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Bob Ryan’s curious Hall of Fame column

Dec 17, 2012, 9:02 AM EDT

jack morris-thumb-250x375-4861

Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe actually has a pretty good Hall of Fame ballot. He leaves off Bonds, Clemens and Sosa — lots of people will be doing that — but then gives the nod to Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Jack Morris, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, and Curt Schilling.

I am against Morris but it’s probably inevitable that he gets in so I’m not gonna waste too much effort fighting that fight anymore (though I’ll expend a modicum of effort below). I don’t know what I think about Schilling. If I were a voter I’d probably have decided by now, but as it is I’m on the fence. It wouldn’t bother me too much if he got in, but I think he’s a harder sell than others. I’m all for Bagwell, Biggio, Martinez, Piazza and Raines, and I applaud anyone who has them on their ballot, even if I think they’ll fall short this year.

But even if Ryan gets to a good place in the results, the path he takes to get there is a bit curious.  In talking about Bonds, Clemens and Sosa:

It’s easy for a few voters. They believe Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa are innocent of all charges.

Ryan says that there aren’t many who believe that, but I defy him to name me one, and I can’t believe such a beast exists. On Piazza and Bagwell who, again, he supports:

I am speaking, of course, of Mike Piazza, who may very well be the greatest hitting catcher of all time, but who, despite the lack of any concrete evidence, is regarded as a cheater by some because he flunked the Eyeball Test. See? This is why the drug issue is so insidious … Jeff Bagwell’s résumé is similarly persuasive but, he, too, failed to pass the Eyeball Test.

Actually, it’s not “the drug issue” that’s insidious. It’s the people who tar guys like Bagwell and Piazza without evidence or cause. If one supports Bagwell and Piazza despite being opposed to allowing PED users in the Hall — as Ryan does — one necessarily rejects that awful approach. Yet Ryan declines to criticize those he believes are being irrational and unfair. How much better it would be if someone of Ryan’s tremendous stature in the industry were to shame those who traffic in baseless accusations rather than to simply throw his hands up and say “oh well, it’s insidious!” But I guess that would make BBWAA dinners awkward.

But just in case his actual, reasonable votes rankle his crusty colleagues a bit, he covers himself with some de rigueur stathead hate:

The Morris candidacy has become extremely controversial, his advocates being old-line baseball sorts who view him as the quintessential gun-slinging Ace of the Staff (14 Opening Day starts) and his detractors being Sabermetric zealots who decry a 3.90 career ERA that would be the highest ever to be so enshrined, and who discredit the notion that he pitched to the score, thus accounting for an inflated ERA.

Lots of fun packed into one lengthy sentence:

  • A shoutout to “Opening Day starts,” which is a statistic that was never once mentioned before people started trying to justify Morris’ candidacy and will never be used again because, outside the context of Jack Morris, everyone knows it’s meaningless;
  • “Sabermetric zealots” is a good phrase! Too bad the word zealotry — which means a fanatical devotion — is far more apt for Morris supporters than detractors. The statheads merely believe Morris’ numbers aren’t good enough. The Morris supporters have deified Morris as both a pitcher and a human being and have a far greater opinion of him now than the people who covered him or watched him pitch ever had back in the day.
  • That said, we zealots do not “discredit” the idea that Morris pitched to the score. To “discredit,” in the present tense, is to harm the good reputation of something or to refuse to believe something. The zealots no more “discredit” the idea that Jack Morris pitched to the score than doctors discredit bleeding with leeches or paleontologists discredit Piltdown Man. Rather, the notion has been unequivocally rejected as fantasy. Statheads don’t discredit that Morris pitched to the score. Those who believe he pitched to the score discredit reality.

All very clever, Ryan. Cover yourself with enough silly old school writer ignorance and verbiage, slam the statheads, give a free pass to those who smear certain ballplayers and then submit a ballot that looks a lot like one a stathead would submit anyway.  I don’t know what your end game here is, but it may just be genius.

  1. louhudson23 - Dec 17, 2012 at 9:18 AM

    Somebody is covering themselves in something,but it isn’t old school and it isn’t Ryan.

  2. gosport474 - Dec 17, 2012 at 9:22 AM

    I think his key term in the column is ‘eyeball test.’ So many of these reporters and columnists rely on the eyeball test to prove or disprove their own point of view. The ‘eyeball’ test is definitely what is going to get Morris into the hall. Not objective data and reasoning. And yet when they see greatness and the statistics to back it up in Piazza and Bagwell, they use the ‘eyeball test’ to hint at the use of PEDs. In other words when it comes to the HOF, a lot of these guys want their cake and to eat it too. I will commend him for voting on Bagwell and Piazza even though many of his colleagues won’t. And I also commend him for voting on Tim Raines.

    • sophiethegreatdane - Dec 17, 2012 at 10:46 AM

      Well said.

  3. genericcommenter - Dec 17, 2012 at 9:29 AM

    Assuming “pitching to the score” is even possible, shouldn’t that be a DISQUALIFIER? A HOF caliber ace pitcher should be doing all he can to help his team win, which means shutting down the other team and helping his own team build as big a lead as possible- not allowing the other team a chance to rally and putting more pressure on the pen ( Morris completed a good number of games but still left it to the pen over 350 times). Why would “pitching to the score” be considered an asset? Even his Win totals and win % are pretty low- and those things matter to the type of people who push “pitching to the score” as an asset.

    What if a position player decided to “hit to the score” or “field to the score”? Would people say “Oh, yeah his stats weren’t that good because he played on teams with good pitchers and other good hitters- so he didn’t really need to try to hit for his team to win”?

    • cktai - Dec 17, 2012 at 9:41 AM

      Hitting to the score is called clutch

      As in:
      “His postseason batting line may be .248/.272/.347, but he’s still a great clutch hitter”

      • cktai - Dec 17, 2012 at 9:41 AM

        Actually the slugging should be .383 not .347.

    • The Dangerous Mabry - Dec 17, 2012 at 9:46 AM

      It’s also possible that Morris really DID pitch to the score, and just wasn’t any good at it. Though I can’t imagine that helping his HOF case.

    • albertmn - Dec 17, 2012 at 10:26 AM

      Well, pitching to the score is possible. It means that if you have a lead of a few runs, and no one on, instead of nibbling on the corners and chancing a walk, you throw your best stuff at the hitters and dare them to hit it. That may give up more hits and a few more HRs, which obviously inflate the ERA. The hope though, would be that you avoid the big inning by not walking guys and your stuff is good enough to withstand the occassional HR in that situation and still win. Not saying it is the smartest, but it is indeed possible.

      • albertmn - Dec 17, 2012 at 10:28 AM

        Forgot to mention it, but while he doesn’t call it “pitching to the score”, Blyleven often talks about the general tactic on Twins telecasts (the few times the Twins have had leads in the last couple of seasons). Blyleven was never afraid of HRs when he pitched. He just wanted to avoid the 3 run HR by not letting guys on in front of the HR. Could be that he pitched similarly to Morris, and why it took Blyleven so long to get in (much to the chagrin of many that he got in).

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Dec 17, 2012 at 12:41 PM

        But why didn’t the other great pitchers need to justify their stats as “pitching to the score?” It would be one thing if pitching to the score meant his ERA went from 2.50 to 2.60, but that is not the case. Frankly, what should define a HoF pitcher is the ability to retire batters regardless of the situation. If he was only a good pitcher when absolutely necessary, perhaps he should visit cooperstown by buying a ticket, like the rest of us.

      • genericcommenter - Dec 17, 2012 at 1:51 PM

        This is more a reply to your Blyleven comment below..
        I see what you are saying, but..

        Wouldn’t avoiding 3 run HRs in favor of the occasional solo shot result in a LOWER ERA?

  4. jessethegreat - Dec 17, 2012 at 9:33 AM

    I’d vote for Bonds before I voted for Morris. Look at Bonds now compared to Jack. Who looks like the out of shape former steroid user?

    Bonds was a douche by most all reporters accords. He didn’t like playing their games and despised interviews.

    But Morris had a pretty clean media profile. Only thing is, if you ever had first hand dealings with the guy, he was another epic douche. Witnessed him firsthand screaming at my boss at the golf course I worked at in hs about 15 years ago. Yeah, buddy, it’s our fault you opted or the earliest possible tee time in the rain and can’t hit the damn ball straight.

    Never felt so good to see my boss with his meger $60-75 k / year job trying to hand Mr. Rich and famous and in his mind fully deserving of a hall of fame bid Jack ASS Morris the money for his “ruined” round of golf.

    • albertmn - Dec 17, 2012 at 10:38 AM

      Glad you don’t have a vote, as personal vendettas have no place in HOF voting.

      By the way, who is the douche that you have to call $60-75K per year “meager”, while trying to point out that you obviously now earn more than that? Median household income in 2011 was in the range of 50-53K and the average was in the range of 60-65K. Are you a 1% that you choose to call $60-75 “meager”, especially 15 years ago? I hope your taxes go up, so that extra money might go to someone that would appreciate it more than you.

      • cur68 - Dec 17, 2012 at 12:11 PM

        I’m not seeing any this, al. In comparison to what Morris made, 60-75k IS meagre. Also how is Jesse there implying he now makes more than that? Point me to the sentence, please. Also, “douche”. Why? That’s a lot of personal invective to throw at a guy you don’t even know. A guy who isn’t even talking about you or to you. Unless you’re not REALLY ‘albert”. Maybe you are really….’jack’….if so…well get a life ‘jack’.

    • cur68 - Dec 17, 2012 at 12:06 PM

      That fits with my recollection of Morris. He was an ass. I recall him being interviewed by Buck Martinez in the WS parade that culminated at Skydome in ’92. He greeted Martinez with something like “I remember your career Buck and you weren’t that good.” Classy! He pitched to the score so well the Beav left his ass off the PS in ’93. I think his ERA was >4.

      Also, I firmly believe that anyone who acts like a total jackass on a golf course is morally decrepit individual. There’s no screaming in golf.

  5. raysfan1 - Dec 17, 2012 at 9:44 AM

    +1000 to gosport–this is something I’ve said repeatedly as well.

  6. paperlions - Dec 17, 2012 at 9:51 AM

    Mental gymnastics in a column about one’s HOF vote? I’m shocked.

  7. sdelmonte - Dec 17, 2012 at 9:54 AM

    Want to know something? I still don’t see any proof that Clemens used steroids. Circumstantial evidence galore, which literally didn’t stand up in court, but no proof.

    Do I think he did steroids? Probably. But lacking convincing evidence, I would say he’s innocent till proven guilty and I would vote him in even if I thought steroids were a reason not to. Which I don’t. (Wouldn’t vote Sosa in because he was a one note player, though.)

    • DelawarePhilliesFan - Dec 17, 2012 at 10:03 AM

      Circumstantial evidence is perfectly legitimate. Law school 101 (back me up here, Craig):

      You are in New England. It is January. You went to bed and there was on snow on the ground. You wake up. Then Sun is is shining and there is 2 inches of snow on the ground. That is circumstantial evidence that it snowed over night.

      The jury needed to decide if Clemens deserved to go to jail, that is quite a bit different then deciding if he is scum

      • paperlions - Dec 17, 2012 at 10:23 AM

        The difference between your scenario and the Clemens case is that there is no snow. There is nothing that the “evidence” is evidence of.

      • DelawarePhilliesFan - Dec 17, 2012 at 10:27 AM

        People in gereral always use the word “circumstantial” as a disqualifier, and it is not.

        As for Clemens – I will not debate someone who proudly says they have fingers in their ears when others disagree with him. Suffice to say I agree with the OP that there is plenty of circumstantial evidence

      • paperlions - Dec 17, 2012 at 12:42 PM

        Of course Clemens used, but that has no bearing on the poor comparison to the snow. In Clemens case, what is the snow? What is the manifestation that you that the evidence suggests occurred?

      • DelawarePhilliesFan - Dec 17, 2012 at 1:01 PM

        Look up the word “circumstanatial” and re-read about Clemens. As I said, I am not debating someone who takes pride in not listening

  8. gbar22 - Dec 17, 2012 at 9:55 AM

    Thank you cktai for stating the hypocrisy!

    Also as far as the eyeball test goes didnt bonds and Clemens never fail a drug test in all of their 20 year careers? So writers can just say well we all know that they did it despite the lack of an actual failed test thanks to all the court battles where they were both exonerated to a degree by the way so essentially it’s okay to use the eye ball test with them but not piazza or bagwell? This whole article makes no sense.

  9. hisgirlgotburrelled - Dec 17, 2012 at 10:03 AM

    Since when was ERA a sabermetric stathead thing?

    • The Dangerous Mabry - Dec 17, 2012 at 10:08 AM

      Let me help you differentiate.

      Any and all evidence that Jack Morris probably wasn’t a Hall of Fame pitcher: Total stathead nerd mother’s basement nonsense.

      Any and all statements supporting the idea that Jack Morris was the one of the very best pitchers in the history of baseball: Common sense that anyone who watched baseball should understand.

      I think that sums up the viewpoint.

      • 18thstreet - Dec 17, 2012 at 1:00 PM

        I like Bob Ryan. I grew up reading him. He seems like a decent guy; he didn’t phone in his work, even when (as now) I disagreed with it.

        But he’s retired. I don’t understand why he still has a vote.

  10. tc4306 - Dec 17, 2012 at 10:19 AM

    Baseball Reference has a ranking of the top 1115 pitchers of all time.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/friv/ratings.cgi

    It comes with all the usual complicated stat head formulae.
    To cherry pick a few results: Bert Byleven # 13, Bob Gibson #20, Mike Mussina #22, Jim Katt # 25, Brett Saberhagen #37, Dave Stieb #43, Don Drysdale #46, Juan Marichal #62, Sandy Koufax #91, Jack Morris #109 and Hall of Famer Jim Bunning at 133. Any list that ranks Katt at 25 and Koufax at 91 is pure and utter quackery. Saw another list on Fangraphs that had Ben Zobrist as the 7th best AL position player by WAR rankings. Ben Zobrist 7th? Really? Pardon me if I’m not buying what the stat heads are selling.

    • The Dangerous Mabry - Dec 17, 2012 at 11:10 AM

      The ELO rating page you’re looking at has nothing to do with statistics at all. It’s based on putting players “head to head” and having the community vote on which player is better in each head-to-head matchup, then using a system used to rank chess players to determine which comes ahead of the others. There’s nothing in there that’s related to baseball statistics at all, unless you assume that the decisions of the community will base their votes on their own statistical analysis.

      If you want something stat based for rating the careers of pitchers, try something like pitcher WAR (http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/WAR_pitch_career.shtml), where Jim Kaat is 134 and Sandy Koufax is 79th, accumulating 10 more career Wins Above Replacement than Kaat despite pitching approximately half as many innings.

    • cw2121 - Dec 17, 2012 at 1:09 PM

      I’ll defend Ben Zobrist, if nobody else is going to. First, though, fWAR puts him at 5th, not 7th. But even if you look at his more traditional stats, it is pretty obvious he’s one of the more fantastic all-around players in the game. He got on base at a .377 clip, walking 14.5% of the time. He hit 20 home runs. He stole 14 bases. Those are really solid counting numbers. Not even looking at defensive metrics, the consensus is he’s a great defender at 2B and SS, where he played more than half his games.

      There are few people in the game who can claim to be even competent in all those areas, and Zobrist is above-average in them. So I buy him being top-10 in the AL. Just asking ‘really?’ isn’t too effective, especially with Zobrist. Maybe show how Zobrist was deficient last year instead – I doubt you’ll find too much, though. He’s just one of the most complete position players in the league, even if he’s not fantastic in any one (batting) category.

  11. gbar22 - Dec 17, 2012 at 10:19 AM

    I’m sure if we launched a federal investigation into Jeff Bagwell or Mike Piazza you’ll come up with circumstantial evidence but you’ll still not have anything concrete and I’ll point to one of the most famous criminal cases of all time to say no circumstantial evidence is not always enough to prove guilt. OJ Simpson had mounds and mounds of circumstantial evidence and was still found not guilty so please do explain the guilt factor with out the concrete evidence.

    Fact remains you are still using nothing but an eyeball test with those two without a failed test or punishment by MLB and you’re still telling me it’s okay to use it with Clemens but not bagwell? Again hypocrisy at its best.

    To my personal view piazza bagwell biggio McGuire Clemens bonds they all belong in the hall of fame and they should just create a wing to explain the steroid era in baseball and put all the players who are deserving regardless of speculation in the hall. To those that claim well that’s unfair to the guys who didn’t do anything well no it’s not they during there playing days were part of the players union and the most powerful union at that so if they really wanted to clean up the game the innocent one could have banded together and forced the issue with the union for more drug testing but they never did cause they didn’t care so they are every bit as guilty in that sense. To leave all these players out is sort of like denying history saying none of it happened. I don’t like the confederate flag and all the meaning behind it but I also can’t deny it existed and has its place in a museum which is what the hall of fame is.

  12. hconnor2001 - Dec 17, 2012 at 10:23 AM

    Honestly, Craig, I think some of your criticism here is rather unjustified. Seems to me the writer is simply pointing out that Morris has become something of a cause celebre for both sides of the baseball-watching divide. Your comments about his choice of vocabulary is similarly rather excessive. He simply highlights both ends of a considerable spectrum of views, ranging from the Old-time fans who value the intangibles and hence focus on the fact that he was seen as a staff leader for a long time and who might allow that to blind them to some flaws that might be more apparent to others all the way to the Saber guys (and they are there just as much as the first group) who see numbers to the exclusion of much else, sometimes including small things about a player that might legitimately elevate him in your eyes. Of course, somewhere in between lie most of us.

    He chooses to make his point about the evidence of drug-use, or lack of, the way he does. He does so in a way that highlights the unfairness and inconsistency of those who make the baseless accusations while acknowledging that the issue is not as simple as you might like it to be because of the apparently widespread nature of PED use at the time.

    I’m not sure that by your rather snarky bulletpoints and final paragraph you don’t come off as the one trying to look clever, Craig. It seems rather mean-spirited and it doesn’t suit you at all.

  13. shoehole - Dec 17, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    It seems like every other week you write about your dislike for Jack Morris. Give it a rest. He’s not in the HOF yet and he probably will not get in. It seems like a personal vendetta.

    • vikesfansteve - Dec 17, 2012 at 11:34 AM

      Of course it is, all stemming back to Morris making the Braves his bitch.

  14. jessethegreat - Dec 17, 2012 at 11:37 AM

    Albertmn, my boss’s salary was meger… COMPARED TO A PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL PLAYER. Where did I say I Make more than that?

  15. savocabol1 - Dec 17, 2012 at 12:28 PM

    Just another case of Craig’s way or the highway…

    • 18thstreet - Dec 17, 2012 at 1:05 PM

      Give my regards to the highway.

  16. moogro - Dec 17, 2012 at 12:40 PM

    It’s still pretty jarring to see Morris considered for the HOF. He was a consensus durable journeyman who got lucky and had one famous game. Tons of people did that. He’s pretty good. White hero trumps brain.

  17. braddavery - Dec 17, 2012 at 1:03 PM

    I don’t see how anyone can not vote for Bonds, Clemens and Sosa, but vote for Piazza. He has been implicated in PED abuse just like they have. Piazza was known to have off-handedly admitted as much and his teammates basically called him out on it.

    • Gamera the Brave - Dec 18, 2012 at 4:02 PM

      Jesus, Brad – did Piazza do something to you personally?
      You are bringing the same refrain to every HoF thread now.
      We get it, it’s unfair, Piazza should be lumped with Bonds, Clemens and Sosa.
      Please let it go, it’s just sports…

      • braddavery - Dec 18, 2012 at 4:14 PM

        Yes, please tell me what I can and can’t discuss. How dare I say something about the topic at hand in it’s own comment forum. What was I thinking.

  18. humanexcrement - Dec 17, 2012 at 1:33 PM

    I’m betting that someday in the future Morris’s name will be lexicalized to stand for any player who sits right on the line of induction or non-induction into the HOF. Any player whose fate is debated ad nauseum year after year will be referred to as “the Jack Morris of the group.” Imagine what’ll happen when the Jack Morris of the group is a Barry Bonds case coming off Tommy John Surgery. Egad.

    • moogro - Dec 17, 2012 at 2:26 PM

      He’s not really right on the line, so he won’t win the lexicon title. Tim Raines, maybe.

  19. thinman61 - Dec 17, 2012 at 3:55 PM

    I’m shocked, shocked to find that Bob Ryan is being all crusty and get off my lawn.

  20. shoehole - Dec 17, 2012 at 4:50 PM

    Moogro. Morris had at least two good games. I believe he pitched a no hitter against the White Sox in the mid 80’s.

  21. nightrain42 - Dec 17, 2012 at 6:07 PM

    Morris doesn’t belong. I’d vote for Raines, bonds, and Clemens. The thing that’s doubly bad on bonds is he was a dick to reporters, and they being so sensitive wi hold a grudge. Never mind the fact that he watched the press tear his dad to shreds which contributed to his view. Sosa wasn’t good enuff off of roids to be in the hall, and he isn’t good enuff on them to be in. Ditto on McGuire. I’d prob cast a vote for piazza too.

  22. fanofevilempire - Dec 17, 2012 at 6:45 PM

    I saw Jack Morris pitch, he was bad ass, I don’t know how many hitters went to the plate thinking
    they was do some damage against this guy. He got three rings, from three teams. Lucky guy!

  23. juanhughjazz - Dec 17, 2012 at 8:11 PM

    more evidence that it’s the hall of fame, not the hall of talent. Jack Morris’ whip is comparable to Nolan Ryan’s.

  24. weaselpuppy - Dec 18, 2012 at 1:54 AM

    You mean Hall of Screw the Tigers

    Highest WAR for an eligible player not in the hall (non PED/Gambling? Lou Whitaker, who was off the ballot in one year. Guys that got more votes ? Jeff Reardon, Bob Boone. Guys that Whitaker beats in WAR? Derek Jeter, Reggie Jackson, Ron Santo and RYNE SANDBERG ( 1st ballot HOF)

    Barry Larkin- 67.1 WAR, 1st ballot. Alan Trammell 67.1 WAR, never breaks 23% of the vote until his 12th year on the ballot….now at 36% w 3 years left

    FU BBWAA

  25. shoehole - Dec 18, 2012 at 9:19 AM

    Please. Someone tell me how this WAR stat works out. Does it take into pitchers stats for AL DH and NL non DH?
    I am nearing 75 in age and not trying to be a wiseguy. Just curious.

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