King of the Hill

Bert Blyleven: Clown, color man -- and the best eligible pitcher who's not in the Hall of Fame

Then, about a decade ago, the Twins offered him a job as color analyst, and an encore was at hand. Blyleven acknowledges that his relationship with broadcast partner Dick Bremer hasn't always gone smoothly. Bremer is prone to providing many of his own opinions and analysis before soliciting Blyleven's take. This habit does not agree with the Dutchman.

"The way it was always told to me," Blyleven says, "the job of the play-by-play guy was to get to the color guy--who is usually the expert and has played the game--for the analysis. It's something Dick and I have talked about and had to work out."

Blyleven is a sharp, proactive analyst. In a spring training game against the Red Sox, Blyleven correctly predicted a hit-and-run with Boston's Manny Ramirez at bat. Ramirez has a keen batting eye, he pointed out, and a reliable ability to make contact. But his most astute commentary comes when he describes the pitcher's perspective.

"We're about to find out what [Twins pitcher] Travis Bowyer's best pitch is, because he doesn't want to go to 3-2 on this hitter with the bases loaded," Blyleven announced in the eighth inning of the Red Sox game. The sentence simultaneously taught the viewer something about Bowyer and what any pitcher is thinking in that situation.

At the same time, Blyleven makes no attempt to pass himself off as one of the game's great pontificators, finding moral parables in a pinch runner.

"Even though my dad would have to get up early and go to work the next day, he wouldn't go to bed until Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett told him the final score of the Dodgers game," he says. "So for each telecast, I always imagine that there is somebody out there who just worked nine to five, or eight to six, and maybe they're having a tough time making ends meet. He's relaxing, maybe having a beer, and he doesn't want to hear about these players having bad times. I want to make this fun."

That, in a nutshell, is how one of the nastiest pitchers and crudest clubhouse pranksters in baseball history became renowned for "Circle Me, Bert!" As almost any Twins fan knows, this innocuous, crowd-pleasing ritual involves Blyleven using his telestrator to draw circles around fans in the stands who ham it up for the camera.

He has also been mellowed by his relationship with his second wife, Gayle, whom he met at a charity baseball game in Fort Myers shortly after taking the analyst's job. Even with a reporter in their home, the couple banters easily over everything from the size of his golf handicap to the relative merits of John Wayne movies. And whether Blyleven is talking about taking Gayle to Holland next year on her 50th birthday, or someday buying a motor home and touring the country together, her presence has clearly given him a life outside of baseball.

It is, by all appearances, a semi-wonderful life, with just one unfinished piece of business to be rectified. The baseball writers will have seven more chances to vote Blyleven into the Hall of Fame, before the matter gets turned over to the Veterans' Committee for consideration. "I don't want to wait that long," Blyleven protests.

"When I was on the ballot for the first time 8 years ago there was, like, 470 writers. Now there are 520, which means 50 new writers who maybe didn't see me pitch, or saw me at the tail end of my career when my shoulder was killing me. I'd hope they do the research and look at the numbers. And if they have and I'm not worthy, then"--he mimics the Wayne's World catchphrase to lighten the mood--"I'm not worthy."

Except that Blyleven--and most any baseball fan who considers his credentials--knows that he is worthy. In one of the occasional columns Blyleven writes for his website, bertblyleven.com, he reveals sentiments a little closer to the fiercely competitive man fans remember from the pitching mound.

"I would love to have all those writers that didn't vote for me step up to the plate and let me pitch to them," he wrote in January, immediately after the most recent losing ballot. "I would love to throw a high hard one inside. I would love to watch their knees buckle when I throw them my curveball. Yes, some of the writers might make contact but they will remember one thing after facing me. It's hard to hit from your butt!"

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