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Coming Full Circle: Bert Blyleven and the end of a broadcast era

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For better or worse, it was always interesting

TUESDAY_08/13/02_Mpls. - - - - - - Up in the press box, Bert Blyleven circles the twins (and Twins fans) Kaylee and Kara Knoff, during an inning change.

1996 was the first year I recall watching Twins baseball on TV with regularity. That was also the first season in which Bert Blyleven joined the broadcast booth to serve as the “color guy” to Dick Bremer’s play-by-play. Twenty four years later, when Bert signed off for the final time (9/2/20), he left behind a legacy in the booth that will be remembered in Twins Territory forever.

As a player, Blyleven was a spectacular talent.

Minnesota Twins v Detroit Tigers
Into the wind-up
Photo by: Diamond Images/Getty Images

Over 21 seasons (ages 19-41) on the mound—10 spent with the Twins—he racked up 287 wins, 3,701 strikeouts, 242 CG, 60 SHO, 118 ERA+, and 94.5 WAR. He won a championship with the 1979 “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates, then another in 1987 during his late-career return to the Twins. His trademark was an absolutely knee-buckling 12-6 curveball. Think of a modern-day Clayton Kershaw for comparison.

Yet, despite those remarkable accomplishments on the diamond, he was passed over in the Hall of Fame balloting for 13 years before finally getting the call in 2011.

2011 Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
A long-overdue honor
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

A big reason for this? Bert was often considered a bit of a surly character—very brash and outspoken—and not a favorite of sportswriters. As such, imagining him in a suit and tie professionally representing the Minnesota Twins to millions of fans must have seemed a bit of a stretch in ‘96.

Largely, however, Bert’s tenure in the booth proved to be a rousing success. During the doldrums of the late-90s, blowout-contest stories from both his Twins stints (‘70-’76; ‘85-’88) were often the only thing worth tuning in for. Of course, his greatest success was in creating the “Circle Me Bert” phenomenon, in which he began circling Twins fans with his TV telestrator. You couldn’t go to a Twins game at the Metrodome in the 2000s without seeing 50+ signs pleading to be encased in Bert’s yellow oval.

TUESDAY_08/13/02_Mpls. - - - - - - Twins fans (and twins in their own right) Kaylee Knoff and Kara Knoff held thier “Circle the Twins Bert” sign high, among many other similar signs in the background, to catch the eye of TV commentator Bert Blyleven.
“You are hereby circled!”

Personally, I never got the thrill of being circled, but Bert did speak my name via the old CarSoup.com “email the booth” promotion. I’ve long forgotten what question I asked that day, but I’ll never forget my fleeting moment of television notoriety.

Despite being such an unexpected success in the booth, Bert’s mic tenure wasn’t without its hiccups. He accidentally dropped a few F-bombs on live TV. He made some remarks about the city of Detroit that were entirely uncalled for. He could be a little prickly about certain topics, especially related to pitching deep into games. He truly believed that the “downward plane” was the be-all, end-all of major league pitching.

At the same time, it was tough to dislike a character who ate night-crawlers for charity...

How can you ever stay mad at a guy who lost a bet to Johan Santana that resulted in his head being shaved?!

For the last quarter-century, I’ve tuned into Twins games from home, the lake cabin, or any other location I could get my hands on a cable subscription and remote. While many personalities have cycled in and out of the broadcast booth, the combination of “Dick-an-Bert” become iconic. I’ve especially noticed this during the topsy-turvy 2020 pandemic season, in which so much is uncertain both on and off the diamond. Seeing and hearing the combination of Blyleven and Bremer gave me a sense of normalcy for a few hours a night.

Of course, as is the case in both life and baseball, nothing lasts forever. Much like Bert spoke to a generation of fans who watched him hurl gems, now the baton must be passed to Justin Morneau, Latroy Hawkins, and maybe even Torii Hunter, former players who speak to the thirty-somethings like myself who cut our teeth on the “Get to Know ‘Em” Twins of the early 00’s.

I’ll say this, though: A bloop hit over the infield will never be anything other than a “duck fart” to me. Thanks for adding that to my lexicon, Bert, and thank you for being part of the soundtrack of Twins baseball.

Thanks for the memories, Bert.