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Yes, you need to read another post about Jack Morris pitching to the score

Apr 25, 2013, 12:30 PM EDT

Jack Morris

It’s Joe Posnanski’s post, and it’s a good one. Yes, he goes over a lot of the old Jack Morris territory, but he also has some stuff in there which explains why we go over this territory so damn often.

After observing, as many have, that Jack Morris got a lot of run support and thus had a lot of good fortune in games where he gave up a lot of runs, Posnanski gets to what I feel is the heart of the “Jack Morris was awesome and pitched to the score” religion:

Our first instinct, it seems to me, should be to think: Jack Morris was a lucky guy.

But that’s not an especially interesting or happy conclusion. Nobody ever really likes giving too much credit to luck. When people come back from Vegas with more money than they started, you might hear them say, “Yeah, I got lucky.” But then you’ll probably also hear about their brilliant blackjack maneuvering or the way they manipulated a poker pot or their roulette system or something else because, in the end, it’s hard for any of us to believe that it’s ever really all luck. We do desperately want to believe we have some control over things.

This doesn’t just apply to Morris. It applies to any number of evidence-free conclusions people make about baseball. This guy or that guy being a “competitor” or a “leader.” Someone else being “clutch” when nothing in the data suggests that he actually was.

But it even goes beyond baseball. There isn’t an aspect of life which isn’t touched by this. An instance where something either simple or, alternatively, something which is apparently inexplicable, doesn’t make people want there to be a more complicated or more satisfying explanation. One that, preferably, puts themselves or their heroes in a better light. One which makes them significant or important.

Jack Morris couldn’t have just been lucky, because he was awesome. Jack Kennedy couldn’t have been killed by a lone gunman because he was inspirational. People like me aren’t wealthier and healthier than people different from me because the world is capricious, because we are special and chosen.

Such thinking is eminently understandable because we are human beings and human beings, for all of our intelligence and reason, are capable of great irrationality. And such thinking almost always obscures what’s actually friggin’ going on.

  1. cur68 - Apr 25, 2013 at 12:34 PM

    Jack Morris is a great broadcaster. He broadcasts to the score.

    • moogro - Apr 25, 2013 at 2:32 PM

      He makes it to the 8th inning in 98% of his broadcasts.

  2. chacochicken - Apr 25, 2013 at 12:42 PM

    Luck is when you decide to put a lot of money on Jack Morris and the Tigers giving a run to the terrible 60 win Mariners in July of 1988. Morris decided to lay down to the tune of 10 hits and 8 runs. I never got my broken pinkie set just to remind me of how much I hate Jack Morris. True story

  3. 18thstreet - Apr 25, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    It’s a boring conversation, because only one side — the stat geeks — are interested in it. The Morris supporters just ignore the evidence that goes against their guy.

    He’s Dave Steib plus one incredible World Series start. He also had some terrible postseason starts, which no one ever seems to bring up. Wins are a crap statistic — just look at yesterday’s box scores to see it. But that’s Morris’s case, and his win total isn’t remarkable in any way. Tommy John and Jim Kaat and Mike Mussina had more. Frank Tanana and David Wells had a few less.

    I’m sick of it. The Morris supporters aren’t listening to us.

    • 18thstreet - Apr 25, 2013 at 12:55 PM

      Here’s what happened in 1992: Jack Morris, coming off his heroic Game Seven, was a free agent. Anyone could have had him. He signed a two-year deal that made him the 6th highest paid player in the American League.

      Frank Viola was also a free agent. He signed a three-year deal that made him the highest paid player in the American League.

      That’s what happened after the 1991 World Series. That’s who Jack Morris was: a very good pitcher and not a great one.

      • 18thstreet - Apr 25, 2013 at 12:58 PM

        Sorry — Viola was the 3rd highest paid player in the AL and the highest paid pitcher. (Apples to apples: Morris was the 3rd highest paid pitcher in the AL.)

    • Cereal - Apr 25, 2013 at 2:06 PM

      Stieb is nowhere near Morris’ class, Morris pitched 1000 more innings.

      • paperlions - Apr 25, 2013 at 2:54 PM

        Stieb was a FAR better pitcher. Yeah, he threw 1000 fewer innings, but he pitched his much more effectively than Morris did….and it wasn’t really that close.

    • moogro - Apr 25, 2013 at 2:08 PM

      That’s a little bit insulting to Dave Stieb, who was often more awesome. Especially all those close-to no-hitters. Morris wasn’t nearly as dominant. But you are largely right.

      • Cereal - Apr 25, 2013 at 3:42 PM

        Davd Stieb was a good one but he wasnt built to last like Morris. Stieb flamed out in his early 30’s, Jack roared until he was 37. Besides Stieb never won 20 games….stat geeks go nuts in 3,,,2,,,1

      • js20011041 - Apr 25, 2013 at 4:57 PM

        Everyone knows Magellan didn’t sail around the world. He would’ve fallen right off the edge of the planet. Rational people go nuts in 3..2..1….

  4. heyblueyoustink - Apr 25, 2013 at 12:49 PM

    “Beavis: Damn it, this always happens. I think I’m gonna score, and then I never score. It’s not fair. We’ve traveled, um, a hundred miles ’cause we thought we were gonna score. But now it’s not gonna happen. Damn it!

    Bus Driver: Hey, buddy, sit down.

    Beavis: Shut up, ass-wipe! I’m sick and tired of this! We’re never gonna score. It’s just not gonna happen! We’re just gonna get old like these people… but they’ve probably scored!

    Bus Driver: Hey, I’m warning you! SIT DOWN!

    Beavis: [motioning to Martha] It’s, like, this chick’s a slut. And look at this guy. He’s old, but he’s probably scored a million times!

    Old Guy: [nodding] Oh, yeah.

    Beavis: But not us. We’re never gonna score! We’re never gonna score! We’re never gonna score! “

  5. philliesblow - Apr 25, 2013 at 1:09 PM

    Jack Morris did not pitch to the score. The Tigers, Twins and Blue Jays batters hit to the runs they knew he would give up. Indians batters, not so much.

    • someguyinva - Apr 25, 2013 at 1:18 PM

      I can’t like this enough.

      • moogro - Apr 25, 2013 at 2:10 PM


  6. kpyanc - Apr 25, 2013 at 1:44 PM

    Jack Morris pitched to the hitters’ bats. I think that says it all.

  7. Cereal - Apr 25, 2013 at 1:59 PM

    I was a young kid but Jack Morris is one of the players I distinctly remember being awesome. There is only so much truth in #’s, this guy was a very good starting pitcher who should be in the HOF. I think that if you polled the guys who faced him the most they would agree

    • danrizzle - Apr 25, 2013 at 2:23 PM

      Yeah, there’s way more truth in childhood memories than in data compiled and preserved by neutral observers at the time things are happening.

      • Cereal - Apr 25, 2013 at 3:36 PM

        What data,,,his WHIP ? Big whoop, check out his ERA. Or is actually giving up runs no longer considered an important measure of a pitcher ? 3.90 ERA over 3800 IP’s…..
        he’s awesome, I was right as a child & am now

      • The Dangerous Mabry - Apr 25, 2013 at 3:45 PM

        This has to be satire of some kind, right? Given that Jack Morris’ ERA is higher than any pitcher in the hall of fame? Nobody would actually call out his ERA if they were trying to make a case for him in the hall.

        Yeah, this has to have been some kind of intentional trolling. Well, you got me to respond, so well done.

    • 18thstreet - Apr 25, 2013 at 2:53 PM

      I was a young kid, but Willie Wilson was the greatest player I ever saw.

      • Cereal - Apr 25, 2013 at 3:44 PM

        Did Jack Morris strike out your Mom or something ?

      • 18thstreet - Apr 25, 2013 at 4:18 PM

        I want to give this a thumbs up (I’m laughing), but wouldn’t that mean Jack Morris struck out with my mom?


      • paperlions - Apr 25, 2013 at 5:09 PM

        His mom had a career .383 average against Morris with 4 dingers and 12 RBI.

    • js20011041 - Apr 25, 2013 at 5:05 PM

      You know who I thought was awesome as an 11 year old? Scott Cooper. Yeah, we probably shouldn’t be deciding HOF votes by who we thought were awesome before we reached the capacity for rational thought.

      • DJ MC - Apr 27, 2013 at 7:44 PM

        Yeah, but wouldn’t that eliminate, like, 90-percent of the current Hall of Fame electorate?

        Or are you only counting “capacity” for rational thought, instead of whether or not it gets used?

  8. danaking - Apr 25, 2013 at 2:01 PM

    Leaving out his first two years (when he had only a handful of starts in each), Morris has a career mark of 253-180, for a .584 percentage. (Luck in run support relative to other pitchers on the same team should even out over the course of 16 years.) The teams he played for had a winning percentage of .539. Morris won 20 more games than his teams’ records suggest over the same number of decisions, which is 1.25 extra win a year.

    That’s good, but it does not imply Morris did a great job of giving up runs primarily when they did not matter. He was not a great pitcher. As said above, he was a good pitcher, maybe even very good, who pitched one truly great game under the most pressure there is.

  9. moogro - Apr 25, 2013 at 2:15 PM

    You notice that there’s never an assemblage of retired pitchers who tell stories of coasting or pitching to the score throughout their careers. Let’s see Harold Reynolds put together that documentary. That would be evidence.

    • danaking - Apr 25, 2013 at 2:17 PM

      Reynolds could do the interviews, but let Brian Kenney do the narration.

  10. conjecture101 - Apr 25, 2013 at 3:55 PM

    We’re asking the wrong questions. It’s entirely possible that his regular seasons win totals were very much a result of luck. The more relevant question is why did his level of play raise so much in the postseason? (during his prime)

    • 18thstreet - Apr 25, 2013 at 4:20 PM

      Career ERA: 3.90
      Postseason ERA: 3.80

      Raise his game?

      • conjecture101 - Apr 25, 2013 at 5:53 PM

        In 1984,1986 & 1991 his post season ERA was considerably lower than his regular season ERA during that time period. Small sample size? Yes. Luck? I think not.

    • 18thstreet - Apr 25, 2013 at 4:29 PM

      This is a fun game:

      Morris, in his prime, was staked to a 2-0 lead after the Tigers batted in the top of the 2nd. He pitched to the score by giving up exactly 3 runs in the bottom half of the frame. And two more in the bottom of the 4th. And one more in the bottom of the 5th.

      The best part of this game is that the winning pitcher was Bert Blyleven. But this game never happened. Everyone knows Jack Morris came up big when the games mattered most.

      • conjecture101 - Apr 25, 2013 at 5:55 PM

        If you had correctly “analyzed” my statement the evidence would have shown that I never said “He pitched to the score.” But it must have just “felt” or “seemed” like i said that.

  11. joshfrancis50 - Apr 25, 2013 at 4:35 PM

    I don’t know about other teams’ announcers, but every time the guy opposite Thom Brennaman says a “guy is a competitor” it is immediately followed by Thom with “you better believe it.”

    In conclusion, go away Thom.

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