Souhan: Blyleven the last old-time Twin in the Hall of Fame?

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 24, 2011 - 9:18 AM

Fans of Tony O. and Kaat, look away: Bert Blyleven could be the final old-time Twin to get the Cooperstown call.

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Bert Blyleven, entering Baseball’s Hall of Fame on Sunday, is a bridge between the outstanding Twins teams of the ’60s and ’70s and the 1987 World Series champs.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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They played in the variable elements at the Old Met, slogging through mud and swatting mosquitos and building legends on the Bloomington prairie. They were great players and yet fell short of a world championship, and their legacies might not be what they would have been had they won it all.

That applies to the great Twins teams of the '60s and '70s, as well as the old Vikings.

Bert Blyleven, entering the Hall of Fame at the advanced age of 60, will represent more than his body of work when he enters the Hall of Fame on Sunday. He will represent ghosts and friends, the injured and the ailing, the legacies of a foregone era.

"I look at the guys in the Twins Hall of Fame, and I played with all of them," Blyleven said. "That's pretty special."

Blyleven chafed during the years he fell short of the Hall of Fame in the voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America. He got in, though, and he could be the last Twin who played at Metropolitan Stadium to make it to Cooperstown.

Those who watched and played with them say Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat should be in the Hall, joining Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and now Blyleven.

"It is a great thing, that Bert Blyleven is finally going into the Hall of Fame," Oliva said. "I think it should have happened sooner."

Before he played alongside Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek and won a World Series, Blyleven spent his formative baseball years playing alongside Killebrew and Oliva, in a modest stadium in a small market for a team that never publicized its talent with a World Series parade.

The most modern and silly of sports debates contain the assertion that a player's greatness is measured by the number of championships won. The teams that played at the Old Met give that theory the lie. Killebrew was no less a player for having failed to win a World Series.

"I was just thinking about Jim Perry, and his induction into the Twins Hall of Fame," Blyleven said. "He wasn't just a father figure to me. He was a mother figure, too. He was my first roommate, and I couldn't do anything for myself.

"It was a great group of guys, a great group of players, and I think more of them should be recognized."

Blyeven's induction will be remindful to Minnesotans of Tony O's .304 lifetime batting average and Kaat's 283 career victories, as well as Killebrew's induction and recent passing.

"When I came up, I was so young," Blyleven said. "Getting to rub shoulders with Harmon and getting to know him over the years was very special.

"I got to play with Tony and Rod and Cesar Tovar. We had some characters on that ballclub. Leo Cardenas, with all of his superstitions. Danny Thompson, who later died of leukemia.

"I still stay in contact with a lot of the guys. We're getting to the age now where you want to keep up with everyone, but it's not always good news when you talk. That's the hard thing about reaching this age. When you talk to people, they're not always doing well."

Blyleven watched Oliva's knee injuries short-circuit his Hall of Fame talent and watched Kaat build a résumé a little like his own, one filled with victories and durability.

"I'm happy Bert finally got what I thought he deserved years ago," Kaat said. "The durability, shutouts, strikeouts, wins all were Hall of Fame caliber.

"He pitched for several teams, which took something away from his overall record. I think if he had been a Twin his entire career, he would have been voted in much sooner."

Kaat heard of Blyleven's curveball long before he saw it. "Calvin first mentioned his name to me a year before he made his major-league debut," Kaat said, referring to former Twins owner Calvin Griffith. "He said he had a fellow Dutchman coming that had a curve as good or better than [Camilo] Pascual's.

"I remember his debut clearly. I was impressed by his fluid motion, poise, and control of his pitches and himself."

Sunday, Blyleven will join the Hall of Fame, and part ways with teammates who might never join him there.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. @Souhanstrib • jsouhan@startribune.com

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