Major League Indians
This is when the Indians were in their period of being pretty forgettable that is well chronicled in the book "Curse of Rocky Colavito: A Loving Look at a Thirty-Year Slump", which is a very entertaining read. Between 1960 and 1993 they never finished closer than 11 games out of first place. For 1981, this is the last of the .500 or above teams.
There is plenty of support for Blyleven to get into Cooperstown around the internet. Without the home computer and everyone able to crunch stats, I am not sure he would ever get in. The reason is that I am not sure if you were writing a book about what it was like to be a fan of baseball from 1970-1990 if you would even mention Bert Blyleven.
Pulling up his stats on baseball-reference.com, he was a pretty good pitcher for the Twins in the early '70s, getting his only 20 win season in 1973, then was a pretty average starter until the mid-'80s when he had some pretty solid, but not Tom Seaver like, seasons with the Indians and Twins, and then he fizzled out and last pitched in 1992. He was around long enough to put up some good career counting stats in categories such as wins and strikeouts, but that was because he pitched for 22 seasons. His average season, he was 14-12 with 183 strikeouts and a 3.31 ERA.
As much love as he gets in the internet era, when I was of the prime baseball card collecting age from 1981-1986, no one got excited about pulling his card from a pack. There were about four categories of players you could get from a pack as follows:
In the 1980s, before price guides, I would put Reggie Jackson, Pete Rose, George Brett, Mike Schmidt, Dale Murphy, Don Mattingly, Dwight Gooden, Ozzie Smith and a few others in this category. These were the players that became no brain hall-of-famers if they hadn't derailed their own career through drugs or injuries. In 2010, I would put ARod, Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Ryan Howard, Ichiro, and Hanley Ramirez in this category. These are the players bigger than the game of baseball at any given time. You had a good pack if one of these players shows up in it.
In the 1980s, I would put Andre Dawson, Jim Rice, Alan Trammell down to maybe Kent Hrbek or Fernando Valenzuela. In 2010, these are the guys that come up in debates as Hall-of-Famers, but aren't no brainers. They were regular all-stars and MVP winners, probably amongst the top 2 or 3 players on their team. In 2010, I would put Lance Berkman, Grady Sizemore, Jimmy Rollins, and Prince Fielder in this category. If you had a couple of these guys in the same pack, it was a good pack of cards.
These were the guys who had decent, undistinguishable careers. They were regulars for a good amount of time. May have made a token all-star appearance or two, but that was about it. In the 1980s, I would put players like Frank White, Brian Downing, and Gary Gaetti in this category. On this 1981 Indians team, I would put Toby Harrah and Mike Hargrove in this category. You knew they were decent players, but you weren't excited to get them either. In the modern game, players like Sean Casey, Scott Rolen, and Paul Konerko would be in this category. This is probably the one area where regionality can bump a player up. I suspect in Houston, you would think of Chet Lemon or Darrell Evans as one of these players, but in my neck of the woods, these guys would go up to the next level.
This is squarely were I would put Bert Blyleven. We knew he was worthy of being in the majors, but nobody would've traded a Robin Yount card for your Bert Blyleven card. Nobody is discussing the hall-of-fame merits of Alvin Davis in 2010.
These are all the other players. The players that came up for a few years, were never in the top half of players at their position, and were quickly forgotten about. Populated with a lot of 3rd starters on bad teams, perenial back-up catchers, and long relief pitchers. Probably make up 60% of a baseball card set in any given year. You hoped these were the guys getting the stain on their card from the glue used to hold the packs together. Regionality played no part in these guys being elevated...in my neck of the woods, nobody was excited to get a Marty Castillo or Barbaro Garbey card either, just as I am sure kids in 2010 aren't excited to get a card of Zack Minor.
I think this is why I think it is silly to bring up Blyleven in these hall-of-fame debates and forget about a guy like Dale Murphy, who you may have paid money in 1984 just to watch play. Granted, the way Dwight Gooden's career turned out, I wouldn't make a case for him. But should Blyleven be rewarded because he was in the major leagues for a long time, and Dale Murphy fizzled out? Nobody was paying money to go to a game just to see Blyleven pitch in 1984.
Keeping up with my idea to connect to other blogs of team collectors...take a look at Tribe Cards.
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