A Baseball Interlude: Bert Blyleven

Today, a brief aside vaguely concerning baseball.

I’m not a huge fan of baseball, you should probably know, even though I used to play it as a kid. Despite this, because I live in Minnesota, even the amount of time-consuming work I’ve been doing this week has been insufficient to help me avoid noticing that former Minnesota Twins’ pitcher Bert Blyleven got voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this week… after fourteen years on the ballot.

This got me to wondering – was there a reason Blyleven had finally gotten inducted? It could be argued – cynically – that he made it in this year because everyone more highly-regarded had already done so. Even more cynically, however, I wondered… how much had his Wikipedia page changed in the last couple of years? And were any of these changed “interesting” enough to affect people’s impressions of someone who, after all, hadn’t played professional baseball in eighteen years?

Before you start in with the nasty emails, I’m not in any way arguing that Blyleven doesn’t deserve this honor; far from it. I’m merely questioning why it happened now, and whether Wikipedia could have played a role.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

I’m not super sure when voting takes place by the BBWAA members, but I believe it’s at the end of the (calendar) year. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, though I don’t really care.

The Wikipedia Pages

To look at how Blyleven’s Wikipedia page has changed over time, let’s look at three revisions:

17 November 2010

1 November 2008

30 October 2007

These were picked not-quite-at-random, to choose revisions that weren’t reverted or caught up in edit wars, and had been allowed to stand on their own for at least several days.

It’s also probably worth comparing these revisions to what his page as I write this (though keep in mind the damned thing’s been edited ten times just today, yikes).

Bert Blyleven, Over Time

Lede: In 2007 and 2008, Blyleven was “known for his curveball”. In 2010, he was “known for his outstanding curveball”. (Emphasis mine).

First body (“Career”) paragraph: In 2007 and 2008, Blyleven was drafted straight out of high school, and was called up to the Majors after “a very brief stint” or “21 starts”, and his “sharp curveball helped him to ten victories and he was named AL Rookie Pitcher of the Year”. By 2010, this paragraph notes that Blyleven in 1973 “…pitched the most shutouts of any AL pitcher, with 9”.

Second body paragraph: 2007 and 2008 revisions say he had a 2.76 ERA in his first season with the Rangers, and threw a no-hitter against the Angels in September 1977. By 2010, this paragraph had been edited to add that his “2.74 career ERA with the Rangers remains the best in team history” (emphasis mine), albeit with a “citation needed” notice.

Third body paragraph: No real changes over the years.

Fourth body paragraph: No real changes over the years, except that his dissatisfaction in 1986 with the Indians had been amended by 2010 to refer to the “lackluster Indians”.

Fifth and sixth “Career” paragraphs: In 2007 and 2008, the fifth paragraph mostly describes his struggles in 1991-1993, mentioning in particular his 1992 season as “mostly unproductive”. By 2010, this had been bumped down by a short paragraph extolling the highlights of his 1986 and 1987 seasons, noting he “produced major league records for home runs allowed in a single season (50) and in back-to-back seasons (96)” (emphasis mine) and “never surrendered more than 24 home runs in any year before and after the 1986-87 campaigns, averaging 21 allowed per season”.

In 2010, a new one-sentence paragraph had appeared here, a quote (from Hall of Fame inductee Brooke Robinson) about Blyleven’s “nasty” curveball, and describing Blyleven as a “dominating” pitcher.

The final “Career” paragraph in 2007 and 2008 noted that “Blyleven is often considered to be the best eligible pitcher not yet in the Baseball Hall of Fame…”; by 2010 this had been amended to say that he was “…widely considered to be the best…” (emphasis mine). By 2010 brief mention had been included here of two notable post-retirement activities – his serving as a pitching coach in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, and his having been honored by the Twins that same year.

His “commentating career” section on Wikipedia was mostly unchanged between 2007 and 2010, although by 2010 a line had been included that he was “a well-known opponent of using the pitch count to make relief decisions” and critical of “over-use of the bullpen” by MLB teams. Also, in 2008 it claimed his commentary “is frequently risqué for a baseball broadcast, a fact which seems to cause play-by-play announcer Dick Bremer no small amount of discomfort”, but by 2010 this read “is frequently risqué for a baseball broadcast, but provides interesting and friendly conversation between him and play-by-play announcer Dick Bremer”.

The remainder of his Wikipedia page was basically unchanged between late 2007 and late 2010.

Conclusions

It’s (IMO) inarguable that Wikipedia has increased Blyleven’s cachet, if you will, over the last three years. How much has this affected his entrance into the Hall of Fame? It’s hard to say for sure, of course, but I think it’s inarguable that someone looking at his page in late 2010 would have been left feeling that Blyleven was a lot more noteworthy than had they viewed his page a couple of years earlier – despite Bert Blyleven not having played professional baseball for almost two decades.

Good news for Bert Blyleven, obviously. An inspirational tale for supporters of other so-far-unsuccessful nominees? Only time will tell. 🙂

Published in: Geekiness, General, History | on January 7th, 2011| Comments Off on A Baseball Interlude: Bert Blyleven

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