Wednesday, January 5, 2011

On Bert: Why It's OK To Change Your Hall Vote

So on the Bad Tooth's Twitter trawl today (and if you don't know who the Bad Tooth is by now, Dear Reader, let me make it clear: his name rhymes with Bill Simmons, and his nickname derives from the late great Bill Hicks' self-hating vigil towards the show "Cops"), there was the knee-jerk (emphasis on jerk) emphasis on how Bert Blyleven's great 2010 finally got him over the hump with Hall of Fame voters. Ha ha! Bert's been retired since the mid 1990s! Stupid Hall of Fame voters, changing their minds!

A predictably dickish reaction from a predictably provincial dick, of course; had Bert done his work for some laundry that Bill cares about, he'd have been beating the drums for him now for years. (NO ONE DENIES THIS! (c) Drew Magary.) But I wanted to go beyond the jerk-on-jerk reaction and action, and get into the merits of the verb, as it were.

Is it defensible for a Hall of Fame vote to change over time?

The answer, of course, is a simple yes. And here's why.

The Hall is not a nebulous concept that exists only in the fever dreams of increasingly irrelevant print media types in an increasingly irrelevant sport. (Thanks, All Father Bud, Godfather of Salary Imbalance. Only you could shut down your sport for years and *not* get a salary cap out of it. But I digress.) Instead, it is a living and breathing business and tourist trap, set in the loveliest part of upstate New York that there is. And in years when it inducts no one... it suffers.

So there should always be a couple of new inductees every year, and when there aren't, it's correctly seen by the locals as pissy behavior. The good people of Canton, OH bring in virtual squads of new players every year, and no one seems to throw a rod about the Football Hall of Fame being cheapened. Only baseball, with its perpetual knack for being weak about things that make it strong, is capable of torturing itself for honoring too many players per year from a system of, well, more teams than have ever played before, from more countries that have ever contributed to the game than ever before, for more money than ever before. Now go put on the sackcloth and keep those induction classes down.

Bert's numbers, of course, don't look all that great; he seems to be a member of the Hall For Long And Good, rather than the Hall For Great. (What Bill James referred to, quite correctly, as Career vs. Peak Value.) But this is, of course, bullsquat. Bert at his best was among the very best, but unfortunately for him, that occurred when the teams he played for were at their very worst. And since his out pitch was a Bugs Bunny curve rather than Manly Heat or Satanic Slide, our eyes demeaned his gifts. He was better than Phil Niekro and the Knuckle Boys, but only just. And when that thing hung, and hitters launched it into Outer Mongolia, almost always with no one on base? Well, there's no way this guy is a *real* Hall of Famer. Lookit that ball go. Screw the numbers, I've got a single powerful memory!

It takes time for a single powerful memory to fade. Why that memory isn't Bert taking Jack Morris to school in a playoff game is the sad part; we are people that dwell in negativity. I just choose to dwell in Jack's, rather than Bert's, because Jack Morris was, well, an overrated sack of unpleasantness. And I'd tell you what I really think about Morris, but I've got advertisers and site engine spiders and a desire to keep eating name-brand cereal. Moving on.

In time, of course, the laundry that Bert wore, and how he got this jaw-stopping numbers in the first place, fade in importance against the numbers. We also, as a sports public, slowly get smarter about such things. (Why, more and more people realize that Brett Favre is a twerp every day.) So Bert may only be some 30 games over .500, but his ERA is remarkably lower than the media. For a very long

So it's not all that surprising why Bert's Hall of Fame numbers rose every year, and finally got over the hump with just a year of his 15-year wait on the clock. But instead of being happy for an aging man getting what he deserved, Prince Bad Tooth has to piss on the parade, because he's an only child (emphasis on child), not a Twins fan, and looking for cheap tough snark cred.

It stinks. It's wrong. It cheapens what should be one of Bert's best days of his life, and rubs the nose of people -- well, OK, sports writers -- who came to the right conclusion, albeit in their own sweet time. As if they should never consider the new relevance of the historical ledger, where we come to realize that throwing a curve that well for that long isn't exactly the baseball equivalent of winning the pitching lottery. I'm fairly sure that, all things being equal, Bert would have much prepared to have top-shelf heat for his entire career, and to have played for MLB+ franchises that would have earned him a fistful of rings.

But that's not how the game, or life, or the Hall, works. The rich don't always win. The fast aren't always the best. People who change their mind aren't necessarily hypocrites or wimps. And every Hall of Fame inductee doesn't have to come from an MLB+ market with established media geishas to tell you why only the players from their team matter.

Bert Blyleven was one of the best pitchers of his generation. Then he was one of the best pitchers of the next. He lasted a really long time, was memorable and fun to watch, didn't cheat, and didn't commit crimes against the state or game. It's not his fault that he got moved around from bad franchise to bad franchise, or that the All Star Game voters of his day didn't appreciate the value of many good innings that might not have seemed as dominant as they were, or weren't as excited as some Fidyrichian flash in the pan. He belongs in the Hall of Fame, and always did.

And anyone who wants to take that away from him? They are the people with the problem. Not Bert, and not the Hall.

Besides, they couldn't hit his curveball, either.

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