil Niekro (1997) are not exactly Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton. They were not game changers or even close to being the best pitchers of their era. That should be the barometer to make The Hall. Anything less and it cheapens the overall quality of what the place was supposed to be when the hallowed halls were first occupied.