Bert Blyleven didn’t experience baseball until well into his childhood years. He quickly, however, made up for lost time.
Rik Aalbert Blyleven was born in Zeist, Holland, on April 6, 1951, and was raised in Southern California. He became interested in baseball when his father took him to see Sandy Koufax pitch for the Dodgers. Later, he was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the third round of the 1969 amateur draft.
He became the youngest pitcher in the majors when he was called up to the Twins on June 2, 1970 after just 21 minor league starts. He gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, Lee Maye of the Senators, but got the win that day and nine more that season – and was eventually named AL Rookie Pitcher of the Year by the Sporting News.
By his first full season in 1971, Blyleven established himself as a top shelf starter – winning 16 games, striking out 224 batters and leading the league with 3.80 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
In 1973, Blyleven won 20 games and threw 325 innings. After five years with 200-plus innings pitched and 15-plus wins for the Twins, he was sent to the Texas Rangers in a deal that brought Minnesota four players and $250,000. In 1977, Blyleven led the AL with a 1,065 WHIP and threw a no-hitter in his last start of his first year against California on Sept. 22, 1977.
Often considered to have the toughest curveball of his time, Blyleven threw two different types, the “roundhouse” and the “overhand drop”. He gripped both like a fastball and used a balanced, full follow-through to get movement.
“It (his curveball) was nasty, I'll tell you that,” said Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson. “Enough to make your knees buckle. Bert (Blyleven) was a terrific pitcher – a dominating pitcher.”
After the 1977 season, he was traded to the Pirates in a rare four-team trade. The Pirates won the World Series in 1979 and Blyleven went 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in the Fall Classic after throwing a complete game in Game 3 of the NLCS.
He was traded to Cleveland after the 1980 season, and in 1982 was sidelined by an elbow injury and only started four games. But by 1984, Blyleven was back to full strength and posted a 19-7 mark with a 2.87 ERA, finishing third in the AL Cy Young Award voting.
In 1985, Blyleven went back to Minnesota in a mid-season deal, totaling 24 complete games in 37 starts for the Indians and Twins that year – including 11 in a row from June 6-July 24. The following year, he established a league record with eight seasons with 200-or-more strikeouts. In 1987, he led the Twins to the World Series with two ALCS wins and another in the World Series.
Traded to the Angels after the 1988 season, Blyleven went 17-5 with a 2.73 ERA in 1989 at age 38. He retired in 1992 after 22 seasons, finishing with with 3,701 strikeouts, 287 victories, 60 shutouts and 242 complete games.
Blyleven was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2011.