Baseball's longest-running rumor--Bert Blyleven to the Angels--was finally laid to rest Thursday when the club got the 37-year-old pitcher from the Minnesota Twins, about 11 years later than originally planned.
And, ultimately, it cost the Angels very little to bring Blyleven, a Villa Park resident, back home to Orange County.
For Blyleven and minor league pitcher Kevin Trudeau, the Angels sent Minnesota three fringe prospects--pitcher Mike Cook, who made the Angels' 1987 opening-day roster but spent most of 1988 at triple-A Edmonton; pitcher Rob Wassenaar, who was 2-5 with Class A Quad City at Davenport, Iowa, and infielder Paul Sorrento, who batted .286 with Class A Palm Springs.
That's not exactly up to snuff with the 1977 blockbuster that supposedly had the Texas Rangers shipping Blyleven to the Angels for Don Baylor. Or how about the 1985 deal that had Kirk McCaskill and Mark McLemore postmarked for Cleveland--with press releases already written?
"There must've been three or four times when I was close to coming here," Blyleven said during a news conference at an Anaheim restaurant. "But something always happened.
"When my general manager (the Twins' Andy MacPhail) told me after the season he was going to trade me to my home, I didn't get overly excited about it, because of what's happened in the past."
How about when the trade finally reached its resolution Thursday morning?
"I screamed," Blyleven said. "It's always been my dream to pitch for the Angels, where I grew up and where my family lives. I've been trying to tie my family together for years. Nineteen years into my professional baseball career, I finally have the opportunity."
In their long pursuit of Blyleven, the Angels preached patience--almost to a fault. If they were waiting for the price to drop, they may also have been guilty of waiting too long.
Blyleven has a record of 254-226 and won 17 games as recently as 1986. In 1984, he went 19-7 with a 2.87 earned-run average for the Cleveland Indians. But in 1988, Blyleven struggled through a 10-17 season--going 3-11 after July 3--and his final 5.43 ERA was more than 2 full points higher than his career mark of 3.25. "A miserable year," Blyleven called it. "Probably the worst of my career."
The Angels have been this route before, most recently with Dan Petry, whose first season in Anaheim resulted in 3 victories and 2 months on the disabled list, and most notoriously with Bill Travers, John D'Acquisto and Frank LaCorte.
Is this just another broken-down pitcher for the gallery?
"It's too bad I had to have a year like that before I got traded," Blyleven said. "I've got to feel positive. I've had so much success pitching here in Anaheim (Blyleven is 28-14 against the Angels) and getting out of the Metrodome has to help me mentally. Pitching outside again is going to make me think positively."
That jibes with the thinking, wishful or not, of Angel General Manager Mike Port, who initiated the talks with the Twins during the World Series. Blyleven holds the major league record for most home runs allowed in a single season--50, in 1986--and gave up 46 more in 1987, but Port and Blyleven contend those numbers were primarily the product of pitching in the hitter-friendly Metrodome.
"Give up a (routine) fly ball to right field there and it's gone," Blyleven said. "The year I gave up 50 homers, it got so bad that every time I'd walk out to the mound, I'd be thinking, 'How many am I going to give up today?' "
Blyleven also attributes his poor 1988 to a mid-season breakdown in contract negotiations with MacPhail. In August, Blyleven agreed to a 2-year, $1.9-million extension to his Twin contract that was to pay him $1 million for 1989 and $900,000 for 1990, provided he worked at least 190 innings each season. But the extension included a no-payment clause in case of a players' strike in 1990 and Dick Moss, Blyleven's agent, balked at the proposal.
MacPhail then rescinded the extension and by the time Blyleven ended his disappointing season, the new offer on the table was a 1-year contract for $800,000--representing a 20% pay cut, the maximum allowed under baseball's collective bargaining agreement.
"I was hoping at first that what Andy was talking about this summer would still be on after the season," Blyleven said. "But it wasn't. At that time, right after the season, I had the feeling I wouldn't be coming back to the Twins."
Blyleven used the threat of free agency to spring the deal with the Angels. Not wanting to lose a starting pitcher and receive nothing but a draft choice in return, MacPhail attempted to get whatever he could from the Angels.
And Port, rather than lose a first-round draft choice by signing Blyleven as a free agent, opted to part with what he calls "developmental surplus." In the same fashion, the Angels acquired free agent-to-be Lance Parrish from the Philadelphia Phillies last month for minor league pitcher David Holdridge.
The Angels still must sign Blyleven to a contract for 1989 but the pitcher said he didn't anticipate that being a problem. By waiving his free-agent rights, which Blyleven said he will do, he becomes Angel property and, if no contract agreement is reached, is eligible for arbitration.
Blyleven's just-completed 3-year contract with Minnesota paid him an average of $1.3 million a season. In accordance with the collective bargaining agreement, the Angels can pay Blyleven no less than $1,040,000--or 80% of $1.3 million--next year.
BERT BLYLEVEN IN THE MAJOR LEAGUES
YEAR TEAM W L ERA IP SO 1970 Minn. 10 9 3.18 164 135 1971 Minn. 16 15 2.82 278 224 1972 Minn. 17 17 2.73 287 228 1973 Minn. 20 17 2.52 325 258 1974 Minn. 17 17 2.66 281 249 1975 Minn. 15 10 3.00 275 233 1976 Minn.-Tex. 13 16 2.87 297 219 1977 Texas 14 12 2.72 234 182 1978 Pitt. 14 10 3.02 244 182 1979 Pitt. 12 5 3.61 237 172 1980 Pitt. 8 13 3.82 217 168 1981 Cleve. 11 7 2.89 159 107 1982 Cleve. 2 2 4.87 20 19 1983 Cleve. 7 10 3.91 156 123 1984 Cleve. 19 7 2.87 245 170 1985 Cle.-Minn. 17 16 3.16 293 206 1986 Minn. 17 14 4.01 271 215 1987 Minn. 15 12 4.01 267 196 1988 Minn. 10 17 5.43 207 145 Totals 254 226 3.25 4462 3431