Bert Blyleven's Top 10 moments

July 25th, 2020

If your life depended on a pitcher throwing a curveball for a strike, chances are that you’d want Bert Blyleven on the mound.

Blyleven possessed a devastating curveball that helped him build a 22-year Major League career. His longevity and effectiveness propelled him to 287 career victories and enshrinement in baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Here’s a sampling of Blyleven’s top 10 moments.

1. Adopting America

Blyleven was born in The Netherlands before moving to southern California with his family when he was five. Following the Dodgers helped deepen his interest in baseball.

2. Instant success
June 5, 1970

Blyleven needed only 28 outings in the Twins’ Minor League system before he was deemed ready for his Major League debut in Washington on the date listed above. He limited the Senators to one run and five hits in seven innings and received the decision in Minnesota’s 2-1 win. Blyleven finished that season 10-9 with a 3.18 ERA, which earned him American League Rookie Pitcher of the Year honors from The Sporting News.

3. Among the elite

It can safely be said that this was Blyleven’s biggest year. He assembled his only 20-win season, earned one of two appointments to the All-Star team and led the Majors with nine shutouts. He recorded seven of those shutouts in a 12-start stretch for the Twins between May 24 and July 11.

4. First move

The Twins packaged Blyleven with infielder Danny Thompson to engineer a six-player trade with Texas, where the right-hander continued to thrive. On Sept. 22, 1977, Blyleven no-hit the Angels in a 6-0 Rangers victory. Only Bert Campaneris’ fielding error on Ron Jackson’s grounder leading off the third inning and Carlos May’s two-out, ninth-inning walk separated Blyleven from a perfect game.

5. … And staying on the move
Dec. 8, 1977

Blyleven was one of the key figures in a four-team, 11-player trade that sent him to Pittsburgh. Atlanta and the New York Mets also were involved in the deal. Blyleven ultimately would play for five teams, including Minnesota twice (1970-76, 1985-88).

6. Becoming a champion

Blyleven helped the Pirates re-establish the momentum they gained earlier in the decade. Though he set a record by shouldering 20 no-decisions in 37 starts in 1979, he also posted a .704 winning percentage, based on a 12-5 mark. It was the third-most successful season in his career. Blyleven proceeded to finish Pittsburgh’s sweep of Cincinnati in the National League Championship Series, pitching a complete game in the Pirates’ 7-1 triumph in Game 3. The Pirates won by the same score in Game 5 of the World Series, as Blyleven earned the decision with four shutout innings of relief. The victory launched Pittsburgh’s rally from a 3-1 deficit in the Series, which concluded with the Pirates winning in seven games.

7. Continuing to shine

Traded from Pittsburgh to Cleveland during the 1980 Winter Meetings, Blyleven responded with a pair of admirable seasons. After an elbow injury limited him to 24 starts in 1982-83, Blyleven recorded his second-most wins in ’84, finishing 19-7 with a 2.87 ERA.

8. Twin Cities homecoming

Blyleven rejoined the Twins, whose cap adorns his image on his Hall of Fame plaque, in an Aug. 1 trade. He continued to excel, leading the Majors in complete games (24) and innings (293 2/3) in 1985. He also made the All-Star team for the second time. Blyleven again thrived in the postseason in 1987, winning three of four decisions as the Twins surged past Detroit in the American League Championship Series and St. Louis in the World Series.

9. 3,000 and counting
Aug. 1, 1986

Blyleven didn’t just reach the 3,000-strikeout level. He blew by it, striking out a career-high 15 in the Twins’ 10-1 triumph over Oakland. Blyleven entered the game needing eight strikeouts to achieve the milestone, Blyleven nearly doubled that number. He struck out Mike Davis in the fifth inning to get to 3,000.

10. Rigorous chase for Cooperstown

Until Blyleven gained induction to the Hall of Fame in 2011, earning a place in Cooperstown remained a struggle for him. He received 14.1 percent of the vote in 1999 -- 75 percent is needed for induction -- but from that point his vote total steadily climbed. An exception was 2007, when Blyleven received 47.7 percent of the vote after garnering 53.3 percent one year earlier. Finally, in his 14th and next-to-last appearance on the ballot, Blyleven claimed 79.7 percent of the vote and, with it, his spot in Cooperstown.