01/06/2011 4:48PM

Stute's Hall of Fame case is easy to make


The news that Bert Blyleven finally has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame should be encouraging to long-suffering supporters of trainer Mel Stute. Hang tough. The day will come.

Through 22 seasons of hard work, primarily with the Minnesota Twins, Blyleven won 287 games, 60 of them shutouts, accompanied by 3,701 strikeouts. Those last two figures are among the top 10 all-time, placing Blyleven ahead of Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer, and Steve Carlton on the list of blanks and ahead of Tom Seaver, Greg Maddux, and Don Sutton in terms of K’s.

The stat that truly resonates, at least with a few of us old farts, is Blyleven’s 242 complete games. The figure is a drop in the bucket compared to dinosaurs such as Christy Mathewson (434), Walter Johnson (531), and Cy Young (gulp, 749). But among all the pitchers who commenced their careers post-1970 − when the era of middle relievers, short relievers, and one-batter specialists dawned – no one finished the job more often than Blyleven.

Like Blyleven, who retired in 1992, Mel Stute has been in the game for the long haul. He won his first race in 1947 at Portland Meadows – it had to be somewhere – then 63 years later, on Dec. 11, 2010, he won number 2,000 at Hollywood Park.

Such longevity tends to dilute the stats when parsed out over the years. Blyleven often played for losing teams and had losing seasons. Stute, who is 83, continues to report for work despite the fact that his small stable is made up of modest horses owned either by his wife, Annabelle, or in partnership.

But not even Wayne Lukas has Wayne Lukas seasons anymore. Stute’s name may appear less frequently on the program, and never in the standings, but his ardor for the game has never waned, which is why he states flatly that he will never walk away.

This vow, to which Stute will be held, presents his local California friends and fans with a constant reminder that their man has been snubbed. On those many days when he does not have a horse in a race, Mel still will be present and accounted for, shaking hands with his favorite automated teller, trading tall old tales with anyone smart enough to linger in his box.

“The fact that Mel Stute is not in the Hall of Fame ranks with the greatest injustices of the sport,” says industry leader Gary Biszantz, who first employed Stute as a trainer in 1956.

As part of the Hall of Fame nominating process (don’t ask me about the voting) I can only warn Stute’s supporters that it has become harder than ever for him to make the ballot, which he has done many times in the past. It will be up to my fellow nominators and the subsequent mass of voters – including media, officials, and historians – to decide once and for all if Stute should be recognized. His accomplishments should speak for themselves, with precious little need for explanatory context, as a collection of moments achieved by very few in his profession. A partial list:

◗ Trained Double Discount to set a world’s record for 1 1/4 miles on the grass.

◗ Training the filly Very Subtle to upset Groovy, Pine Tree Lane, and Zany Tactics in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

◗ Trained Brave Raj to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and an Eclipse Award.

◗ Trained Snow Chief to win the Preakness, Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Jersey Derby, and an Eclipse Award.

◗ Trained the winners of at least one running each of the Yellow Ribbon, the Californian, Del Mar Futurity, Hollywood Futurity, Vanity Handicap, Triple Bend, San Fernando, San Felipe, Norfolk Stakes, San Carlos, Las Virgenes, Strub Stakes, Test, Del Mar Debutante, San Carlos, and the Longacres Mile. There are others.

◗ Led major Southern California meets five times.

◗ Ranks as eighth-leading trainer all-time at Santa Anita Park; five of the seven above him are in the Hall of Fame.

Stute has been tagged from time to time with the label of claiming trainer. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a fact, however, that with the exception of Beverly Hills heiress Dolly Green and a few second-stringers for Max Gluck, Stute rarely got the cream of any given Thoroughbred crop. The vast majority of his stakes winners have come from modest backgrounds, but that is context, and I promised none was needed.

Stute also has two racetrack sports bars and a restaurant entree named in his honor, which should have nothing to do with his Hall of Fame worthiness, any more than the fact he would not be eligible for Hall of Fame induction by the Historic Review Committee until 25 years after his retirement, a word that has never crossed his lips, or that the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies this summer will fall right around his 84th birthday, on Aug. 8.

By then, Bert Blyleven – born Rik Aalbert Blijleven in The Netherlands – will have made his acceptance speech at Cooperstown. He received enough support among Hall of Fame voters in each of the last 13 years to maintain a presence on the ballot, but until 2009 he never brushed close enough to the magic 75 percent support to put him over the top. Similarly, Stute has hovered around the racing Hall of Fame process for at least the last 15 years.

One of Blyleven’s greatest Hall of Fame boosters has been his Twins teammate Jim Kaat, who enjoyed a small but vocal Hall of Fame support system of his own. Kaat, who worked with the young version of Blyleven and found very little that needed improving, also happens to be a devoted horse racing fan. He used the following analogy when asked about Blyleven’s Hall of Fame credentials:

“Bert was like the stakes horse, and I was the stable horse that raced every third day and made you some money,” Kaat said. “I didn’t always win, but I always gave you my best effort.”

Among Thoroughbred trainers, Mel Stute has been both.