Bert Blyleven: From RFK to Cooperstown

To you, 1970 may seem like a long time ago. To me, it’s like last month.

I was one of the 12,818 fans on hand at RFK Stadium Friday night, June 5 that season to watch the Senators take on the Minnesota Twins, who were starting a 19-year-old right-hander named Bert Blyleven against Washington’s Casey Cox.

Cox gave up a run in the top of the first on a leadoff walk to Cesar Tovar, who stole second and scored on a single by Tony Oliva. Right fielder Lee Maye led off the bottom of the the first for the Senators, and very quickly hit a Blyleven pitch over the fence in right center to tie the game. The local fans, myself included, were figuring it was going to be a short night for the Dutchman.

It was the last time Washington would touch home that night.

Young Bert went seven complete, allowing just the single run on five hits. He struck out seven - for the record, Ed Stroud was his first big league K - and walked one. Maye’s four-bagger was the first of 430 home runs he’d surrender over a 22-year career, and Stroud was the first of 3,701 career strikeouts, fifth on the all-time list.

Tomorrow, Blyleven should, at long last, receive the call that’s years overdue, telling him he’s been elected to the Hall of Fame.

I’ve heard all of the arguments against Blyleven’s candidacy: He never won a Cy Young Award, he didn’t win 300 games, he only made two All-Star teams, blah, blah, blah.

So what? The guy’s peripherals were spectacular. First off, he won 287 games, 27th on the all-time list, ahead of some other pitchers aleady in Cooperstown, including Robin Roberts, Fergie Jenkins, Red Ruffing, Bob Feller, Eppa Rixey, Ted Lyons and Carl Hubbell (there are several more, but you get the idea).

His strikeout totals place him fifth, but the next 15 pitchers under him are all either in the Hall of Fame, or not yet eligible. He had 60 career shutouts, ninth all-time, and the next 13 pitchers below him are all in the Hall of Fame.

He threw 242 complete games, or roughly 35 percent of his starts.

C’mon, this guy should have been inducted years ago.

Last year, Blyleven got 74.2 percent of the vote, which was, what, one vote shy of the magic 75 percent? He’s never been this close before, and the smart money says this is his year, probably along with Robbie Alomar.

I’ve had the opportunity to speak with Blyleven several times over the years when he came through town as a Twins broadcaster. He’s always fun to talk to - he has a photographic memory of, seemingly, every pitch he ever threw - and will undoubtedly have something memorable to say when his turn at the podium comes this summer.

Forty years? A blur.