Jan 8, 2014, 10:46 AM EDT
I, like many, believe four players will get elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame today: Greg Maddux will be elected almost unanimously (I suspect at least four people will not vote for him), Tom Glavine will be in the mid-to-high 90s in percentage, Frank Thomas will go in comfortably and Craig Biggio will just barely slip in.
Mike Piazza will fall short, I think, but end up in that on-deck circle spot that Biggio had last year. Jeff Bagwell may lose a little bit of ground, which is weird but perhaps the consequence of an overloaded ballot. Tim Raines, I hope, will continue his slow but steady march toward election.
And … of course I have a couple of final thoughts about Jack Morris. I don’t believe Morris will be elected. I actually think he will lost a little support in his final year, which almost never happens. Morris’ voting pattern has continuously baffled me, which is part of the reason I’ve written so much about him, but I think I’ve figured something out.
You know the story, presumably, of Luis Tiant. His career numbers are remarkably similar to that of his Hall of fame contemporary Catfish Hunter — I actually think Tiant was a better pitcher — and when he came on the ballot in 1988 it was just after Hunter was elected. Tiant received 31% of the vote. That was a terrific first ballot showing and, by BBWAA history, almost guaranteed that he would be elected to the Hall of Fame at some point.
But that percentage was an illusion. Tiant had entered the last ballot for a decade that did not have a compelling starting pitching candidate on there. The best candidate was Jim Bunning, but he was already in his 12th year on the ballot and just wasn’t exciting the electorate. After that, you had Mickey Lolich and Don Larsen and Wilbur Wood — Tiant was the exciting new face of the Hall of Fame ballot and so a good chunk of voters picked him. Many more probably thought they would get to Tiant eventually. But it wasn’t meant to go that way.
The next year, Gaylord Perry and Fergie Jenkins came on the ballot. Suddenly, Tiant was the third or fourth best pitcher on the ballot. His support plummeted all the way down to 10.5%. The next year, Perry, Jenkins and Bunning were all STILL on the ballot. Tiant’s support went down again. Then Jim Palmer came on. Tiant’s support went down YET AGAIN. The next year, it was Rollie Fingers. Then Tom Seaver. Then Phil Niekro. Then Steve Carlton and Don Sutton. It was an avalanche of great pitchers and 300-game winners and Tiant was swept away as were other terrific pitchers like Jim Kaat and Ron Guidry and Tommy John.
Tiant never even got 20% of the vote after his first year.
So, that story is familiar. But the Morris story, I now think, is PRECISELY THE OPPOSITE of the Tiant story. While Tiant came on the ballot at precisely the wrong time, Morris came on at precisely the right time. The last starting pitcher to be elected by the BBWAA was Bert Blyleven in 2011. Before that, it was — are you ready for this — Nolan Ryan in 1999. That’s an 11-year gap without a single starting pitcher getting elected (not counting Dennis Eckersley who went in more for his relief work, I think, than his starting pitching).
Well, guess who was on all 11 of those ballots. Yep. Jack Morris. Morris came on the ballot in 2000 — just as Nolan Ryan ended an era. Morris received 22% of the vote — quite a bit less than Tiant his first year. His support went down in Year 2. He seemed on a similar voting track to Lew Burdette and Johnny Vander Meer and even Mickey Lolich — that is, it seemed his support would never really go any higher.
But from that point on, look who were the best people added to the ballot each year.
2001: Dave Stewart
2002: Frank Viola
2003: Fernando Valenzuela
2004: Dennis Martinez and Dave Stieb and Jimmy Key
2005: Black Jack McDowell (or Jim Abbott for overcoming odds)
2006: Orel Hershiser
2007: Bret Saberhagen
2008: Chuck Finley
2009: David Cone
2010: Kevin Appier
2011: Kevin Brown
You could argue persuasively that some of these pitchers were better than Morris, but the point is that none of them interested the BBWAA in the least. Only Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser even made a second ballot. That meant that for a dozen years, Morris (and Blyleven) more or less had the ballot to themselves. And they both built up momentum — Blyleven through his impeccable stats and a concerted effort by some people on the Interned, Morris through his Game 7 heroics and a “you had to be there” charisma.
Morris went from 26% in his fifth year, to 41% in his seventh year, to 52% in his 11th year to 66.7% in his 13th year.
But last year, for the first time, a couple of more interesting Hall of Fame candidates than Morris appeared on the ballot — Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling. Neither one was able to garner much momentum for themselves for different reasons, but they slowed the Morris train. This year, with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina joining, I think Morris’ support will go down even though it’s his 15th year on the ballot and there is much sentiment for him.
As I’ve said before, the best thing that can happen to Morris is for him to get off this BBWAA ballot and be a candidate for the Veteran’s Committee. Maybe someday soon we’ll see a Veteran’s ballot with Morris, Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell on it.
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