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Jack Of All Trades: Bert Blyleven

Wednesday's announcement that Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar earned election to the Hall of Fame was notable not merely for the successful Internet campaign on Blyleven's behalf or Alomar's overcoming last year's snub. In terms of transactional history, Blyleven and Alomar were part of a combined eight trades - not that common for a Hall of Fame class.

Alomar's deals, particularly the one that sent Alomar and Joe Carter to Toronto for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff, have been rehashed many times. But Blyleven's five trades have been as overlooked as his strikeout and shutout totals. That. Ends. Here.

The Minnesota Twins drafted Blyleven in the third round of the 1969 draft, but just 123 innings later, he debuted with the Twins in 1970. He quickly acclimated, pitching to a 119 ERA+ in his rookie season over 164 innings. He got better from there, posting a 132 ERA+ over his first seven seasons, though he had just a 108-101 record to show for it. (Cue his detractors.)

But on June 1, 1976, with Minnesota struggling and Texas at 25-18, the Rangers made a big move, trading Mike Cubbage, Jim Gideon, Bill Singer, Roy Smalley and $250K to Minnesota for Blyleven and utility infielder Danny Thompson. Blyleven was his usual self, pitching 202 1/3 innings after the trade at an ERA+ of 131. Thompson faded away during his final season in the majors. As for the return for Blyleven, the Twins got some solid years at third base from Cubbage, a decent half season from Singer, and Smalley became one of the best-hitting shortstops in baseball for the next half-decade.

Still, had the Rangers held onto Blyleven, he provided more value than the players Minnesota received. But the Rangers were intent on creating one of the most convoluted deals in baseball history on December 8, 1977, and Blyleven played a key role following a stellar 1977 (234 2/3 innings, 151 ERA+). Four teams, eleven players, and a large number of moving companies got involved.

The Rangers received Jon Matlack from the Mets, Nelson Norman and Al Oliver from the Pirates. The Mets received Tom Grieve and Ken Henderson from the Rangers, Willie Montanez from the Braves. The Braves received Tommy Boggs, Adrian Devine and Eddie Miller from the Rangers. The Pirates received John Milner from the Mets and Bert Blyleven from the Rangers.

The cheese stands alone.

So how did these four teams do? Well, the Rangers received just one stellar season from Matlack, whose dominant career was ruined by arm troubles. Al Oliver gave the Rangers four splendid years, with a 130 OPS+. Nelson Norman even chipped in with a season starting at shortstop in 1979. The Mets received little from Montanez, Grieve or Henderson. The Braves got a few below-average years out of Boggs, Devine and Miller. And the Pirates got three solid seasons from Blyleven and three from Milner, before Milner was dealt once again, this time to Montreal - for Montanez.

Thankfully for the sanity of this columnist, the remaining deals in Blyleven's career were the simple, two-team variety. After a bit of a down 1980, the Pirates traded the 29-year-old Blyleven and Manny Sanguillen on December 9, 1980, receiving Gary Alexander, Victor Cruz, Bob Owchinko and Rafael Vasquez from the Cleveland Indians. Once again, Blyleven provided the most value of any player in the deal, this time by a wide margin. Sanguillen never played another game in the majors, and the four players the Pirates received gave Pittsburgh little. Blyleven pitched to a 126 ERA+ over five seasons in Cleveland, even though he missed most of the 1982 season due to injury.

But after a rare season with run support - Blyleven went 19-7 for an Indians team that finished 75-87 - Cleveland decided to trade their aging pitcher, intent on adding young players. On August 1, 1985, the Twins re-acquired Blyleven for Rich Yett, Jay Bell, Curt Wardle and Jim Weaver. Blyleven was solidly above-average in 1985, 1986 and 1987 for the Twins - in that third season, helping Minnesota to a World Series crown with three postseason victories. Meanwhile, Cleveland didn't know what they had in Bell, and received the most production from the group out of Yett, a swingman who started 48 games over four seasons with the Indians, with little success to show for it.

Blyleven slumped badly in 1988, pitching to an ERA+ of just 75. About to turn 38, it appeared this could be it for him, but the Angels thought otherwise. They traded Rob Wassenaar, Mike Cook and Paul Sorrento to Minnesota for Blyleven and Kevin Trudeau. One last time, the team that traded Blyleven regretted it. While Blyleven enjoyed a renaissance at age 38, pitching to a 140 ERA+ over 241 innings, the Twins received nothing from Cook, and even Sorrento enjoyed his eventual success in Cleveland.

There are a few ways to look at the Blyleven deals. One is that while the case against him for the Hall of Fame asserted that he wasn't respected during his playing career, teams repeatedly gave up huge packages of players for Blyleven. And yet, again and again, the team trading Blyleven regretted it, usually immediately. Maybe most obviously, while Blyleven has the Internet to thank in large measure for rallying his Hall of Fame support, it is MLBTradeRumors.com that could have used the Blyleven trades. That four-team deal alone would have been the Helen of Troy of trades: the transaction that launched a thousand posts.








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