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Hall of Fame lowers bar for Blyleven

Nice pitcher, Bert Blyleven, but he's no Warren Spahn. He's no Sandy Koufax. He's no Lefty Grove.

On average, Blyleven won 53.4 out of every 100 times he earned a decision. There are 69 players with pitching statistics in the Baseball Hall of Fame. In terms of winning percentage Blyleven ranks 62nd among them. Perhaps that's one reason the doors to Cooperstown were opened grudgingly Wednesday, in his 14th year of eligibility.

Yet this is the way that induction has been trending. Baseball never has been more specialized from a pitching point of view. There are middle men, set-up men and closers. The idea is to get a lead and maintain it by employing relief pitchers groomed to a specified role from the seventh inning beyond.

One would surmise that given the game's evolution, its devotion to single-tasking, starting pitchers would be held to a progressively higher standard, especially on the most fundamental of measures: wins versus losses. Instead, the bar continues to drop, limbo-style, and borderline pitchers are being admitted as if there is a quota to uphold. Blyleven is the first starting pitcher added to the HOF since Nolan Ryan in 1999, a peace offering to the logic that surely someone must be worthy.

There was a time when players with profound accomplishments suffered through inordinate waiting periods before induction. Jimmie Foxx gained the necessary 75 percent of the vote in 1951, in his seventh year of eligibility. That he was put on interminable hold, as if he had made a call to the customer service department of a major corporation, surely gnawed at Foxx. He fashioned a career beyond reproach. He's one of only five Hall of Famers to have more than 500 homers and a slugging percentage better than .600. A player resides in exclusive company when the only others in the same realm are Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams and Hank Greenberg.

It seems obvious, given that Foxx was also a five-time MVP, that before a player could be deemed qualified to receive the game's highest honor, electors scrutinized his career as if conducting an IRS audit. Rogers Hornsby won seven National League batting titles, led the league in slugging percentage nine times, in total bases seven times and was twice MVP. Yet he didn't receive more than 50 percent of the vote until his fourth year of eligibility and wasn't elected until his fifth.

Blyleven was a good pitcher, a very good pitcher, nothing more and nothing less. He won 287 games, ranking him 21st all-time on the Hall-of-Fame roster. He pitched for 22 seasons, tied for seventh among pitchers granted baseball immortality. Only two other members of the Hall have more career strikeouts. But would you use his name in the same sentence as contemporaries such as Tom Seaver (311 victories, .603 winning percentage) or Jim Palmer (268, .638) when identifying the elite pitchers of the era?

The tendency of late has been to equate longevity with dominance. Phil Niekro went 21-39 his last three seasons while pushing his career win total to 318 -- with 300 considered a plateau warranting serious consideration for induction. Gaylord Perry was 52-75 over his final eight seasons, never once finishing above .500. Yet his 314 career wins became his ticket to the Hall.

A good modern-day rule of thumb is that the more contemplation a career requires the less likely it's Hall of Fame worthy. Unless a player stands clear among his contemporaries, his candidacy should be met with skepticism.

To elect a player to a Hall of Fame is to say that few in the game's history measure up. And that's why Greg Maddux will be inducted with landslide approval in 2014. And Bert Blyleven was no Greg Maddux.


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