My baseball Hall of Fame vote is due next week, which means I am doing a lot of thinking about people I don’t normally think about.
Jack Morris, for instance.
Through the first 50 weeks of a year, Morris might cross my mind once, maybe twice. I saw him at Safeco Field a few seasons ago – he’s a color analyst for the Toronto Blue Jays – giving me the opportunity to provide a precise answer in the unlikely event I’m ever asked: “What’s up with Jack Morris these days?”
Then the Hall of Fame ballot arrives in the mail, with the usual collection of those worthy of a thumbs up (Greg Maddux, who figures to coast in on his first year of eligibility) and those getting two thumbs down (Richie Sexson. Seriously? Richie Sexson?).
Occupying that murky place between Maddux and Sexson is Morris, a very good pitcher who never was regarded as the best in the business, yet much too accomplished to be ignored.
True confession: There have been times I’ve voted for Morris, and times I haven’t. This might strike you as strange because Jack Morris last pitched in a big league game in 1994. His traditional stats, which by now I can recite by heart – a 254-186 record, 3.90 ERA, 527 starts and 175 compete games – haven’t changed since he first appeared on the ballot in 1999.
How is it possible to determine Morris worthy of enshrinement one year, and not worthy the next? It’s possible because I always select the maximum amount of players – 10 – and some years offer stronger fringe candidates than others.
Jack Morris is the ultimate fringe candidate. He won 162 games during the 1980s, more than any pitcher, but during the same decade, he never won the most games in any single season. He finished among the top 10 in Cy Young voting seven times, but never finished first – or second. His winning percentage (.577) was impressive, until you consider it was only slightly better than the .539 winning percentage of his teams.
A Hall of Famer?
I look at his 14 Opening Day starts, 14 seasons when the manager assigned Morris the tag of staff ace, and think yes, sure.
But when I look at his 3.90 ERA, higher than any Hall of Famer, and take into account that he never finished a season with an ERA below 3.25, I think, uh, maybe not.
My reluctance to submit a more passionate argument about Morris surely feeds the notion that I’m among those old, out-of-touch curmudgeons who don’t take their Hall of Fame voting privileges responsibly. Old, yes. I’m so old, I can remember watching Morris lead the Minnesota Twins to the Game 7 victory that clinched the 1991 World Series.
I’m so old, I wrote a newspaper column from Minneapolis that night on a TRS-80 model 100 laptop, which had a screen slightly wider than a pencil and required rubber modem cups, attached to both ends of a telephone, for the transmission of a file.
The C and K keys on that primitive laptop stuck – stuck would appear as “stucckkkk” – but it was as durable as cast iron, and when the thing finally expired on me, it was like saying goodbye to Ol’ Yeller.
Anyway, I saw Morris shut out the Atlanta Braves for 10 innings in 1991, earning him MVP of the most exciting World Series ever played. I saw a pitcher who defined the essence of clutch.
Morris’ postseason stats should reflect that determination. They don’t. In four American League Championship Series he went 3-2 and had a 4.87 ERA, with 24 strikeouts in 402/3 innings. Decent numbers, but not enough to earn him distinction as somebody who thrived in the spotlight.
As for the regular season, Morris’ signature virtue was durability. He made 515 consecutive starts, setting an AL record Roger Clemens broke, by dubious means, in 2001.
Morris also worked 248 games into the ninth inning. Among pitchers who were active in 2013, Roy Halladay was the career leader with 84.
Because bullpens are stocked with middle-inning specialists, and pitching rotations are now five deep, expectations of a starter have diminished since Morris took the ball every four days. He was a workhorse in an era when it was possible to be a workhorse.
But if Morris is belongs in the Hall of Fame, it’s not a stretch to believe Jamie Moyer belongs, too. Moyer (269-209, 4.25 ERA) won a few more, lost a few more, and retired with advanced statistics comparable with those of Morris.
Despite his remarkable resurgence from journeyman spot starter to a 20-game winner with the Mariners, Moyer doesn’t strike me as a Hall of Famer, although I’m open to the discussion. That’s for another day.
Right now? I notice this is Morris’ 15th and final year on the ballot, which leaves me with mixed emotions. I’m frustrated about my inability to decide whether a consistently proficient pitcher belongs in a shrine exalting the greatest, or in that purgatory awaiting the best of the rest.
On the other hand, there’s a word to describe the liberating joy of opening a Hall of Fame ballot next year without seeing Jack Morris as a candidate.