MINNEAPOLIS — Bert Blyleven has been working in front of major league fans for nearly 50 years, first as a big-league player for 22 years, then as a broadcaster for 25. Most of that time has been in Minnesota, where he solidified a bond with Twins fans during his second stint with the team that picked him in the third round of the 1969 amateur draft.
On the threshold of his last Twins broadcast on Fox Sports North, Blyleven spoke mostly about that relationship.
“It all started when we won the (1987) World Series and we beat the Tigers (in the first round),” Blyleven said Wednesday from the broadcast booth at Target Field before working his final game as a Twins color analyst. “We came back at 11 o’clock and there were 55,000 people there to greet you.”
Blyleven, 69, will transition into being a Twins special assistant next season, keeping his gig as an on-field spring training coach and adding special appearances on behalf of the organization throughout the year. His days working Twins games are at an end, but he insisted “it doesn’t mean that it’s the end of my broadcast career. I’m not retiring, or anything. It’s just that my contract expired here.”
The contracts for the other analysts in what has been a rotation for the past few seasons — Jack Morris, Roy Smalley, Torii Hunter, LaTroy Hawkins and Justin Morneau — all expire by season’s end, so it’s unclear who might be back in the booth with play-by-play man Dick Bremer.
“There is nothing definitive on the TV talent front for 2021,” Twins president Dave St. Peter said. “That said, we do expect to feature multiple analysts over the course of the season.”
Blyleven started broadcasting, alongside Bremer, in 1996 when the Twins were broadcast by Midwest Sports Channel. “Scary, isn’t it?” he said. “No, it’s been a nice run.”
Known for a one-of-a-kind curveball, Blyleven won World Series with the Twins (1987) and Pittsburgh Pirates (1979) and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 2011. He threw a no-hitter while pitching for Texas in 1977 and the Twins retired his No. 28 on July 16, 2011.
“This is a wonderful business, but it’s one of the most competitive businesses around,” Bremer said. “To last as long as he did, I think, speaks to how beloved he’s been in the region, first as a player, and then as a broadcaster. Not many people are lucky enough to be able to do it as long as he did.”
Blyleven was born in the Netherlands, where he later coached the Olympics baseball team, but grew up watching the Los Angeles Dodgers and listening to their legendary play-by-play man, Vin Scully, while growing up in Southern California.
“I grew up listening to him, and I always thought of that guy that was sitting at home and had worked eight to five and just put his feet up to watch a ballgame and I always thought, you know what? Those people don’t need to hear that a $10 million player is having a bad day,” Blyleven said. “That’s the way I always looked at my broadcast, every day. That’s the way Vin Scully always made me feel when I watched him. He always found a positive out of a negative.”
In 2002, Blyleven began acknowledging fans, home and away, with what will likely be what his broadcast career is best remembered for, “Circle Me, Bert.” Fans would bring signs asking Blyleven to circle them on screen, often in honor of a friend, relative or hometown.
Blyleven would circle them on the screen using a Telestrator and say, “You are hereby circled.”
There have been no fans at MLB parks this season because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, an unfortunate twist of fate. But the daily summer ritual best summed up his approach as a broadcaster.
“This game’s not easy,” he said. “We can sit up here and second guess; I mean, I second-guessed every pitch I threw for 22 years. So, you just go out and enjoy the game, enjoy the crowd and have a lot of fun with it.”