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Inducting Jack Morris would lower the bar for the Hall of Fame

Dec 4, 2012, 2:00 AM EDT

jack-morris-03jpg-3f54fc94864f2ba1_medium[1] AP

I’ve covered this territory before, and I realize I’m mostly preaching to the choir here. Still, it needs to be written again: Jack Morris did not have a Hall of Fame career.

The funny thing is that the writers once knew this. When Morris debuted on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2000, he received 22 percent of the vote. His support dipped to 20 percent in 2001, and he only reached 30 percent on his sixth try in 2005. Now he’s all of the way up to 66.7 percent, still for no good reason that I can see.

Morris’ backers say he was the best pitcher of the 1980s and that he pitched one of the greatest games of all-time to clinch the 1991 World Series for the Twins. I take no issue with the latter statement; Morris’ stellar duel with the Braves’ John Smoltz in which he went the distance for a 1-0, 10-inning victory was a true masterpiece and should never be forgotten. And it won’t be.

The rest of the case for Morris is weak.

Morris is only a candidate for “best pitcher of the 1980s” because it just so happens that no elite starters showed up during that 1975-1980 timeframe and had their peak years during the 1980s. No one would ever think of Morris as the top pitcher of the 1970s or 1990s had his 1980s happened in another decade.

Also, one can put together a pretty good argument that Dave Stieb was actually the best pitcher of the 1980s. Morris topped Stieb in wins 162-140, but it was closer in winning percentage (.577 to .562), even though Morris played for superior teams. Morris had a 3.66 ERA and a 109 ERA+ for the decade, while Stieb came in at 3.32 and 126.

Even if you still want to give Morris “best pitcher of the 1980s” honors, he certainly wasn’t the best pitcher of the first half of the decade (Steve Carlton, 88-47, 2.91 ERA; Morris 86-62, 3.66 ERA) or anywhere near the best pitcher of the second half of the decade (Roger Clemens 86-41, 2.92 ERA; Morris 76-57, 3.67 ERA).

And Morris wasn’t the best pitcher in any season of the decade. Not only did he never win a Cy Young Award, but he never even finished second.

It’s the Cy Young balloting that is particularly telling, in my opinion. Some of those who argue for Morris like to tell us that we weren’t there, that we didn’t see Morris when he was winning all of those big games.

Well, look at the people that were there. Morris pitched for 18 seasons, all of them in a 14-team American League. During that time, there were 504 ballots cast for the Cy Young Award. Morris received a first-place vote on five of those ballots. One percent. He got two first-place votes in 1983, when he finished third in the balloting behind the immortal LaMarr Hoyt and a reliever in Dan Quisenberry. He got the other three in 1991, when he finished fourth behind Clemens, Scott Erickson and Jim Abbott.

And while I wasn’t covering baseball in those years, I was there, at least for the latter half of Morris’ career. I think everyone respected Morris. I don’t think anyone was afraid of him. No opposing fan ever went to the ballpark and said “we’ve got no shot today, Morris is starting.” Morris was a workhorse, a battler. There’s no evidence to support the pitching to the score argument, but Morris worked deep into games and usually gave his team a chance to win. And his team did more often than not (it helped that those Tigers had two guys who really should be in the Hall of Fame in Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker).

Of course, having to be the game’s best pitcher shouldn’t be the standard for the Hall of Fame. Bert Blyleven and Don Sutton were never the best in their leagues. Tom Glavine and Curt Schilling weren’t either, yet both of them should be enshrined.

Morris, though, still doesn’t compare. His 3.90 ERA would be the worst in Cooperstown. Even in seemingly weak fields, his best AL ERA finish was fifth place. He led the league in wins twice; once in the strike-shortened 1981 season with 14 and later in 1992 when he went 21-6 with a 4.04 ERA. He led the league in innings and strikeouts once apiece. His win total of 254 is pretty good, but it’s still behind that of 41 other starters in history and it’s really the strong point of his case. Also, it should be noted that the AL was the weaker of the two leagues during Morris’ career. He was facing easier competition than his NL counterparts.

Jack Morris was a very good pitcher, one of the last to average 250 innings and 10 complete games per season in his prime. He turned in one of the greatest postseason starts in history. That’s how he should be remembered. He just doesn’t come all that close to meeting the current standards for Hall of Fame¬†enshrinement, and voting him in would be a mistake.

  1. dexterismyhero - Dec 4, 2012 at 1:11 PM

    Hell, they put Lynn Swann in the NFL HoF. After that anybody should get in. 336 rec in 9 years.

    I vote in Cookie Rojas, Smokey Burgess, and Clay Dalrymple.

    Boom!

  2. moogro - Dec 4, 2012 at 1:23 PM

    I think we need to discuss this nihilism about protecting the Hall being meaningless because of some sketchy people in there. I don’t think throwing up your hands and giving up is the way to think about it. That’s always a weak argument. It’s a museum. I think you can give patrons credit for recognizing curatorial mistakes in the past (especially given the insane way people are voted in), and still be more rigorous and critical in the present. The Hall selections can evolve and improve the same way the game can. Ignore replay anyone? We don’t need to continue to be stupid and/or political.

    I was taken aback, a little, when Puckett got in with his short career at the time. He would have gotten in anyway, because his career would have included the requisite few more years of awesomeness before his Decline Years. He was destroying baseball. There would no Morris game 7 without the Puck. For those that “were there” and “used our eyes” it was consensus that Morris was a journeyman that needed to pull a big one out of his ass for the Twins to win against Smoltz, who was looking like a HOF trajectory guy. I’m glad that he did. But it’s jarring and dissonant now to hear HOF talk include him. He was pretty good, but not HOF.

  3. Todd Boss - Dec 4, 2012 at 2:04 PM

    If part of your argument is that Morris wasn’t deemed worthy on his first year on the ballot, then how do you explain Bert Blyleven’s 1998 ballot total of only 17.5%? Not Trolling, just pointing out a fact. http://www.baseball-reference.com/awards/hof_1998.shtml

    • goirishgo - Dec 4, 2012 at 6:59 PM

      I can’t explain it. I’d make the same argument about Blyleven that I’m making about Morris. How exactly do players become so much more Hall worthy over time? Their accomplishments don’t change.

  4. mpilatzke - Dec 4, 2012 at 2:57 PM

    I am not for Jack Morris for the hall of fame, but I consider his resume to be identical to other unspectacular pitchers such as Bert Blyleven, Don Sutton and Phil Niekro. The Hall Of Fame voters have made a habit of voting in pitchers who were never elite, but could hover between good and great for a long time. Jack would fall in that same category, so I think the bar already got lowered to some extent with those three pitchers, and could not get any lower with Morris’s inclusion into the HOF. Doesn’t mean I agree with it, but it’s probably the most accurate comparison to current Hall of Famers.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Dec 4, 2012 at 5:58 PM

      How is he similar to Blyleven? When you needed to take Morris’s career and add on to it Mariano Rivera’s career to equal Blyleven’s peripherals, how are they similar?

  5. anvil35 - Dec 4, 2012 at 6:06 PM

    Jack Morris will lower the bar but the idiots that cheated to improve personal performance are okay to enter? Wow. What happened to integrity, personal responsibility and character in sports?

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Dec 4, 2012 at 9:37 PM

      What happened to integrity, personal responsibility and character in sports?

      It’s never been brought up before, when the HoF didn’t care about cheaters, drug users, both illicit and performance enhancing, guys busted for DUIs, and many other issues. Or did you forget that?

  6. vikesfansteve - Dec 5, 2012 at 12:46 AM

    Morris pitched major innings and completed games which allowed the relief pitchers to get rest which made his teams better. I find it funny that the argument that he was barely the best pitcher of the 80’s because he only had 22 more wins than Dave Steib during that time while also noting that he played on better teams. Then you go on to say Carlton was far superior winning just 2 more games in the early 80’s (ignoring the fact the Phillies played in 2 World Series) and Roger Clemens by 10 games in the late 80’s, even though the Red Sox were in a World Series and the playoffs then. Then saying he only led the league in wins twice. I mean c’mon, let’s beat the shit out of him he stinks. I mean he only won the Babe Ruth award twice for the most valuable player in the post season. The dude was a winner and succeeded while the pressure was on. Was he Sandy Koufax? No, but he was better than other players in wins by 22 for a decade. Hasn’t that always been the criteria for greatness and the H.O.F, how you played in compariasan to your contemporaries?

    • jkulaksr - Dec 5, 2012 at 1:44 PM

      Speaking for some of us who were there to see Morris pitch, I think it should be noted that Morris many times ate up innings just to bail out the rest of the Tigers bullpen which was weak at best. His ERA is higher because of this. He was not a 6 inning pitcher like a lot of the current pitchers. He was high on the complete games list and numbers of innings pitched just because the Tigers had a weak bullpen. Second, he was a moody tempermental guy who really irritated most of the writers of the day. He didn’t like doing interviews and let the writers know this. That is one of the reasons that he didn’t get many votes in the early days. We had to have turnover in the Baseball Writers to see his true value and not be swayed because they didn’t like him. While his numbers weren’t the greatest because he was a team player and pitched innings for the team, he was the best of the ’80s. One of my definitions of a Hall of Fame player is was he the elite of his time. I believe he was and so do most of his teammates.

  7. materialman80 - Dec 5, 2012 at 3:20 PM

    Morris was a good pitcher, no question. Hall of Fame pitcher…..maybe not.

  8. reddwarf66622 - Dec 6, 2012 at 9:29 AM

    Morris’s accomplishments make him a Hall of Famer. You failed to mention he has 4 World Series rings. Failed to mention he holds the record for winning the most World Series with three different teams. Failed to mention 14 consecutive opening day starts usually saved for the best pitcher on the team. If you ask his managers and other managers who watched him they all said they feared him and what made him go is that he could complete games. The managers said the bullpen would see this and he would make the other pitchers try harder. Why is Morris not in the Hall of Fame? He did not like doing interviews so press members held that against him. Morris played for small market teams voters are not as nice to players that played on a small market teams for some reason. Voters have been hard on starting pitchers getting into the Hall of Fame recent years it was a 12 year gap between Nolan Ryan and Bert Blyleven being voted in. Voters have magic numbers they want pitchers to hit 300 wins and 3,000 or more strike outs. Lets face it I don’t see 300 wins coming from any pitcher in the modern era One thing I guarantee you if he won a World Series with the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, and lets say Chicago White Sox he would of been voted in a long time ago. He certainly belongs inside the Hall of Fame more than a pitcher like Red Ruffing the worst pitcher in voted to Hall of Fame. Another thing you failed to mention Morris pitched in era after the DH was introduced and the lowering of the mound to take away from pitching dominance. All pitchers struggled throughout the 70’s and 80’s because of this. He was the best pitcher for a decade. Here are the starting pitchers voted in from the 80’s forward an the number rings they have won Blyleven – 2, N.Ryan – 1, D.Sutton – 0, Niekro – 0, Carlton – 2, Seaver – 1, Perry – 0, Jenkins – 0, Palmer – 3, Hunter – 5
    Drysdale – 3, Marichal – 0, Gibson – 2. Only one pitcher has more rings than Morris and that is Catfish Hunter. Morris’s accomplishments speak for themselves which is why he should be in the Hall Of Fame.

  9. a1legalservices - Dec 7, 2012 at 12:16 AM

    I dont think Schilling is any more qualified for the Hall of Fame than Morris. Post season success alone doesnt make you a HOFer.

  10. rayfeathers - Dec 8, 2012 at 11:27 AM

    way too many “good” pitchers are getting in. the hall is for the elite. if you have to debate it, than he doesn’ t belong. same with blylevin.

  11. stevemarknyc - Aug 11, 2013 at 5:21 AM

    Many sabermetrics guys don’t understand baseball too well and cannot distinguish between stats, intangibles and the different ages and leagues that major leaguers have played in. THERE IS NOT A SINGLE STAT THAT COMPENSATES FOR THE DIFFERENT LEVEL OF TALENT (negro leagues absent) LEAGUES, LOWERED MOUND, DRUGS, DH, ETC……. Sabermetrics only attempts to equalize but cannot and does not factor in all important circumstances. If ever sabermetrics fails for a particularly player playing in an extremely tough period against incredible lefthanded hitters amid a lowered mound and the dreaded DH, its Jack Morris. Without a doubt, this guy belongs and I won’t even bother to list his major accomplishments, I am primarily showing why the ERA arguement actually FAILS with respect to Jack Morris.

    Jack Morris not only pitched “when he did not have his best stuff, “he saved the bullpen and eased life for the rest of the starting rotation and provided tremendous leadership (not too mention extreme innings) in being arguably the greatest grinder the game has ever known at the starting pitching position. You cannot even put a value on what he did for the Detroit Tigers, and most of his peers of the 1980s remember that it was he who was the MOST respected pitcher in the league in the 80s and NOT Nolan Ryan!!! And yes he was clean unlike MAJOR CHEATS like little Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry, and Phil Niekro, just to name a few of the large number of cheats in the Hall.

    The most telling stat is that he was virtually ALWAYS the ace on every team he played on including the Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays, always your number one pitcher!

    What pitcher in major league history was the number one pitcher on his team for 15 years going? Look it up and you might find a choice few (who?????) out of tens of thousands of pitchers. YOU SABERMETRICS GUYS HAVE TO STOP REWRITING HISTORY. Let me explain to you why no pitcher in the AL East had much, IF ANY success from 1978-1993 (Clemens came late) since the stats obviously tell only a fraction of the real story:

    “If I was (a right handed) pitcher who had to face AL (East) guys every start like Don Mattingly, Wade Boggs, Rod Carew, Roberto Alomar, Joe Carter (righty) Rickey Henderson, George Brett, Paul Molitor (R) Fred Lynn, George Bell (R), Cal Ripken (R) Dave Winfield (R) Jack Clark (R) Cecil Cooper, Robin Yount (R) Rafael Palmeiro, Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas (R) and Gonzo (R) and Belle (R), Eddie Murray (1978-1993) Kirby Puckett (R) Reggie Jackson (R) Jim Rice and Dwight Evans and Carlton Fisk (righties) and Edgar Martinez, juiced up Canseco and Mcgwire (R) and some other great hitters left off this list, PLUS HAVE TO FACE AN EXTRA dh INSTEAD OF A PITCHER FOUR TIMES A GAME, in the age of the lowered mound, well then maybe (probably in all likelihood) just maybe, I would not have become the great pitcher I was destined to become:”

    SIGNED: RANDY JOHNSON (WHO STRUGGLED in the AL when compared with his domination of NL) GREG MADDUX (How would Greg Maddux have fared in that period against tremendous lefties as well as a lefty DH) SANDY KOUFAX (The lowered mound and facing four DH at bats a game might have intimidated even the great Koufax) Tom Glavine (“I will stick with the NL of today thank you very much”) Bob Gibson (although I suspect he would have been OK with his toughness and mean streak).

    Many other great pitchers struggled mightily in the American League in the 80s including Tom Seaver, although he was approaching the twilight of his career.

    What is not too widely known is that in the 80s you had the use of amphetamines (known as “greenies”) in almost every dugout along with the advent of more potent performing enhancing drugs like Steroids. The hitters really dominated the 1980s and it was not for a lack of pitching talent as Seaver, Ryan, Carlton, Blyleven, Tommy John, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Ron Guidry, Dave Stewart and the like all pitched in the 80s. It’s no coincidence that only Ryan had a high level of success in that he pitched mainly in the National League during that period (Houston Astros).

    Another interesting fact; Jack Morris was vastly superior to Bert Blyleven when their careers overlapped despite Blyleven having pitched in the offensively challenged National League for a large percentage of that overlapped period.

    The leadership that Jack Morris provided for his team even though he pitched every fifth game was incalculable. He was the leader of the Tigers and led by example as a pitcher the way Cal Ripken led position players on the Orioles by example. Jack Morris’ lifetime ERA was not a hinderance to his many accomplishments and do not effectively tell the “Jack Morris Story.”

    I will leave you with this final question:

    What might Jack’s lifetime ERA have been had he pitched in the pre-Negro National League of the 1930s and 1940s when the mound was raised. Do you think it would be closer to 3.90 or 2.90? This case is officially closed!

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