Blyleven reflects on career with Twins

Blyleven reflects on career with Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- For 11 of his 22 seasons in the Major Leagues, Bert Blyleven was a member of the Minnesota Twins.

It was the franchise that drafted him out of high school in 1969, and called him up for his Major League debut on June 5, 1970, making him the youngest player in the big leagues that season at the age of 19.

But even though he had pitched in only 21 games in the Minors, Blyleven fit right in from the start, joining a club that featured future Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew, as well as perennial All-Stars such as Jim Kaat, Jim Perry, Tony Oliva and Luis Tiant.

Blyleven credited Killebrew, whom he will join in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. on Sunday, for helping him with his transition to a big league environment at such a young age.

"Being a rookie pitcher, Harmon treated me like one of the guys," Blyleven said. "It was really neat. More like a son than a teammate because I was so young."

Blyleven excelled in his first season, winning 10 games and posting a 3.18 ERA in 27 games, including 25 starts.

He even proved he belonged in his first big league start against the Washington Senators, allowing a leadoff homer to Lee May before settling down to throw seven scoreless innings with seven strikeouts.

And in just his 21st career appearance, he tied an American League record by striking out the first six Angels batters he faced before ultimately striking out eight of the first 10 batters he faced.

It simply didn't take long for the 6-foot-3 right-hander with the big curveball to make his mark in Minnesota, helping the club win the division in his first season before being swept by the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series.

"I was very fortunate to come up at such a young age," Blyleven said about his first season. "But not only having guys like Harmon Killebrew but future Hall of Famers like, you know, Rod Carew on that ballclub. Hopefully, one day Tony Oliva also.

"But another guy that I feel one day hopefully will be in the Hall of Fame was a guy that I looked up to was Jim Kaat. Their staff was Jim Kaat, Luis Tiant -- possible Hall of Famer -- Dave Boswell and Jim Perry, who won the Cy Young in 1970, my first year. So I had the opportunity to really feed off of a lot of guys -- Stan Williams, Ron Perranoski out in the bullpen. I was very fortunate to come up in an organization like the Twins that had the leaders that they had."

Blyleven was able to build off that impressive rookie campaign, lowering his ERA to 2.81 in 1971, 2.73 in '72 and 2.52 in '73. He also had the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the AL in '71 and '73, and had his best season yet in '73 when he won 20 games for the first and only time in his career, and was also named an All-Star.

But before Blyleven was able to pick up career win No. 100 -- he was at 99 wins with a career 2.80 ERA and 1,402 strikeouts -- he was traded to the Rangers during the 1975 season amid a feud with the front office.

Blyleven continued to be one of the top pitchers in baseball while bouncing around the league with the Rangers, Pirates and Indians, before finally rejoining the Twins during the 1985 season as part of a trade that sent four players to Cleveland.

He had a big year in 1985, leading the AL in complete games, shutouts, innings pitched and strikeouts to finish third in the balloting for the AL Cy Young Award for the second straight season.

But it was two years later when Blyleven helped the Twins accomplish something they'd never done before, as he was part of the 1987 squad that captured the World Series over the Cardinals in seven games.

Blyleven was already 36 by then, but was still an effective pitcher -- especially in the postseason -- going 3-1 with a 3.42 ERA, including a 2.77 ERA in the World Series. It gave Blyleven his second World Series title after he won a championship with Pittsburgh in 1979.

"Of course, as a baseball player, being part of World Series championships -- those are No. 1," Blyleven said. "The 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates and then 1987 here in Minnesota, where I currently am at and broadcast for the Twins. Those are, as a player, those are things you hold on to the rest of your life."

Blyleven then left the Twins again after the 1988 season, when he was traded to the Angels. He would finish his career in Anaheim near where he grew up in Garden Grove, Calif.

He tried out for the Twins in 1993, but didn't make the squad, and retired after winning 287 games with a 3.31 ERA, 242 complete games, 60 shutouts and 3,701 strikeouts.

The Dutch-born right-hander won 149 of those games with the Twins with a 3.28 ERA, and was honored on Saturday when his number 28 was retired by the franchise.

Now, he'll go into the Hall of Fame on Sunday as a member of the Twins for his long and storied career, and he considers it his biggest accomplishment.

"Going into the Hall of Fame is higher than winning a World Series," Blyleven said. "It is the ultimate. You are in a fraternity that is so small, and so, I guess, nationally recognized. All of a sudden it is Bert Blyleven Major League pitcher to Bert Blyleven Hall of Fame Major League pitcher. It is incredible."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.