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Alomar, Blyleven join Hall of Fame

NEW YORK — The long 14-year wait for Bert Blyleven, often alternating between agonizing and puzzling, came to a successful conclusion Wednesday.

"I've got goose bumps," Blyleven said. "They say good things come to those who wait."

Blyleven's good thing came in the form of election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The former right-handed pitcher received the necessary vote total in his 14th try, joining perennial All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar, who gained election in his second attempt.

Of the record 581 ballots cast by eligible members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, Alomar received 523 votes, good for 90 percent. Blyleven received 463 votes (79.7 percent). It took 436 votes this year to gain election, and the next closest was Barry Larkin with 361 (62.1 percent).

Blyleven and Alomar narrowly missed election a year ago. Blyleven was five votes short, and Alomar missed by eight in his first time on the ballot.

Blyleven said he was encouraged by his total of a year ago because he moved up considerably from the previous year.

"The last name is 'Blyleven' and it's 2011, so maybe the voters said, 'This is a good year for him to go in,' " said Blyleven, who pitched 22 years for five clubs. "It's been 14 years of praying and waiting."

Then, in a playful but purposeful jab, Byleven added, "I thank the Baseball Writers Association of America for, I will say, finally getting it right."

Blyleven did not receive half the votes until 2006, his ninth year of eligibility. Many bloggers mounted a convincing campaign, stressing his value beyond a .534 winning percentage. Blyleven cited Rich Lederer of baseballanalysts.com.

"He's one guy that's really brought out so many different stats than just wins and losses," said Blyleven, who was 287-250. "As a pitcher, sometimes you can't control wins. You can't control losses. But what you can control is innings you pitch, if you keep your club in the game, all those things, and I think they're brought out a lot more today than they were even 10 years ago."

Blyleven ranks high in two categories that measure dominance: strikeouts (fifth, with 3,701) and shutouts (ninth, with 60). Every other pitcher in the top 20 in shutouts was in the Hall of Fame, as was every other eligible pitcher in the top 17 in strikeouts.

He also ranks highly in a much newer metric, Wins Above Replacement, which tries to show how many victories a player produces compared with a replacement who might be called up from the minors. According to baseball-reference.com, Blyleven ranks 13th among pitchers on that list and was the only eligible pitcher in the top 27 who was not in Cooperstown.

Blyleven has long been fascinated by statistics.

"I'm kind of a baseball geek as far as numbers," he said. "I always looked at numbers, even as a young kid coming up. I admired Walter Johnson and Cy Young. How could one guy pitch over 7,000 innings, like Cy Young? I wanted to be like him."

Alomar's case was more obvious. He made 12 All-Star teams in a row, from 1990 through 2001. He is the only Gold Glove winner to finish his career with a .300 average and at least 2,700 hits, 200 homers and 450 stolen bases. Like Blyleven, he played for two World Series winners and generally excelled in October.

Signed by the Padres out of Puerto Rico in 1985, Alomar spent his prime years with the Blue Jays, Orioles and Indians, reaching the playoffs with all of them. He retired in 2005 spring training with the Rays.

Some voters may have penalized Alomar last year for spitting in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck during an argument in 1996. But Hirschbeck forgave Alomar years ago, and Alomar has donated money to fight the brain disease that has afflicted Hirschbeck's children.

"I feel good that I have a good relationship with John," Alomar said. "He forgives me, his family forgives me, and we both move on."

Said Hirschbeck: "I'm very, very happy for him. It's overdue."

Hovering over the results was the steroids cloud. Rafael Palmeiro, who tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug, and Mark McGwire, who admitted using PEDs, fared poorly. Jeff Bagwell — who never tested positive or faced public allegations — got 41.7 percent in his first year on the ballot despite overwhelming Hall qualifications.

"People are going to think what they want to think," Bagwell said. "If they don't think that anybody was good in this era, then that's fine."

Palmeiro said getting only 11 percent of the votes was "really disappointing. … I'll go through this process again, and I will probably be disappointed and hurt again.''

Alomar, Blyleven join Hall of Fame 01/05/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 6, 2011 7:37am]
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