Sunday, January 6, 2013

#280 Bert Blyleven - Cleveland Indians

Bert Blyleven appears on his 13th Topps card with and without his beard.  Blyleven only pitched four games in '82 so I wonder if they actually got a photo from that year.  The inset looks like a spring training background for sure.  Hard to say if the action picture is from '82 or earlier. 
Baseball Card Database
Player: Bert Blyleven was drafted in the third round by the Twins in 1969 and debuted in June of 1970, having just turned 19 two months earlier.  The young curveballer did well, winning 10 games with a 3.18 ERA.  His ERA+ of 119 began a streak of ten seasons of 108 or better.  Blyleven was an effective and durable pitcher for a long time.  From '71 to '76 he pitched at least 275 innings with 224 or more strikeouts.  Twins skipper Frank Quilici usually left his sturdy hurler in the game until the outcome was decided.  Over the '72-'74 seasons he received a decision in 105 of his 115 starts.
1973 was his best year as he racked up 9.4 WAR logging an impressive 325 innings, with 20 wins, and 9 shutouts. Somehow he flew under the radar and was just an All-Star once in the 70s. Blyleven was involved in a feud with management over his pay and the hostility spilled over to the fans. As he was leaving the field on 5/31/76 down 3-2, he was taunted by the home crowd to the chorus of "Bye, Bye, Bertie". Blyleven was traded to the Rangers the next day. He missed several starts in '77 with a groin injury but finished strong with a no-hitter against the Angels on 9/22/77.

After the '77 season he landed in Pittsburgh after a four team, twelve player trade between the Rangers, Mets, Braves, and Pirates. He pitched for the Pirates from '78 to '80 and although he won just 34 games, he was solid earning 9.1 WAR and pitching brilliantly in the '79 NLCS and World Series. After the 1980 season he was traded to the Indians in a six-player deal. He pitched well in '81 (2.88 ERA) and as the Indians undisputed ace his elbow injury that cost him all but four games in '82 was a huge blow to the team. The next year Blyleven made just 24 starts as injuries limited him to six games in the second half.

Blyleven rebounded with a 19 win season in '84. He missed three weeks which cost him a shot at 20 wins but was otherwise healthy. In August of '85 he was sent packing, dealt to Minnesota his original team. He combined to start 37 games between the two franchises with an amazing 24 complete games and 293 innings. He topped the AL in those categories along with 37 starts and 206 strikeouts. He remained durable and moderately effective the next two years working 538 frames with a 4.01 ERA. He gave up a record 50 HR in '86 and 46 more in '87 but won 32 games over the span. Along with lefty Frank Viola, Blyleven led the Twins pitching staff and were unlikely winners of the '87 World Series.

Blyleven was hit hard in '88, allowing 240 hits and 125 earned runs in 207 innings. Following the tough season he was traded to the Angels. He had a heck of a comeback in '89 with a 2.73 ERA, an AL best 5 shutouts, and a nifty 17-5 record for the Halos. He made 23 mostly ineffective starts in '90 and was out the rest of the year with rotator cuff surgery, usually a death sentence to pitching careers. Blyleven sat out his age 40 season recovering and came back for one more year in '91. He won just 8 of his 24 starts and retired with 287 W's for his 21 year career.  

Baseball Card Database
Flipside: Blyleven has both his wins noted at the bottom.  His next two starts weren't good allowing 10 runs in 6.1 innings before he was shelved for the year.
Oddball:  When frustrated Blyleven was prone to giving the bird.  Blyleven had trouble controlling his middle digit which hastened his way out of both Minnesota and Texas.  As mentioned his first go around with the Twins ended with the fans taunting him as he left the mound Blyleven responded with the classic F--- you gesture and later as a Ranger he flashed it on national TV.  In '86 he flipped off Oriole fans and was fined. 
History:  Born in Holland, Blyleven came to Canada as a baby and later moved to California.  He had a wonderful career winning World Series with the Pirates and Twins.  Often overlooked, he only was named to two All-Star teams and received Cy Young votes just four times, never finishing better than third.  He earned 90.7 career WAR which is 12th best among pitchers all-time.  Despite his great career stats his lack of single season accolades kept on him out of the Hall of Fame for a long time until he received enough votes in his 14th year of eligibility.
I've created a new blog called Oddballs.  If you like the Oddball section of the '83 Topps Blog you will probably dig it.  Check it out here.

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