Growing up in the 1970’s, I was often told that a “curveball” didn’t really curve; it was just an optical illusion.
To that assertion, I had a two-word answer: Bert Blyleven.
No, he was not the greatest pitcher of all time, but he may have had the greatest curve ball of all time, or at least the greatest I have ever seen. That thing curved, and don’t tell me it didn’t. Hitters sure as hell thought it curved — that’s why Blyleven struck out 3,701 of them, 5th all time.
For years, he waited for the call from the Hall of Fame, and it never came, mainly because he retired with 287 wins, 13 short of the magic 300 that would have gotten him in on the first ballot. (A good equivalent is Sam Rice, who retired in 1933 with a lifetime .322 average, but “only” 2,987 hits — and so had to wait nearly three decades for someone to wake up and vote him in.).
Blyleven might be the recipient of the best Chris Berman nickname ever — Bert “Be Home” Blyleven. (Berman had a chance to beat that one in the early 90’s, when the Chargers had a running back named Natrone Means. Imagine the possibilities: a friend of mine pushed hard for Natrone “The Ends Justify the” Means, but Berman went with “Natrone Means Business,” which was really a huge wasted opportunity.).
In any event, the injustice to Blyleven is over. The Hall of Fame announced today that he’s in (together with Roberto Alomar, who had the good sense to get to 3,020 hits before retiring UPDATE: 3,020 was the total for Rafael Palmiero, still under a cloud — justifiably — for steroid use.). Congratulations to both, but especially Blyleven, who has been more patient than he should have been.