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 Minnesota Twins > Twins Greats > Rik Aalbert Blyleven
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Rik Aalbert Blyleven
Rik Aalbert Blyleven

Name: Rik Aalbert Blyleven
Bats Right, Throws Right
Height 6' 3", Weight 207 lb.
Born April 6, 1951 in Zeist, Holland
Baseball career: Right-handed pitcher

Accomplishments: 287 wins - 25th on the All-Time list; 4,970 innings pitched - 13th on the All-Time list ; 3,701 strikeouts - 5th on the All-Time list; 685 career starts - 8th on the All-Time list; 60 shutouts - 9th on the All-Time list; 15 (1-0 wins) - 3rd on the All-Time list

Post Season: World Series 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates and the 1987 Minnesota Twins; All-Star 1973 and 1985

"Back in the 1970s when Nolan Ryan was pitching, you had to beat him, 1-0. The other club always felt the same way about me when I was on the mound."-Bert Blyleven

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Rik Albert Blyleven, better known as Bert Blyleven was born on April 6, 1951 in Zeist, Netherlands. Bert moved to the United States when his mother Jenny and father Johannes Cornelius Blijleven emigrated from the Netherlands. He was raised in Garden Grove, California along with his four sisters and two brothers. He was a Major League Baseball pitcher who played in the 1970s and 1980s, best known for his astounding curveball.

s a youngster, Bert delivered many paper routes and when asked if these routes helped develop his throwing arm, he replied “Oh, definitely." Laughing, "I could hook it around anything." He became really interested in baseball as a young boy watching Sandy Koufax pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Bert was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the third round in 1969. He had a brief 21 game stint in the minor leagues and was called up by the Twins on June 2, 1970. He was surprised because the Twins already had a great four-man rotation including Jim Kaat, Dave Boswell who had won 20 games in 1969, Jim Perry who won the Cy Young in 1970 and newly acquired Luis Tiant. At age 19, Bert Blyleven he was the youngest player in the major leagues. Much to his dismay on his major league debut he gave up a home run to the first batter he faced.

Bert said, "Manager Bill Rigney came out to visit me on the mound and I thought to myself, 'Oh great. He's gonna take me out.' On the back of my bubblegum card, I could see 'Bert Blyleven, 0-1 with an ERA of infinity.' As it turns out, we won the game, 2-1, and that was the only run I gave up. I pitched seven innings and allowed only five hits and one walk while striking out seven batters. Ron Perranoski got the save."

Later that season, Bert used his sharp curveball well and became the 25th teenager to win 10 games in a season when he beat the Chicago White Sox with a three-hit, one-run gem. His signature pitch always started chin high, but broke sharply downward, crossing the plate just above the batter's knees. The unique throw helped Bert to become the A.L. Rookie Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News in 1970. He gave up more than three runs only twice in his first 19 starts and the Twins, in a sign of things to come, scored a total of 11 runs in his nine losses.

In 1973, Bert became the 13th-youngest 20-game winner of the century, leading the league with 9 shutouts and placing second with a 2.52 ERA and 258 strikeouts. He started 40 games and pitched 325 innings. Think about that for a second. That's over eight innings per outing. "I took a lot of pride in my complete games that year,” Bert said.

However, Bert’s early career with the Twins was not always pleasant as he was hounded by critics and fans and suffered with a bleak Minnesota Twins team. Becoming more vocal, Bert was traded to the Texas Rangers on June 1, 1976. He pitched well with the Rangers, throwing a 2.76 ERA in his first season and throwing a no-hitter against the California Angels on September 22, 1977, just two weeks after being sidelined with a groin injury.

On December 8, 1977, Bert Blyleven and John Milner were traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates as part of the first four-team trade in Major League Baseball history. With the Pirates, he led the team in ERA, strikeouts and complete games in 1978 and helped them to a World Series victory in 1979.

However, Bert became disgruntled with the Pirates and threatened to retire during the 1980 season if he was not traded. "Chuck Tanner and I did not see eye-to-eye. My only beef with him ever was 'why do I have to wait five to six days to pitch if I'm only pitching five to six innings?' What you're doing is taking away about 50 extra innings," Bert said.

After being placed on the disqualified list, Bert agreed to rejoin the Pirates. Although he allowed more than three runs only twice in his first ten starts, he failed to win 10 games for the first time in his career. He was eventually dealt to the Cleveland Indians in a six-player transaction in December 1980. Bert responded to the situation by saying, "to me, baseball was always supposed to be fun. In 1980 I wasn't having fun. I didn't leave on the best of terms. It was a frustrating experience."

Eventually, the Pirates did trade him to the Cleveland Indians on December 9, 1980. He sat out most of the 1982 season with an elbow injury and struggled again in 1983, but came back in 1984 with one of his best seasons: a 19-7 record with a 2.87 ERA. Bert was again unhappy playing for the lackluster Indians and forced a trade back to the Twins on August 1, 1985.

Back with the Twins, Bert led the league that season in innings pitched, complete games, shutouts, and strikeouts. He topped the league in innings once again the following year while allowing 50 home runs, a record that still stands today. He also passed the 3,000-strikeout mark and helped the Twins to a 1987 World Series victory where he started four games during the postseason and won three times.

After hurting his shoulder in 1988, Bert was traded to the California Angels. He was named Comeback Player of the Year in 1989, pitching home games in front of his parents and siblings regularly for the first time in his professional career. He pitched a 2.73 ERA for a 17-5 record in his first season. Bert won 16 more games with the Angels in 1990 and 1992, becoming one of only three pitchers in major league history to win a game before the age of 20 and after 40. As USA Today columnist Jon Saraceno pointed out, "He was that good for that long."

He retired following that season with a career 287-250 record with 3,701 strikeouts and a 3.31 ERA. He tried out for the Twins again in the spring of 1993 but did not make the squad, making his retirement official.

In 1996, he became a color commentator for the Twins. In early 2002 during a quiet portion of a Twins game, he circled (on television) a fan carrying a sign in the stands of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. Signs reading "Circle Me, Bert" quickly became a popular phenomenon at the Dome.

Bert Blyleven is often considered to be the best retired pitcher not yet in the Baseball Hall of Fame. His career stats compare equally or favorably to many pitchers currently in the Hall. Although he is frustrated that he hasn't received the one telephone call in January that every Hall of Fame candidate yearns for, he is resigned to the fact that there is nothing left for him to do. "It's up to the sportswriters. I have no control over it."

The man, renowned in Minnesota for circling fans on the Telestrator, should hereby be circled on the Hall of Fame ballot by every voting member of the Baseball Writers Association of America -- if not this year, then certainly next.

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