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Clemens in good company
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05/19/2002 7:01 pm ET 
Clemens in good company
By Tom Singer /

Bert Blyleven spent 22 years in the Major Leagues. (Edwin M. Remsberg/AP)
NEW YORK - A bright Sunday afternoon brings another of those uncanny Yankee Stadium moments of karma.

On the sacred mound of earth below, Roger Clemens dispatches the Minnesota Twins to carve another notch into his victory belt, No. 287.

And watching, as well as calling the action on Minneapolis' KSTC-TV station, from above is Bert Blyleven, whom The Rocket thus ties for 22nd place on the all-time list of biggest baseball winners.

Blyleven, the ruddy Dutchman, is radiant upon greeting a small group of reporters in his broadcast booth minutes after the final out of the Yankees' 3-0 win. A decade removed from his final pitch, Blyleven appreciates the attention.

"It was great, being able to see him tie me in person," says Blyleven, being perceived as Clemens' peer and enjoying it.

   Roger Clemens   /   P
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 238
Bats/Throws: R/R

More info:
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It's a beautiful picture. There is only one thing wrong with it.

Roger Clemens is headed to the Hall of Fame. Of that, there is no doubt. "No, not in my mind, not at all," Blyleven himself says.

So why isn't Blyleven in Cooperstown? That has always been a legitimate question, given that the Holland-born right-hander, starting as a 19 year-old in 1970, showcased baseball's most wicked curveball through 1992. This day, though, it became an important question.

"I don't know. I have no idea," Blyleven says, after first answering with a nervous giggle. "I didn't play in New York, that might be part of it ... I don't know."

The guy who on this day best knows the effort required to reach 287 wins can't provide a theory.

"I realize each time I get (to one of) these guys how amazing it is what they were able to do. I know how I feel and what they were able to accomplish. It's pretty amazing."

-- Roger Clemens

"That is a little surprising," Clemens says. "I realize each time I get (to one of) these guys how amazing it is what they were able to do. I know how I feel and what they were able to accomplish. It's pretty amazing."

"I thought I got along great with the writers," Blyleven continues. "I wasn't abusive ... Numbers don't lie. Hopefully, in time ... It took Don Sutton and Phil Niekro five-six years."

Blyleven has been on five ballots, since ending his 22-season career by going 8-12 in 24 starts at 41 for the California Angels in 1992. And his votes have gradually increased, from 83 in 1998 to 124 last January - but that was still only 23.6 percent of the total cast.

At that pace, he won't reach the 75 percent vote requirement before his 15-year eligibility expires.

Very odd. Blyleven has the resume (among all-time leaders in wins, complete games, shutouts, strikeouts). He has the rings (going 5-1 in helping the 1979 Pirates and 1987 Twins to World Series titles). He had the personality.

"Compare my complete games to guys who pitched in my era, compare my shutouts, my strikeouts," Blyleven challenges. "I'm Top Ten in each list. Everyone else is in the Hall, but me.

"Even the strikeouts list," adds the Dutchman, who wound up with 3,701. "Everyone on that list is in the Hall but me, (and still-active pitchers) Roger (3,789) and Randy Johnson (3,497)."

All-Star ballot

So the culprit must be the unimposing winning percentage. Blyleven labored with some notoriously light-hitting clubs, and was saddled with 250 losses. That must be it.

Except ... "Nolan Ryan lost almost 300 games (292). And Sutton was right there with me (256 defeats). So that's not it," Blyleven says.

He shrugs. A few minutes earlier, he had watched Mariano Rivera bring his 95-mile rising heat into the ninth inning, icing the shutout while Clemens iced his shoulder. At various stages of his career, Blyleven had Ron Perranoski and Jeff Reardon and Bryan Harvey. But none were quite the Mr. Automatic that is Rivera.

Just as well. Blyleven would have had no use for them.

"It would've taken a bulldozer to get me off the mound today," he says, without a hint of rancor. "That's just the difference between my game and today's game. Roger's a great pitcher, but a shutout meant something to me.

"I knew I was giving my bullpen a complete day off. The relievers could help the next guy out; I didn't want help."

If Blyleven was going down, he was going alone. During his days with the Angels, team public relations director Tim Mead calculated that Blyleven's career ledger included about 80 losses by 1-0, 2-1 or 3-2 scores.

"But you know what?" he asks, rhetorically. "I was out there. If we lost 2-1, it was my run. I didn't turn it over after the sixth or seventh inning. My make-up was just completely different."

But not his bottom line. Comparisons with Roger Clemens, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, only flatter Blyleven.

Blyleven had 242 complete games, to Clemens' 116. The last 10 years, The Rocket has gone the route 27 times; in his last decade, The Dutchman went the route 107 times. Blyleven also leads in shutouts, 60-45.

Sunday was Clemens' day in the sun. Blyleven was just glad to catch some rays.

"Things like this do help me in the long run," he says after most of the reporters leave. "It brings a little recognition. Some of these guys talking to me, maybe they didn't even know my numbers.

"The number of (Hall of Fame) voters goes up every year. The new additions, did they see me in the '70s? Did they see me in the '80s? Probably not.

"But," he sums up, "they only have to do one thing: the research."

Bert Blyleven's tacit conclusion is clear: With the research, his search for Hall of Fame fulfillment will end.

Tom Singer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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