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.


35 Responses to Jack Of All Trades: Bert Blyleven Leave a Reply

  1. start_wearing_purple 5 years ago

    Wow, I didn’t realize the Jays got Alomar and Carter in the same trade. That’s gotta be a top 5 all time trade for the Jays.

    • studio179 5 years ago

      No disrespect, maybe you were not old enough…it’s kind of a well known trade. Also, it is higher than top 5 in Blue Jay’s history.

      • I can agree with that. That trade pretty much set up the Blue Jays World Series run.

        • Jon 5 years ago

          Depends what you mean by set up. The Jays had one of the better clubs in baseball for a number of years before the trade, averaging 91 wins the prior six years, including season winning 99 and 97 and had nine winning season in-a-row. So the Jay had a strong team before the trade.

          And the Alomar/Carter trade wasn’t the only move that made from Dec. 1990 until the world series win. The Jays also traded for Devon White, David Cone and Juan Guzman and signed free agents Jack Morris and Dave Winfield. And John Olerud was called up and came into his own.

          As for the Alomar/Carter trade itself, Mcgriff would prove to be a better player than Carter; the Jays still got the edge in the trade because Fernandez fell apart as a player while Alomar had a hall-of-fame career.

          No doubt getting Alomar helped with two titles but so too did having a strong team to build upon and making a half dozen trades and free agent signings.

          • bbbman 5 years ago

            Until the Alomar/Carter trade, the Jays were considered a good team that could never win the important games. Alomar’s key home run in the 92 ALCS changed that.

          • Red_Line_9 5 years ago

            There’s a reason Toronto GM Pat Gillick is also a Hall of Famer.

      • start_wearing_purple 5 years ago

        You have dishonored me sir. I challenge you to a du-el!

        No disrespect taken. I like to think I know a lot about baseball history, but frankly all I really ever studied about the Jays was the current farm system and whether or not they were a threat to the Red Sox each year. By the time of this trade all I really knew about baseball was Roger Clemens was supposed to win when he was on the mound and “Isn’t Mike Greenwell so cool.”

        • studio179 5 years ago

          “You have dishonored me sir. I challenge you to a du-el!”

          Maybe not your intention, but an old Homer Simpson reference…I like it!

          • start_wearing_purple 5 years ago

            Actually, that was my intention. Glove Slap!

          • studio179 5 years ago

            As the Colonel would say…I accept your challenge, sir!

  2. BaseballRulez252525 5 years ago

    The only downside to Bert going into the Hall of Fame is we won’t hear tear the HoF apart for not making it.

  3. bleedDODGERblue 5 years ago

    Lovin the link to the story so that it doesnt take up so much space. Good one

  4. chances the jays win either WS with Mcgriff and Tony instead of JC and RA?

  5. vonhayesdays 5 years ago

    Ha zaa to you Bert old boy , next up Jack Morris

    • Ortue 5 years ago

      I think if anyone really looked at Bly’s record, forgetting his name was on it, they would conclude he wasn’t HOF material.Yeah, he’s a great human being and his popularity has been elevated by his presence as Twins color guy, but please…the HOF selection is so political it drives me nuts….both for and against players.

      • BaseballFanatic0707 5 years ago

        If a sensible baseball fan looked at his numbers without seeing his name, they would immediately conclude he should have been in years ago, since a win-loss record should not be completely indicative of a pitcher’s resume for the HOF. It’s a forgone conclusion among many people that post here.

        Either you were being sarcastic, I misread your comment, or you’re just being silly.

    • ellisburks 5 years ago

      Jack Morris is NOT a Hall Of Fame pitcher. Just a good pitcher for a long time. He was never the best in his league in any year and happened to be lucky that he pitched for The Tigers who had very good teams during his time there. If Blyleven could have pitched with the Tiger’s offense and defense behind him he would have won 200 games easily. Jack’s numbers, even his counting stats, are not really Hall worthy. Just good enough for him to be at the window looking in.

  6. jimmymfb 5 years ago

    i cant believe how many former indians are named in these trades

  7. Jon 5 years ago

    Depends what you mean by set up. The Jays had one of the better clubs in baseball for a number of years before the trade, averaging 91 wins the prior six years, including season winning 99 and 97 and had nine winning season in-a-row. So the Jay had a strong team before the trade.

    And the Alomar/Carter trade wasn’t the only move that made from Dec. 1990 until the world series win. The Jays also traded for Devon White, David Cone and Juan Guzman and signed free agents Jack Morris and Dave Winfield. And John Olerud was called up and came into his own.

    As for the Alomar/Carter trade itself, Mcgriff would prove to be a better player than Carter; the Jays still got the edge in the trade because Fernandez fell apart as a player while Alomar had a hall-of-fame career.

    No doubt getting Alomar helped with two titles but so too did having a strong team to build upon and making a half dozen trades and free agent signings.

  8. Leonard Washington 5 years ago

    Congrats to Roberto! I thought he would be first round, then again I thought Larkin would be too.

    • Guest 5 years ago

      I think Gammons said it but the whole spitting episode was probably a good reason.

      • Red_Line_9 5 years ago

        The umpire called him a “motherf**ker”…and he spit on him.

        • ellisburks 5 years ago

          Spitting on a person is NEVER the correct response. If Hirshbeck called him a MoFo then Alomar should have reported it. Horking up a luggy is just plain disgusting.

          • Red_Line_9 5 years ago

            MLB has come a long way in how umpires are monitored and disciplined. The incident was discussed in a book that I read a few years back. The writer….I can’t remember the book title…said that calling a latin player a MoFo might elicit a greater physical response than it would from a caucasion.

            All we really saw was Alomar spitting.

        • wacdog 5 years ago

          because alomar said to the umpire i liked you better before your son died

        • wacdog 5 years ago

          alomar said to the umpire i liked you better before your son died

    • DunkinDonuts 5 years ago

      I’m a bit late to the discussion (I stopped following the Hall of Mediocrity inductions religiously several years), but will someone remind me why Roberto Alomar gets a pass from the steroids witch hunt?

  9. Well, Thompson “faded away” due to leukemia. He died later that year.

  10. Guest 5 years ago

    I think if anyone really looked at Bly’s record, forgetting his name was on it, they would conclude he wasn’t HOF material.Yeah, he’s a great human being and his popularity has been elevated by his presence as Twins color guy, but please…the HOF selection is so political it drives me nuts….both for and against players.

    • ellisburks 5 years ago

      Or if you look at his career WAR of 90 (13th all-time) or his career ERA+ of 118 or his 3701K’s (5th all-time) or his 287 wins(27th all-time) or his career WHIP of 1.198 or his 60 shutouts (9th all-time) you might conclude that he IS HOF material.

  11. Red_Line_9 5 years ago

    I have conservative views on what the Hall of Fame should be….but it’s not my Hall of Fame anyway. I believe the bar should be very high. It shouldn’t take a player more than a decade to get in the Hall. My Hall would allow players one shot before they are passed on to the Veterans Committee where they can be reconsidered after one generation (20 years) have passed. This would allow those players that might get short changed the chance for history to take a look at their records in a new light.

    Also, why in this modern age are sportswriters doing the only voting? Am I right, or has this changed?

    • BaseballFanatic0707 5 years ago

      It should not have taken Bret all this time to get in to begin with.

      Here are some quick numbers to support him:

      13th in WAR all-time for pitchers
      5th on the Strikeout list
      14th on the innings pitched list
      11th in Earned Runs allowed
      Hell, 27th in wins despite the record

      All but one (Jim Kaat) of the top 10 pitchers with similar careers (not the top 10 all time-the top 10 that are similar to Bret) are in the Hall.

      No offense to Jim Rice, but Bret should have gotten in instead of him when Rickey got in. That was literally the worst feel-bad-for-you-for-being-on-the-ballot-so-long story ever. Heck, I’m sure he should have been in much earlier than that.

      • Red_Line_9 5 years ago

        I have very conservative views on the Hall. I don’t mean to diminish Bert Blyleven’s contributions. There are numerous players already enshrined whoI don’t feel are deserving, maybe even less so than Blyleven.

        My issue with Bert Blyleven is that most of his stats were are ones that owed more to career longevity that to actual dominance. Don Sutton is a similar story.

  12. goner 5 years ago

    I was shocked at how little talent in return the Pirates received for trading Blyleven, until I learned how he got in Chuck Tanner’s doghouse that year after he went AWOL from the team for a couple of weeks early in 1980. I don’t want to speak for the GMs involved, but I would suspect that the Pirates didn’t really care who they got for Blyleven, as long as he was gone.

  13. $6101468 5 years ago

    BB was a consistent pitcher who rang up some excellent career numbers. IMO he was a very good pitcher but not a great one. I would also probably exclude about half the players already in the HOF.

Leave a Reply