Blyleven fondly recalls days with Pirates

Rob Biertempfel
| Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011

Bert Blyleven's bronze plaque in the Hall of Fame will not portray him in a Pirates cap. But on the day Blyleven finally was rewarded with a berth in Cooperstown, he looked back warmly on his brief stint in Pittsburgh.

"I think of (manager) Chuck Tanner, first of all," said Blyleven, who pitched for the Pirates from 1978-80. "I think of Willie Stargell. I think of Dave Parker. Dave didn't get the votes needed to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but what a great player 'Cobra' was. Maybe somewhere down the line, the Veterans Committee will enshrine him in Cooperstown, too."

Blyleven was on 463 of 581 ballots (79.7 percent) in voting announced Wednesday by the Baseball Writers Association of America, joining Roberto Alomar (90.0 percent) as inductees. A player must have at least 75 percent approval for induction. Parker, in his 15th and final year on the writers' ballot, got 89 votes (15.3 percent).

"As a former member of the Pirates family, Bert Blyleven was an integral part of the 1979 World Championship team," president Frank Coonelly said. "The Pirates congratulate him on receiving the highest honor in baseball."

Blyleven won 287 games in his 22-year career and ranks fifth in major league history with 3,701 strikeouts. He spent most of his career with Minnesota — he's still with the Twins as a TV broadcaster — and also played for Texas, Cleveland and California.

Although he had some of the most dominant stuff of any pitcher in his era, Blyleven gained entrance to the Hall of Fame on his 14th opportunity.

"It's been 14 years of praying and waiting," he said, then laughed. "I've got to thank the baseball writers for finally getting it right."

The Pirates acquired Blyleven in December 1977 as part of a four-team trade that cost them Al Oliver and Nelson Norman. In 1979, Blyleven went 12-5 with a 3.60 ERA and won the first of his two World Series rings.

"I remember, of course, the 1979 World Series, led by Willie Stargell, Phil Garner, Ed Ott, Bill Robinson and all the players we had," Blyleven said. "I could go on and on about that '79 ballclub. Also, the fans of Pittsburgh — they love their Buccos. I had a great time there."

After the 1980 season, Blyleven was traded to Cleveland in a six-player deal. In return for a future Hall of Famer and fan favorite Manny Sanguillen, the Pirates got Gary Alexander, Victor Cruz, Bob Owchinko and Rafael Vasquez — who combined to play just 43 games for the Pirates.

However, Blyleven was happy to get back to the American League, where he could take advantage of the designated hitter rule.

"I was a terrible hitter," he said. "I wasn't like (Pirates pitchers) Don Robinson, Rick Rhoden, Jim Rooker or even (John) Candelaria. All I could do was bunt."

Notes: The Pirates yesterday lost left-handed reliever Wil Ledezma, who was claimed off waivers by Toronto. Ledezma was designated for assignment Dec. 23 to open a roster spot for lefty Aaron Thompson, whom the Pirates claimed off waivers from Washington.

Additional Information:

By the numbers

Bert Blyleven's stats during his three seasons with the Pirates:

1978: 14-10, 3.03 ERA, 34 games, 243 23 IP, 217 H, 82 ER, 66 BB, 182 K

12-5, 3.60, 37, 237.1, 238, 95, 92, 172

8-13, 3.82, 34, 216.2, 219, 92, 59, 168
Additional Information:

Rutter's ballot

Tribune-Review assistant sports editor Joe Rutter cast one of the record 581 ballots in the National Baseball Hall of Fame election. Here are the seven players on his ballot:

1. Roberto Alomar

2. Bert Blyleven

3. Barry Larkin

4. Jack Morris

5. Jeff Bagwell

6. Fred McGriff

7. Dave Parker

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