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Local Boys Make Good: Blyleven and Lederer
2004-12-29 06:36
by Jon Weisman

"Pull up a chair," Vin Scully would say. Rich Lederer of Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT, the son of a Long Beach Press-Telegram (among other places) sportswriter, tells some great stories this rainy-day morning about his contemporary, star pitcher Bert Blyleven.

Just for starters, we learn that the Holland-born but Garden Grove-raised Blyleven delivered the newspapers Lederer's father, George, was writing for. Soon after, Lederer tells the story of the time, fresh out of high school, he umpired a scout league game Blyleven pitched.

Dressed in my umpire’s attire (including an old-style balloon chest protector just like the A.L. umps of that day), I watched Blyleven toss his seven or so warm-up pitches before taking my position behind the catcher, gently bending my knees as the lead-off batter stepped into the batter’s box. The tall right-hander took his sign, went into his windup, and threw the most hellacious curve I had ever seen. The ball started chin high, and it broke sharply downward, crossing the plate just above the batter’s knees.

It was my turn to let out the big “steee-rike” call. Instead, I froze. Even though I had mentally prepared myself for Bert’s wicked hook, I had never seen one quite like that up close. I knew it was a strike. Everybody in the ballpark knew it was a strike. However, by the time I had processed the pitch in my mind, it was too late. I hadn’t said anything, and I hadn’t signaled a strike with my right hand.

A home plate umpire has a split-second to call a pitch a strike or a ball. In the vernacular of baseball, a pitch is a ball unless called a strike. As such, my no call meant the pitch was a ball. I looked out to the mound, and I see Bert standing there with his hands on his hips, wondering if I was ever going to pull the trigger. After a few seconds, his astonishment turned into a head shake and a chuckle.

Lederer then takes us through the highlights of Blyleven's entire career. Get to know this should-be-Hall of Famer in a way you haven't before.

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