As usual, Blyleven offers forthright commentary
Hall of Famer has little regard for pitch counts, enjoys coaching Dutch hurlers
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. –- A conversation with Bert Blyleven is always a joy. One of my favorite people in baseball, the Hall of Fame right-hander is funny, glib and tells you what he thinks. No smoothing over the edges.
A long-time broadcaster for the Twins, he's the pitching coach for the Netherlands team that will compete next month in the World Baseball Classic.
Blyleven has an opinion about everything. Pitch counts? He's against them.
"The pitch count, why 100?" he recently asked rhetorically at the Giants' Minor League complex, where the Dutch gathered this week to prepare for their opener against Korea on March 2 in Taiwan. "I'm still waiting for the first guy to throw his 101st pitch and actually blow up on the mound."
On pitcher Francisco Liriano, now departed from the Twins' scene:
"He could never find that consistency. You look at his walks-to-innings pitched, I mean for a guy who has that kind of stuff? You've got to be kidding me. Sometimes when a pitcher crosses that line, he can't handle it. It becomes more mental than physical. He can throw great in the bullpen. He could have the best bullpen side piece you ever saw. Then he gets into a game and all heck breaks loose."
On Barry Bonds' chances of getting into the Hall of Fame:
"He's a great player, a great player. If the writers ever put him in, congratulations to him."
Blyleven, the first and only Netherlands native in the Hall of Fame, expounded on the Classic, the Dutch team, the Twins and the Hall of Fame.
MLB.com: This is your second time doing the World Baseball Classic for the Dutch. What draws you to it?
Blyleven: Well, being born in Holland, you know, I take a lot of pride in that. I get a lot of pleasure helping these kids out. What we did four years ago, beating the Dominican Republic twice down in Puerto Rico, for the Dutch it was like winning the World Series. The celebration I went through back then is something I'd like to experience again this time. Baseball is so international now and anything we can do in this tournament to enhance baseball in Europe, I think is a very positive thing. What it does, it gets little kids interested in it. They can get out there on the fields. Rather than sit in front of a computer at home, they can go out and exercise and hopefully fall in love with the game of baseball.
MLB.com: You guys basically knocked the Dominicans out of the Classic in 2009.
Blyleven: Yes, we did, and I'm sure they'll remember it this year when they go into their bracket. The people in the Dominican Republic were very shocked. We had heard four years ago that Major League Baseball had already sent jerseys over to Miami with Puerto Rico and the Dominican on the fronts because of the Latino population there. There weren't too many Dutch jerseys sent ahead.
MLB.com: How do you think the team is going to do?
Blyleven: I'm glad we're having these nine days in the desert. It's a good opportunity to get everybody together and play. Then, we're going to go from here to Taiwan on Feb. 20, I guess, to get acclimated to the weather and the conditions there. We'll play some ballgames. We have six in nine days here. Hitters will see some live pitching. Pitchers will get on the mound for the first time in a while because of the weather conditions in Holland. We'll know more when we get some games under our belts before the tournament starts on March 2.
MLB.com: Do you like coaching?
Blyleven: I love it. When I retired in 1992, the Angels gave me the roving pitching coach job and I loved that. At the time, I went through a personal situation at home. I went through a divorce. I decided not to continue doing it. The broadcasting deal just kind of popped up. I jumped on that and have been doing it ever since. So I like that. But I enjoy my time here working with young kids, just talking the game of baseball, teaching the game of baseball.
MLB.com: Have you thought about doing it in the Major Leagues?
Blyleven: Yes and no. I'm with the Twins organization. I've never been invited to Spring Training to be a coach or just help out. That's the "no" part. The "yes" part is it's always in the back of your mind. That's why I like this, because I get to share my experiences and what I learned over 22 years and hopefully teach some of it. There are just basics you have to get back to. They're for everybody, no matter whether you're a Little Leaguer or a Major Leaguer.
MLB.com: What's your philosophy?
Blyleven: These are my big things: visualization, consistency, trying to figure out what that individual does best, and stay with that. Don't get out of your element. And attacking the strike zone, you have to attack the strike zone. No walks. That kills defense. That kills the pitching staff when you have somebody throwing the ball all over the place. To me, pitching is nothing more than throwing the ball through the window. That's what I learned from Bob Feller. Throw the ball through the window. Trust your stuff. Trust the guys behind you. And throw the ball over the plate.
MLB.com: Mathematically, pitchers always have the edge over hitters. Even the best hitters are hitless seven out of every 10 times they come to the plate.
Blyleven: Sometimes I faced guys who found that 30-percent bracket, time after time. I'd go, "Wait a minute, where's that seven out of 10? You're 3-for-3 off of me. What's going on here?"
MLB.com: What's your take on the Twins?
Blyleven: We need pitching. We've got a lot of young pitchers. They've made some trades. They traded two of our center fielders -- Ben Revere and Denard Span -- to get pitching. The last couple of years have been very frustrating for the Twins organization, their fans, because there has not been the consistency on the mound. But now, who's going to play center? Chris Parmelee, a first baseman, is playing right field. Who's going to play short? Who's going to play second? Trevor Plouffe had about a month and a half of greatness. Can he do that over six months? There are a lot of question marks.
MLB.com: But it all comes down to starting pitching?
Blyleven: No question. The game has changed. The big thing now is if you can get three guys to each pitch 200 innings. If you can do that, hopefully you can have a consistent year. Even at 200 innings over 30 starts, you're averaging less than seven innings a start.
MLB.com: You used to do that without breaking a sweat.
Blyleven: I saw it the other day. I think in my career, I averaged 245 innings (per 162 team games) over 22 years. That's your goal, but the game has changed. We had four-man starting rotations. Now they have five, and some are talking about six-man rotations. I'm from the old school. I don't like the pitch count and never will. Every pitcher is different -- their makeup, their drive, their ability. For the Twins going into Spring Training, give me three guys who will stay healthy. That's the key. They have guys coming off Tommy John surgery. It seems like you're not a Major League pitcher anymore unless you have Tommy John surgery, at least one.
MLB.com: What did you think of the Hall of Fame vote this year?
Blyleven: I was a little surprised that Jack Morris didn't get in, because last year he got so close. Next year, you look at Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine being on the ballot, and I don't think it looks good for Jack in his 15th and final year. I like the statements the writers made about the performance-enhancing-drug guys. I like that. I believe a lot of those guys did cheat the game of baseball. They cheated themselves. I was a little surprised nobody was elected. Craig Biggio, with his 3,060 hits, might go in next year. I wish we had an idea about who really did these drugs or not. There's too much speculation. I think the writers would want to know. Wouldn't they? It's their Hall of Fame for the first 15 years.
MLB.com: You talk among your Hall of Fame colleagues. Do you think there will be a low turnout if any of these guys eventually do get in?
Blyleven: That's a good question because I've talked to some of them, and they said they wouldn't go. Others said they would go, but when [chairman] Jane Forbes Clark announces them and describes their career, before they start their speech, they would get up and walk out. So, I guess there are a couple of different scenarios. Hopefully, we don't have to find out. To me, I'm in a very elite group. I'm very honored to be a Hall of Famer. And I want to go back every year, no matter who's getting in or not getting in, to represent baseball. That's the way I look at it, and that's the way my wife looks at it.
MLB.com: So, I assume this year you'll be back, despite the fact that there are no living Hall of Famers. In fact, MLB.com's Paul Hagen, the Spink Award winner, is the only living award winner.
Blyleven: He's got to stretch his speech out. Really stretch it out.
MLB.com: But you'll be there.
Blyleven: Oh yeah, I'll be there. I'll be there every year. That's part of the responsibility of being a Hall of Famer. We lost Earl Weaver. We lost Stan "The Man" Musial. Those were guys who were usually there. You should be there as long as your health is good.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.