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This is the year Hall of Fame ballot reality catches up with Jack Morris

Jan 8, 2014, 10:46 AM EDT

Jack Morris Tigers

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.

  1. fanofevilempire - Jan 8, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    good luck to Jack, I hope he can get in the door.

    • zzalapski - Jan 8, 2014 at 11:17 AM

      I don’t see why he can’t, as long as he properly acquires an admission ticket.

  2. unclemosesgreen - Jan 8, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    I’ve always thought that Morris didn’t get elected by the scribes he would be a Veterans’ Committee shoo-in.

    Last year’s BBWAA shenanigans overloaded this year’s ballot, and that would have to be down to bad luck, in that it virtually guaranteed he wouldn’t get that last-second, 15th year on the ballot groundswell.

  3. scoutsaysweitersisabust - Jan 8, 2014 at 10:53 AM

    I’m just happy we can finally stop hearing Morris’ name at this point. Vote him in, or vote him out, just move on already.

    • fanofevilempire - Jan 8, 2014 at 11:58 AM

      easy for you to say, have you ever accomplished anything?

      • kyzslew77 - Jan 8, 2014 at 12:29 PM

        I agree, only people who play/have played professional sports should be allowed to have opinions about professional sports. That’s exactly how things should work.

    • scoutsaysweitersisabust - Jan 8, 2014 at 1:57 PM

      fan, don’t you get tired of stalking all of my posts? I know you are a classless thug, but your fixation with me is a little creepy at this point.

  4. apmn - Jan 8, 2014 at 10:58 AM

    Tiant would have fared better if he had been listed on the ballot by his nickname: Tilapia Tiant.

    • yahmule - Jan 8, 2014 at 11:17 AM

      Luis Tiant (and a few other guys) are the biggest reason I would find a Morris enshrinement a bit galling. It bothers me less that Jack would lower the bar, than the fact that the bar is so arbitrarily adjustable and for reasons that are only tangential to the game on the field.

      • raysfan1 - Jan 8, 2014 at 12:03 PM

        I will still be annoyed if the Vets committee lets Morris in but doesn’t also include Tiant, Kaat, and John. Set the threshold wherever, I’m one of those who looks at the HoF as a museum and nostalgic experience more than as a pantheon–but then adhere to that threshold.

  5. drewsylvania - Jan 8, 2014 at 11:06 AM

    Hoping I get to have schadefreude today at the loud group of fools who think Morris belongs.

  6. wpjohnson - Jan 8, 2014 at 11:26 AM

    Jack Morris was not a Hall of Fame pitcher.

    • unclemosesgreen - Jan 8, 2014 at 12:40 PM

      Not yet he wasn’t But there’s always the Veterans’ Committee.

      • bolweevils2 - Jan 8, 2014 at 1:40 PM

        He’s a slam dunk with the idiots on the Veterans Committee. The VC once had a purpose, letting in some Negro League and dead ball era guys who were overlooked. Now, they just let in anyone who was half decent. If you look at the HOF’s who least deserve it, almost all of them were enshrined by the Veteran’s Committee.

        Now that the old timer slight’s from the early days have been redressed, get rid of the idiotic Veteran’s Committee.

  7. xdj511 - Jan 8, 2014 at 11:28 AM

    Good analysis. We always tend to think of individual candidates based on their statistics against members currently in the hall of fame, but it makes sense that judged against whoever else is also on the ballot would have an effect on the voters.

  8. billybawl - Jan 8, 2014 at 12:08 PM

    Interesting. And if you want a specific case study in the vagaries of HOF support, just look how Jim Bunning’s % bounced around in the 1980s — probably more a reflection of the caliber of first-time candidates in any year and voters’ disinclination to vote for more than a handful of guys in any year regardless of their merits.

    I do wonder, however, if the Morris example will fit this analysis. Can’t say for certain, but it sure feels like voters and the interwebs are using Morris to make some kind of a point. Regardless of what happens, I feel sorry for him and his fans.

  9. nymets4ever - Jan 8, 2014 at 12:29 PM

    Morris’ career happened before my baseball-watching time, but it’s sad how much a lot of you guys hate him. I just hope you realize that in the long run, all this venom of yours will end up reflecting poorly on yourselves, not him.

    • zzalapski - Jan 8, 2014 at 12:35 PM

      Conflate much?

      • nymets4ever - Jan 8, 2014 at 12:36 PM

        Sure, I wouldn’t mind some Corn Flakes.

    • drewsylvania - Jan 8, 2014 at 12:37 PM

      Who hates him? We hate the idiocy of voters and people who don’t understand proper analysis.

      • nymets4ever - Jan 8, 2014 at 12:41 PM

        saying someone has to be idiotic to vote a certain player in the Hall of Fame is basically akin to insulting that player’s worth. You have to admit the anti-Jack Morris rhetoric over the years has been way more heated than that of any other player with a borderline HOF case.

      • drewsylvania - Jan 8, 2014 at 12:47 PM

        No, it isn’t. Let me refer you to zzalapski.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 8, 2014 at 1:23 PM

        You have to admit the anti-Jack Morris rhetoric over the years has been way more heated than that of any other player with a borderline HOF case.

        I can’t speak for the others, but I’m personally allergic to stupidity. When writers post inane columns trying to claim that someone who was slightly above average at the one thing a pitcher was supposed to do is HoF worthy, it make me twitch like an addict needing a fix. I have to point out how dumb the argument is. It’s my nature.

    • cohnjusack - Jan 8, 2014 at 12:45 PM

      In your mind, pointing out that a pitcher is overvalued means I hate that pitcher as a person?

      I literally know nothing about Jack Morris the person. I don’t harbor any resentful or hateful feelings towards him in the slightest because that would be CRAZY.

      • nymets4ever - Jan 8, 2014 at 12:51 PM

        i’m not saying that either, i just meant people going to such great lengths to devalue his contributions as a player. it’s fine if he’s not a Hall of Famer, but like i said in a previous reply, it seems like there’s been a special vitriol directed at Morris more than any other player with a borderline case. i’m just saying there will come a point where it starts looking petty.

        some people act like it’ll be the end of the world if he gets in. if he does manage to, i doubt he will be the first undeserving inductee and not the last…

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 8, 2014 at 1:37 PM

        it seems like there’s been a special vitriol directed at Morris more than any other player with a borderline case. i’m just saying there will come a point where it starts looking petty.

        Because this isn’t a one time thing. With the rise of the internet the last 10 years, and online columns/comments, people have had a venue to refute writer’s arguments about players. They’ve done this for years against Morris. When the first few years were “lawl you nerds don’t know what you are talking about, get back in your mother’s basement,” how did you expect people to react?

      • cohnjusack - Jan 8, 2014 at 1:56 PM

        i’m not saying that either, i just meant people going to such great lengths to devalue his contributions as a pla

        These statements aren’t occurring a vacuum, they are generally in direct response to people over inflating his value. What you are calling “devaluing his contributions” should rightly read “devaluing others over evaluation”.

    • bolweevils2 - Jan 8, 2014 at 1:44 PM

      Like in the long run anyone is going to remember what we said about Jack Morris in the comment section of a baseball blog.

      I think everyone universally agrees the Morris was a good pitcher. Certainly no shame in that. What get’s everyone’s ire up are the weak, ill-logical arguments put forth to say he is Hall of Fame quality. I think the venom you see is much more aimed at the people making lame claims in his support than at Morris himself.

  10. Darkoestrada - Jan 8, 2014 at 12:57 PM

    Kevin Appier had a higher war than Morris in over 1,000 less innings pitched. Morris isn’t a borderline hall of famer, he’s not even close. I dont understand why he is the subject of so much debate. Basically every pitcher on that list that shared a ballot with him were better. Morris isn’t even close to as good as Kevin brown was and brown isn’t even on the ballot anymore.

  11. mtr75 - Jan 8, 2014 at 1:56 PM

    Why is a 5-time all-star who never won a Cy Young being considered for the HOF? 254 wins? Is that HOF-worthy nowadays? Dude barely has a sub-4 ERA.

    • braxtonrob - Jan 8, 2014 at 8:05 PM

      You right about the ERA, but if 250 Wins doesn’t do it for you, then you’re standards are HIGH-in-the-sky.

      Signed,
      Jack Morris non-voter

  12. disgracedfury - Jan 8, 2014 at 5:04 PM

    He had 174 complete games so of f course his Era is little high.Also most Hall of Fame pitcher never had to face a DH.Only one pitcher in the Hall of Fame had faced a DH most of his career and unlike Madduk and Glavine Morris never got to pitch in a the crappy NL in a big ballpark.Morris will go in 2016 anyway.

    • braxtonrob - Jan 8, 2014 at 8:03 PM

      A “little high”?
      A 3.50 ERA is a “little high”, 3.90 is pushing the envelope to say the least.

      I could have swallowed the result had he been elected (at least better than I did Bruce Sutter’s election, for example), but I don’t anticipate EVER supporting a pitcher with a 4.00+ ERA, and Jack comes agonizingly close to that.

  13. braxtonrob - Jan 8, 2014 at 8:00 PM

    The modern-day VC doesn’t get enough credit for trying to be fair and analytical.
    I still don’t always agree with their decisions, but I respect them.

    That being said, I don’t think Jack Morris’ chances improve at all now (2016) that the Veteran’s Committee has got their hands on him.

  14. hardkor07mn - Jan 8, 2014 at 9:12 PM

    I’m not saying he should get in or shouldn’t get in, but the voting is so screwed up. I’m really curious as to who the writers think they are? No one has ever had a unanimous vote, which is crazy. There are great players that most certainly deserve it.

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