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He had staying power

Blyleven took long road to Hall

By John Kekis
Associated Press / July 24, 2011

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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - Bert Blyleven knows what took him to where he’s been and where he’s headed - his heritage.

“I’m Dutch, I’m stubborn. I think it’s the stubbornness, the consistency. You take the good with the bad,’’ said the 60-year-old Blyleven, the first player born in the Netherlands to earn Major League Baseball’s highest honor, election to the Hall of Fame. “I came up at a young age. I retired at an old age. I was one of only three pitchers to win a game before their 20th [birthday] and after their 40th. It’s just loving a game that you felt that you could compete at the highest level.’’

Blyleven, who won 287 games in a 22-year major league career, will be inducted today with infielder Roberto Alomar and front-office guru Pat Gillick.

“I’m going to be in awe,’’ Blyleven said. “We all have dreams as kids. You don’t know where it’s going to head.’’

Also honored, in a ceremony yesterday at Doubleday Field were: Dave Van Horne, longtime play-by-play man for the Montreal Expos and Florida Marlins, who was given the Ford C. Frick Award for major contributions to baseball broadcasting; Philadelphia Daily News sportswriter and columnist Bill Conlin, winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing; and Roland Hemond, who received the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award.

Though he lost 250 games, Blyleven threw 60 shutouts (ninth all-time) and logged 242 complete games, finishing his career in 1992 with 3,701 strikeouts (fifth all-time). He also made 685 starts (11th all-time), pitched 4,969 1/3 innings (14th all-time), and was 3-0 in League Championship Series play and 2-1 in World Series games.

His sojourn was longer than most.

Born in 1951 in Zeist, Netherlands, his parents, Joe and Jenny, moved the family to Canada two years later.

The family stayed for four years before moving to Southern California, where Blyleven’s uncle had settled. The Blylevens lived in the Los Angeles suburb of Paramount, then moved to Garden Grove when he was in third grade.

Picked by Minnesota in the third round of the 1969 amateur draft, Blyleven became youngest pitcher in the majors when the Twins called him up June 2, 1970, after just 21 minor league starts.

“Really, when I signed I didn’t know how high I could go,’’ Blyleven said. “I knew it was going to be a long road.’’

That long road included stops with the Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians, and California Angels. Blyleven also had a second stint with the Twins beginning in 1985, and two years later he formed an imposing duo at the top of the rotation with lefty Frank Viola. The team scrapped its way to 85 wins and a World Series title, the second for Blyleven (he also was on the champion 1979 Pirates).

Despite his considerable accomplishments , it took 14 tries for him to finally cross the 75 percent threshold, receiving votes on 79.7 percent of ballots in the results released in January.

It was a long climb after receiving only 14.1 percent of the vote in 1999, his second year of eligibility, and the death of his dad in 2004 of Parkinson’s disease only heightened the hurt Blyleven felt.

“At first he was angry and he kind of vented, but after a while we got to where it was like a given,’’ said Blyleven’s wife, Gayle. “So we’d tell the local people we were out of town and we weren’t.

“[In 2010] we were so surprised that he jumped so high we weren’t angry at all. It was amazing. It just shows you how the writers have your destiny.’’

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