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How Jack Morris came to be known as the best pitcher of the 1980s

Dec 29, 2010, 1:03 PM EDT

Jack Morris

Larry Granillo of Wezen-Ball fame writes for The Hardball Times now. Two great things that go great together.  Today lar has a great post up in which traces the history of the “Jack Morris was the best pitcher of the 80s” meme.  Given that, at the time, most people when asked would have said that Steve Carlton or Doc Gooden or Roger Clemens was the best of the 80s, I had figured someone came up with that once Morris started appearing on Hall of Fame ballots.

Nope, it started in the 1986-87 offseason, when the owners were shamefully colluding against Morris and other free agents:

Looking through newspaper reports from the late-1980s, the discussion of Morris as the “pitcher of the ‘80s” or “the decade’s best pitcher” seemed to begin in earnest in the winter following the 1986 season. Morris was a free-agent that year and, as of mid-December, had broken off the arbitration process with the Tigers in favor of four other clubs (the Angels, Yankees, Twins, and Phillies). The offers did not come in and, as the dreaded “c-word” came into play, writers were left trying to figure out what was happening.

lar then cites a number of newspaper articles from the time in which the meme begins to take hold.

Interesting stuff, as almost everything lar does is interesting.  Well worth your time today.

  1. heiniemanush - Dec 29, 2010 at 1:38 PM

    Ha, I was living in Boston at the time (’86) and I can certainly remember Gammons and the other baseball beat writers in town going ballistic over the owners’ collusion. Yes indeed, that perception of Morris being the best pitcher of the ’80s was very real around that time. I’m not saying it’s anywhere near correct, but it was the buzz. He was a workhorse and a winner, the same sort of criteria used when the media used to champion Dave Stewart over Clemens—who many felt to be a decidedly “non-clutch” pitcher with the Red Sox.

  2. hackerjay - Dec 29, 2010 at 2:31 PM

    Out of curiosity I checked to see who had the highest WAR in the 80’s, and the list was kind of surprising:

    Dave Stieb (45.2)
    Bob Welch (35.1)
    Fernando Valenzuela (34.8)
    Bert Blyleven (34)
    Orel Hershiser (32.8)
    Roger Clemens (32.3)
    Nolan Ryan (30.8)
    Dwight Gooden (30.2)
    John Tudor (29.7)
    Bret Saberhagen (29)

    Hershiser, Clemens, Gooden, and Saberhagen all missed the first four years of the decade, so it’s even more impressive that they rate this high.

    Jack Morris ranked 12th with a 27.9 WAR, right behind Charlie Hough’s 28.7.

    I don’t think WAR is the be-all end-all, but I think it does give a pretty good high level look at which players had similar value.

    • bobbcronin - Dec 29, 2010 at 4:00 PM

      BAPIP, WHIP, WAR…. All you Bill James junkies….. whatever happened to good old wins, losses, winning percentage, performance in high pressure games, cy youngs, all star games, etc?

      • 18thstreet - Dec 29, 2010 at 4:01 PM

        They all still exist. Why?

      • kenbuddha - Dec 29, 2010 at 8:40 PM

        Yes they all exist but they are either dependent on the team the pitcher played for (wins,losses, w/percentage) OR based on a chosen few impression of said player (cy, as, etc). The other stats TRY to isolate the particular players abilities regardless of team, park, era, etc. So, when comparing two players, we’re able to actually compare them based on what they actually were capable of, not whether they were lucky enough to play for talented teams or play in high-profile markets (east coast for instance).

  3. 18thstreet - Dec 29, 2010 at 3:19 PM

    Speaking as a Red Sox fan, if we’re entirely voting on reputation now (c.f., the cases for Jim Rice and Jack Morris), then Dave Stewart is a Hall of Famer. Now THAT was a big-game pitcher, in my memory. I don’t need no fancy stats or “evidence” to prove otherwise. He was terrifying.

  4. bobbcronin - Dec 29, 2010 at 3:58 PM

    Since too many people are unhappy with praising Jack Morris as a dominant pitcher of the 1980’s, is there a way to make a playoff baseball hall of fame? I mean he won three world series, was the MVP of two of them, and is known as one of the most dominant playoff pitchers. To me 12 seasons of 15 or more wins is definitely dominant, even if he never led the league in wins, era, etc. Greg Maddux has never been known as a strike out pitcher. Because he didn’t strike people out, should he be ommitted from the Hall of Fame? Randy Johnson, known as one of the most dominant pitchers of his Era, has great strike out numbers, but horrible ERA. Is he not a hall of fame pitcher? If Jack Morris is not a hall of famer, what will be of Tom Glavine, one of the most consistent left handed pitchers during the 90’s and early 2000’s? Is he in the same boat. Consistently good to great, but rarely the best, if ever. The Hall of Fame is for people known to be the best performer of their times and who the fans can recognize as an icon of that era. What other pitcher of the 80’s besides Morris and Nolan Ryan (after Carlton and Seaver retired, but before the 90’s blitz of the Braves pitching staff) dominated that era? I know that you do not appreciate decades, but seriously, isn’t that how normal people view time and eras?

    • NickT - Dec 29, 2010 at 4:47 PM

      Greg Maddux: #10 all-time in strikeouts.
      Randy Johnson: Better career ERA than Steve Carlton.
      Tom Glavine: Five-time 20-game winner, two-time Cy Young Award winner.

      I didn’t even use WAR or ERA+.

      • hackerjay - Dec 29, 2010 at 4:53 PM

        Not only was Johnson’s ERA better then Carlton, but from 1995 to 2004, pretty much the peak of the Steroid Era, Johnson’s ERA–unadjusted–was better then Koufax’s career ERA, even though Johnson was pitching a good portion of that in an extreme hitters park versus Koufax pitching in the most pitcher-friendly environment since the Dead Ball Era.

      • NickT - Dec 29, 2010 at 4:56 PM

        Whoops, Johnson’s career ERA (3.29) isn’t quite as good as Carlton’s (3.22). But in the 10-year period from 1995-2004 (i.e., the offensive explosion years), Johnson’s ERA was better than any 10-year stretch for Carlton.

    • docktorellis - Dec 29, 2010 at 5:24 PM

      Jack Morris was not the MVP of two world series. Just 1991.

    • NickT - Dec 29, 2010 at 8:26 PM

      I do agree with you that it’s okay to delineate a specific decade as a period of time to compare players, if for no reason other than it’s interesting and it’s something humans are comfortable doing. It’s important to be careful using it as a barometer for the Hall, though, because I believe that requires comparing across all eras. I think the advanced metrics are useful for this aspect of determining Hall worthiness.

      Note I have one exception: I’m a Mark Grace fan, so I feel being the hit leader for the 1990s makes someone HoF-worthy.

  5. ndnut - Dec 30, 2010 at 1:20 AM

    Bert Blyleven was an amazing pitcher, even if the numbers don’t show it. He had almost no run support and he would pitch as many innings as you wanted him too. Why doesn’t he get credit?

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