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Bert Blyleven gets closer to the Hall of Fame with an assist

Former pitcher falls five votes short of election to Cooperstown after a campaign by a fan. Andre Dawson is elected.

January 07, 2010|By Bill Shaikin

Bert Blyleven did not get elected to the Hall of Fame on Wednesday. He wanted to thank a few people anyway.

He thanked Harmon Killebrew and Brooks Robinson for their encouragement and support. He thanked Rich Lederer too.

"That was pretty cool," Lederer said.

Killebrew and Robinson are Hall of Fame members. Lederer is an investment advisor in Long Beach.

"I'm very proud to say Rich has been in my corner," Blyleven told MLB Network.

Andre Dawson was the only player elected Wednesday. Blyleven fell five votes short, so close that he might well be thanking Lederer in an induction ceremony next year.

This is about more than a fan on a mission, armed with arguments of all sorts, out to get his man into Cooperstown. This is about concurrent advancements in statistics and technology, enabling fans to share their own methods of evaluating players and engage in a national discussion.

"If not for the Internet," Lederer said, "I wouldn't even have a voice."

Lederer, 54, grew up in baseball. His father, George, covered the Dodgers for the Long Beach Press-Telegram from 1958 to 1968, then worked for the Angels as a publicist.

Lederer made finance his career, but he launched a blog (baseballanalysts.com) in 2003, using statistics old and new to press the case for Blyleven.

No Cy Young awards? Two All-Star game selections? Fewer wins than Tommy John?

Lederer has rebuttals for all those arguments and more on his blog, focusing in part on this question: Just how important are wins anyway?

"If wins lead to the Cy Young Award, and the Cy Young Award leads to the Hall of Fame," Lederer said, "it seems like we're double- and triple-counting the wrong things."

It is unfair, he argues, to dismiss Blyleven because he won 20 games once in a 22-year career. We might not have considered run support, defensive support and such new metrics as "runs saved above average" during his career, but we can now.

Blyleven pointed to this year's Cy Young Award voting. Zack Greinke won in the American League, with 16 victories. Tim Lincecum won in the National League, with 15.

"That shows there's more than just wins," Blyleven said. "That's what Rich has brought out. You can't always go off wins. You have to go off performance."

That's a fair point. So how about a counterpoint: If a player needs a campaign manager, is he truly worthy of the Hall of Fame?

"I realize the inner-circle Hall of Famers are no-brainer-type guys," Lederer said. "I think that is a very select group. I think there are a lot of deserving players whose record should be more closely scrutinized."

By harnessing the power of the Internet and the growing community of baseball bloggers, Lederer and friends have linked merrily, enabling his pro-Blyleven arguments to reach the voters.

And, we should add, with enormous success.

In 1999, Blyleven got 14.1% of the vote. He received 74.2% this year, without throwing a pitch in the interim. No player has ever gotten so close to Cooperstown without eventually getting in.

"It's one small step for me," Lederer said. "I think the bigger story is that people like myself, who aren't writers or voters, can have a say in how these players are viewed and perhaps help their candidacy along."

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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