SweetSpot: Jack Morris
This is Morris' final year on the BBWAA's Hall ballot. He's received 66.7 percent of the vote each of the past two elections, so in order to get to the 75 percent needed for election he'll have to pick up an additional 42 votes if the same 569 ballots are cast again. That's not unreasonable -- players often receive a spike in their final year -- but it's complicated this year by the crowded ballot and the new eligibility of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina, three pitchers with much stronger résumés than Morris.
Joe Posnanski is in the anti-Morris crowd. He admits he's a little obsessed by Morris (he's written many columns on Morris over the years), maybe too obsessed. He wrote the other day:
If someone wanted to make a Hall of Fame case for Jack Morris, they could say this:
1. He was an extremely durable pitcher who never missed a start and completed 175 games in his career.
2. He pitched one of the greatest World Series games.
3. He compiled borderline Hall of Fame caliber stats with his 254 wins and 2,478 strikeouts and his durability, the respect he built from teammates and opponents alike and his Game 7 push him over the border.
4. He was probably better than a handful of starters already in the Hall.
This isn't necessarily the most compelling argument, but this is what you have to work with. The trouble is, many people seem ABSOLUTELY SURE there is more to Morris' case. They just know -- absolutely know -- that Morris had to be better than that relatively tepid argument. And so they go searching.
More from the anti-Morris side. Recently on Twitter, ESPN Insider contributor Dan Szymborski compared Morris to some other pitchers via a series of tweets:
The case against Morris is simple: Relative to Hall of Famers, he wasn't very good at preventing the other team from scoring runs.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 27, 2013
To match Morris's career ERA+/IP, Kevin Appier needs 1228.2 IP of 6.23 ERA. Would 6 horrific seasons make Appier better candidate?— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 27, 2013
To get to Jack Morris's IP/ERA+, Kevin Brown would need 567.2 IP of a 7.92 ERA.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 27, 2013
By request, to match Morris's career IP/ERA+, Dave Stieb would need 928.2 IP of 8.07 ERA.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 27, 2013
To catch Morris IP/ERA+, Rick Reuschel would need to come back and throw 275.2 IP of a 7.31 ERA.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 27, 2013
Morris finished with a 3.90 career ERA. Over his final seven seasons, it was 4.48, despite which he managed to go 92-81.
In his piece, Posnanski cited this pro-Morris column from Joel Sherman of the New York Post:
I think there has been retroactive cherry-picking of Morris' career. In his era, he was valued as an unquestioned ace, a workhorse No. 1, the kind of starter who prided himself on working deep into games, saving bullpens, etc. My friend, Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, noted last year the righty pitched at least eight innings in 248 starts, which is the most by an AL pitcher in the DH era and represented 52 percent of his starts.
Here is one I note: Sparky Anderson, Tom Kelly and Cito Gaston combined to manage 8,146 regular-season games and each won two World Series. Every time Morris was available to start Game 1, those experienced managers started him. That was six times in seven series. The only time he didn't was the 1987 ALCS for Anderson's Tigers. He had thrown nine innings in Game 161 against Toronto to help Detroit clinch at least an AL East tie with the Blue Jays and so wasn't available until ALCS Game 2.
I guess the sabermetric crowd could know more today about Morris than those three managers knew then, but I am going with the managers.
Posnanski goes on to refute Sherman's arguments, so I won't do that here.
I do think there's something else going on that elevated Morris from a Hall of Fame afterthought -- he received less than 25 percent of the vote his first four years on the ballot -- to viable inductee.
Morris' first full season in the majors was 1979. His last good one was 1992. He's not really part of the Tom Seaver-Nolan Ryan-Steve Carlton-Phil Niekro-Don Sutton generation that pitched in the late '60s and early '70s, when offense was down, and racked up big innings, often in four-man rotations, and all won 300 games. (Bert Blyleven didn't win 300 but is part of that generation, as well.) Morris isn't really part of the Maddux-Glavine-Mussina-Randy Johnson-Pedro Martinez-Curt Schilling generation that kicked into high gear right as Morris was departing.
No, Morris is kind of a man on an island. Think of all the great pitchers who followed Morris in the '80s:
- Fernando Valenzuela: Burned out after six seasons, won 173 games.
- Dave Stieb: Developed shoulder problems, won 176 games.
- Dwight Gooden: Drug issues, but career ultimately derailed by shoulder issues. Won 194 games.
- Bret Saberhagen: Couldn't stay healthy. Won 167 games.
- Orel Hershiser: Tore his rotator cuff, although managed a comeback. Won 204 games.
- Frank Viola: Tommy John surgery. Won 176 games.
Then you have flickering rays like Mario Soto and Jose Rijo. Only Roger Clemens, who debuted in 1984, and Jamie Moyer, who debuted in 1986, began their careers in the 1980s and won more games than Morris' 254. The Hall of Fame has elected one starting pitcher since 1999 -- Blyleven in 2011, and he began his career in 1970.
Those guys above were all better than Morris at their peaks. With the exception of Valenzuela, they all had a higher career WAR. But they didn't win 254 games. They didn't win more games than Bob Gibson or Juan Marichal or Whitey Ford.
In the end, that is what Morris' case is all about -- 254 wins and that Game 7 shutout. It's not about how he was viewed as an ace or that his managers trusted him or other such arguments. It's about survival. And now Morris may have survived long enough on the Hall of Fame ballot to finally get elected to Cooperstown.
Baseball’s multicentury scope almost automatically defies you to shave any such list to a top 10. There are plays with their place in legend: Willie Mays’ Game 1 snag for the Giants in 1954, or Bill Wambsganss’ unassisted triple play in the Tribe’s backbreaking Game 5 win over the Brooklyn Robins (or Dodgers) in 1920 to help untie a series they’d ultimately win. If you’re going to peg an all-time best World Series, Mays would be the huge favorite to top any poll or list, because as grainy as the footage might be, it’s more than we have on Wambsganss. How fair a choice is that, really?
So let’s put those two incomparable moments in their corner of baseball Valhalla and talk about the best from the past 50 years. It’s a good, round number that incorporates the full spread of divisional-era play. Running them down in chronological order:
(To cast your vote for the best World Series Web Gem of the last 50 years, click here.)
Game 4, 1969: Right fielder Ron Swoboda, Mets (Watch )
You’d think Swoboda might be best remembered for driving in the winning run in Game 5. Not so, because that was made possible by his ninth-inning, full-extension leap the day before to rob Brooks Robinson of extra bases with two men on. That prevented the Orioles from taking the lead and potentially tying the series; instead, the Mets won in extras.
Game 1, 1970: Third baseman Brooks Robinson, Orioles (Watch )
Robinson’s snag of a hard grounder down the line by Lee May was perhaps just the best of several slick-fielding plays he made, in part because he picked up the ball in foul ground heading away from first but nevertheless managed to pivot and get off a one-hop throw that bounced true off Cincinnati’s artificial turf to retire May.
Game 2, 1972: Left fielder Joe Rudi, Athletics (Watch )
Denis Menke’s smash looked like it would be at least a ninth-inning double off the wall for the Reds trailing 2-0 with a man on, but Rudi raced back, found the wall with his right hand and leaped to spear the ball with his left to help preserve Oakland’s win in a series that proved the Big Green bragging rights over Big Red in the battle between the Machines.
Game 6, 1975: Right fielder Dwight Evans, Red Sox (Watch )
Peter Gammons has said this was the best catch in World Series history -- Joe Morgan’s smash to right field went over Evans’ head, but Dewey made an over-the-head catch going up against the wall and fired to first base to complete the double play. Carlton Fisk’s home run in extras never would've happened if not for this catch.
Game 3, 1978: Third baseman Graig Nettles, Yankees (Watch )
Much like Robinson, you could pick from among several great plays in the Fall Classic. Nettles’ D was decisive in helping the Yankees rally from a 2-0 deficit in the series.
Game 3, 1982: Center fielder Willie McGee, Cardinals (Watch )
McGee’s running leap at the wall in the ninth inning robbed Gorman Thomas of a two-run home run that would have brought the Brewers back to within two runs.
Game 6, 1991: Center fielder Kirby Puckett, Twins (Watch )
Puckett’s perfectly timed running leap against the fence in left-center robbed Ron Gant of extra bases with a man on. The run saved would prove huge when the Braves rallied to tie, only to lose in the bottom of the 11th -- on Puckett’s walk-off homer, which set up …
Game 7, 1991: Second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, Twins (Watch )
It’s 0-0 in the eighth, Jack Morris’ biggest game, dueling with John Smoltz. Lonnie Smith’s leadoff single looked like trouble, and Terry Pendleton’s double should have provided a lead ... except the rookie Knoblauch deked Smith into thinking he was fielding a double-play grounder, limiting him to reaching third base, where he’d be stranded. If most great plays on defense are a testament to physical gifts, Knoblauch’s moment is a bit of incomparable situational awareness that made sure Morris’ shutout held -- and that the Twins won the Series.
Game 3, 1992: Center fielder Devon White, Blue Jays (Watch )
There are a couple of amazing things about this play, first that Devo nearly started a triple play on his catch in center against the wall, but also that he made it look easy. But there’s nothing easy about making a catch heading into the wall yet coming off the wall firing the ball to first base for the DP, and perhaps winding up just a replay shy of starting a triple play.
Game 5, 2008: Second baseman Chase Utley, Phillies (Watch )
Much like Knoblauch’s play, this was just pure reactive genius, and that should be considered as important as a throwing arm or a great set of wheels. The Rays had already tied the score and had the lead run at second in Jason Bartlett. Aki Iwamura’s sharp grounder up the middle looked like it would be an infield single as Utley threw to first -- except he didn’t. Utley sold that pump fake to everybody, including Bartlett, who tried to score but was dead to rights when Utley threw home to preserve the tie in an eventual Phillies win.
There were some tough cuts that we had to kick around before the start of this year’s Series. Swoboda wasn’t the only Met making a major difference with leather in ’69: Tommie Agee also made a pair of plays that merit mention. Juan Uribe going into the stands down the left-field line to run down a popup for the White Sox in 2005 was a pretty rangy feat. And removing Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar’s diving stab to rob Lenny Dykstra of a hit in 1993? Perhaps the toughest cut of all.
So that’s our 10 -- which one tops your list? And if not one of these, if there’s a different play from the Fall Classic that you think was even better, pipe up and tell us: What was it?
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
Back in the first draft, it was still possible to dig up a relatively unknown kid from rural Oklahoma. Bench wasn't selected until the second round -- the 36th player overall -- and seven other catchers went ahead of him. Jim McLaughlin, the Reds' farm director in 1965, in Kevin Kerrane's classic book on scouting, "Dollar Sign on the Muscle":
A friend of mine with another club said, "You better send someone down to Binger, Oklahoma, to look at this kid Bench. We're not gonna draft him because the general manager's seen another he likes up in New England." ... They took that New England catcher on the first round, and the kid never got above Double A. And we took Bench on the second round. It was kind of a poker game. Nobody else knew much about him; his team hadn't played many games, and our scout was usually the only one there, so we could wait. After the draft Bill DeWitt, my boss, said, "I've never heard of him." I said, "I know you haven't, but you will. And that's why you hired me -- to hear about kids like this one."
Does McLaughlin's story check out? Sort of. There was no catcher from New England drafted in the first round, but the Orioles did take a catcher from Dartmouth in the second round -- one pick ahead of Bench. As to the claim that nobody else knew about Bench, at least one other team saw him: the Dodgers drafted a high school teammate of Bench's in the seventh round, but passed twice on selecting Bench.
1966: Reggie Jackson falls into A's lap
In one of the more famous draft blunders, the Mets' had the No. 1 pick and passed on Arizona State outfielder Jackson to select a high school catcher named Steve Chilcott, who would battle injuries and never reach the majors. "It was a position pick," said Joe McDonald, a Mets executive at the time. "We did not feel we had an adequate catching prospect in the organization."
1966: Braves draft Tom Seaver
The Braves? Yep. Atlanta selected Seaver in the now non-existent January secondary phase of the draft (for players who had previously been drafted). Seaver, pitching at USC, had been drafted the previous June by the Dodgers, but didn't sign after the Dodgers turned down his $70,000 asking price. The Braves took him with the 20th pick of the January phase, setting off a weird chain of events. The Braves signed Seaver for $40,000, but commissioner Spike Eckert ruled Seaver was ineligible to sign because USC had already played two exhibition games (Seaver didn't pitch). But the NCAA then declared Seaver ineligible, because he had signed a pro contract. So Eckert ruled that any team willing to match the Braves' offer would enter a lottery. The Mets, Phillies and Indians matched, and the Mets won the lottery.
1971: George Brett and Mike Schmidt drafted back-to-back
Pretty cool that arguably the two greatest third basemen in history were drafted the same year with consecutive picks. The catch: They went in the second round, Brett and then Schmidt. The Royals' first-round pick was a pitcher named Roy Branch, who briefly reached the majors but never won a game; the Phillies' pick was Roy Thomas, who had a marginal eight-year career as a reliever, although never pitched in the majors for the Phillies.
1976: Trammell and Morris ... and Ozzie (sort of)
In 1976, the Tigers had one of the great drafts ever, selecting Steve Kemp in the January phase and then Alan Trammell (second round), Dan Petry (fourth round), and Jack Morris (fifth round). Trammell and Morris aren't in the Hall of Fame yet, but both could get there someday. No team has ever drafted (and signed) two future Hall of Famers in the same draft. The kicker: They also drafted Ozzie Smith in the seventh round, but he didn't sign, and the Padres selected him the following year.
1987: Mariners draft Ken Griffey Jr.
The Mariners owned the first overall pick, and penurious Mariners owner George Argyros wanted the club to draft college pitcher Mike Harkey, because he would be easier to sign and presumably quicker to reach the majors. Scouting director Roger Jongewaard won out in the end. (Harkey went fourth overall, to the Cubs.)
1988: Dodgers draft Mike Piazza ... in 62nd round
Maybe the most famous late-round pick, Piazza was the Dodgers' final pick that year -- the 1,390th pick overall out of 1,395.
1990: Braves land Chipper Jones
Hard-throwing high school right-hander Todd Van Poppel was the consensus top talent in the 1990 draft -- "the best pitching prospect ever" label had been slapped on him -- but his declaration that he didn't want to sign and instead attend the University of Texas scared teams off him. So the Braves took Jones, which worked out pretty well for them.
2000: Cardinals draft Yadier Molina
The 2000 draft as one of the worst ever -- after top pick Adrian Gonzalez (by the Marlins), the rest of the top 15 were Adam Johnson, Luis Montanez, Mike Stodolka, Justin Wayne, Rocco Baldelli, Matt Harrington, Matt Wheatland, Mark Phillips, Joe Torres, Dave Krynzel, Joe Borchard, Shaun Boyd, Beau Hale and Chase Utley (OK, finally one that panned out). Keep that list in mind when you get excited about your team's first-round pick this year. The only other first-round of note that year was Adam Wainwright (by the Braves). He would eventually get traded to St. Louis, where he would team with a young catcher from Puerto Rico also drafted in 2000.
2009: Nationals draft Stephen Strasburg
The story here is how the Mariners kicked away the No. 1 overall selection. The Nationals headed into the final weekend with a record of 59-99, having gone 3-11 over their previous 14 games. The Mariners were 58-101 and had lost 14 of 15. This was tanking at its best. All the Mariners had to do was lose one game to lock up the first pick. One loss. Easy, right? Instead the Mariners sweep the A's. The Nationals lose all three. Josh Outman's throwing error sets up Yuniesky Betancourt's two-run go-ahead in triple in the fifth inning of the season finale. In other words, if Outman doesn't throw the ball away, Strasburg might be in a Mariners uniform instead of a Nationals one. (With the second pick, the Mariners selected Dustin Ackley.)
I love a good cheating accusation. I mean -- peanuts, hot dogs, hating the Yankees, pitching inside and cheating: Aren't they all a fundamental part of the game we love?
Blue Jays broadcaster Jack Morris thinks Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz is throwing a spitball, telling ESPNBoston's Gordon Edes:
"What do you think? Look at the pitches. Fastball at 94 that goes like that," Morris said, his hand darting swiftly down and away. "On a fastball?
"He's not the first guy to ever do it? You can get away with it. Gaylord [Perry] made a nice career out of it."
Blue Jays radio analyst Dirk Hayhurst, who pitched briefly in the majors, also said that Buchholz "absolutely" was cheating during Wednesday's start. First off, Morris has been around the block a few times, so I don't think we can simply dismiss the allegations as sour grapes from the Blue Jays' perspective. Does Morris strike you as the type who would crazily throw something like this out there? What does he have to gain by doing so?
Here are some highlights of Buchholz pitching from Wednesday's game. That's some mean stuff there. In particular, check out the fastball to Jose Bautista at the 1:00 mark. Ty Cobb couldn't hit that pitch.
You know what the pitch reminds of? Mike Scott in the 1986 playoffs, when the Astros right-hander blew away the Mets in two starts. If you're not familiar with Scott, he won the Cy Young Award that year using a high-powered fastball and lethal split-fingered pitch. A splitter that the Mets suggested was actually a scuffball. Check out the pitch to Gary Carter at the 1:07 mark. Don't show that video to Keith Hernandez.
Buchholz, who is 6-0 with a 1.01 ERA, says he's the same pitcher he's always been. Which obviously isn't the case. He's striking out 27.8 percent of the batters he's faced, well above the 16.1 percent rate of last season and his 18 percent career rate. So, let's check into some of the detailed movement on his pitches.
Horizontal break on fastball, 2013: minus-4.7 inches
Vertical break on fastball, 2013: 9.9 inches
Horizontal break on fastball, 2012: minus-4.8 inches
Vertical break on fastball, 2012: 9.1 inches
Those are average totals, of course, suggesting he's getting a little more downward movement on his fastball, but overall, the movement is similar to last season. But his ball was really moving on Wednesday night, averaging minus-5.5 inches of horizontal break. His 16 fastballs thrown with two strikes averaged minus-6.5 inches of horizontal break (although 7.1 inches of vertical break). Some of that variance comes with the different types of fastballs thrown -- two-seamers versus four-seamers -- but that pitch to Bautista was 96 mph, as hard as any pitch Buchholz threw all night. Four-seam fastballs are thrown harder but are also usually straighter than two-seamers.
By the way, there's nothing unusual about Buchholz's average movement on his pitches. He ranks 33rd in average vertical break on his fastball among 110 starters (Clayton Kershaw is No. 1). Still, that pitch to Bautista seemed almost unnatural.
Aside from whatever Buchholz is doing, or not doing, cheating is part of the fabric of the game's history. Baseball players will always look for that extra edge. Sometimes, they go a little too far, of course, and start making a mockery of the game (we mean you, Barry Bonds). Or in the 1950s, when the spitball was apparently so prevalent that commissioner Ford Frick actually lobbied to have the pitch re-legalized. Whitey Ford was the most famous practitioner; according to "The Baseball Codes" by Jason Turbow and Michael Duca, Ford used a concoction of turpentine, baby oil and rosin that he stored on the dugout bench during games.
Pitchers from Don Sutton to Scott to Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine have been accused of throwing spitballs or scuffing the ball. Perry, of course, went through his famous pre-pitch routine in which he may or may not have been applying a foreign substance to the ball. (Once, when asked by a writer what pitch her daddy threw, his young daughter said, "It's a hard slider.")
Turbow writes that Ozzie Guillen said, "Everyone cheats. If you don't get caught, you're a smart player. If you get caught, you're a cheater. It's been part of the game for a long time."
Indeed it has. Morris has simply stirred up an age-old controversy. I have no idea if Buchholz is doing anything illegal. But I'm glad we have something fun to argue about.
Is this a sad day for baseball? Maybe not. There will be another election next year and one the year after that. I presume onward into the future players will get elected. But this year? The Baseball Writers' Association of America struck out.
Nobody can deny the current process is broken. This summer, the Hall of Fame will hold an induction ceremony that will honor three individuals who have been dead for over 70 years. Only one of those was a player, and Deacon White played so long ago he was a catcher without a glove.
The Hall of Fame is a museum, but there will be no Astros fans trekking to Cooperstown to see Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell inducted and take a tour of baseball history. There will be no Tigers and Twins fans going to see Jack Morris get in. No Expos fans cheering Tim Raines, Mariners fans driving 3,000 miles to see the great Edgar Martinez inducted or throngs of Mets fans making the short drive to see Mike Piazza's speech.
If you've never been to the Hall of Fame, maybe this summer is the time to go. The lines will be short.
Some quick thoughts:
The BBWAA went against its history by not electing Biggio. Every eligible player with 3,000 hits except Paul Waner and Rafael Palmeiro was elected in his first year on the ballot (Pete Rose being ineligible). Somehow the writers didn't find room for a player who scored the 15th most runs in history. He'll get in next year.
Jack Morris (67.7 percent)
I almost feel sorry for Morris at this point. His vote total went up just 1 percentage point from last year, leaving him 42 votes short of election. He has one year left on the ballot, and while players as close as Morris often get the sympathy vote when they get this close, his candidacy will be hurt by the addition of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine to next year's ballot, two pitchers in a higher class than Morris. I just heard Bob Costas on MLB Network mention that the sabermetric community has hurt Morris' case, unlike how it helped Bert Blyleven's case. I think Costas is 100 percent wrong with that statement. In Morris' first five years on the ballot, he received less than 30 percent of the vote. He was initially rejected because voters looked at his 3.90 career ERA as unworthy of Hall status. His totals have risen through the years despite the strong sabermetric evidence against him.
Jeff Bagwell (59.6) and Mike Piazza (57.8)
Bagwell's total increased 3.6 percentage points from last year, and Piazza fared well for a first-ballot guy. By historical measures, both are on an excellent Hall of Fame path. Barry Larkin, for example, received 51.6 percent his first year, 62.1 percent the next and was elected in his third year with 86.4 percent. Bagwell and Piazza are tied to PED rumors, so historical measures may not apply to them; Bagwell's total certainly didn't rise as rapidly as Larkin's did. Still, it's also true that Bagwell and Piazza are being viewed differently than Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
Tim Raines (52.2)
In his sixth year on the ballot, Raines' total increased from 48.7 percent. He still has nine years to get in; he'll get there.
Lee Smith (47.8)
While Smith's support isn't surprising in light of the fact that three of the past 14 members elected by the BBWAA have been relief pitchers, it continues to baffle me. Yes, he racked up a lot of saves, but I always put the Smith question this way: At any point in his career, even when he was at his scariest, most dominant peak, would he have been traded for a Dale Murphy, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling or Alan Trammell? Of course not. Smith's general manager would have been laughed off the phone, yet he got more votes than any of those guys. His vote total did drop and it was his 11th year, so he's a guy who was affected by the crowded ballot. His chances took a big turn for the worse.
Curt Schilling (38.8)
While it's amazing that Schilling received almost 30 percentage points fewer votes than Morris, this is actually a decent vote total for a first-year candidate. It may be a slow trek for him, but I believe he's on the path to induction.
Roger Clemens(37.6) and Barry Bonds (36.2)
No surprise that these two received less than 40 percent. The most interesting fact is that Clemens received eight more votes than Bonds.
Edgar Martinez (35.9)
In his fourth year, Martinez lost a few votes. He is already fighting the bias against designated hitters, so even though he is just one of 16 players with at least 10 seasons with a .400 OBP (11 total), this wasn't a good day for him.
Alan Trammell (33.6)
Trammell also lost votes. His bandwagon didn't really begin until last year, but it's too late for him and the ballot is too crowded. He is every bit the Hall of Famer that Larkin is, but with three years left, it will be up to some future version of the Veterans Committee to put him in.
Sammy Sosa (12.5) and Rafael Palmeiro (8.8)
They stayed on the ballot, but they're not getting in, at least not through the BBWAA.
Bernie Williams (3.3) and Kenny Lofton (3.2)
Maybe the most discouraging result of the day is that Williams and Lofton -- admittedly, borderline guys -- will be booted off future ballots, their cases never given the opportunity to be argued. Whitaker'd.
* * *
So there we go. A crowded ballot gets even more crowded next year with the additions of Maddux, Glavine, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent. Good luck, voters.
In 1978, four rookies helped the Tigers win 86 games, ending a stretch of four consecutive losing seasons. That group -- Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Lance Parrish -- would be the core of a team that would finish over .500 for the next decade, peaking with a 104-win season and World Series title in 1984 and another American League East title in 1987. While it wasn't exactly historic -- the Tigers would win 90-plus games just three times in that 11-year stretch -- it was certainly a terrific run of success.
Yet that club has just one Hall of Famer so far -- manager Sparky Anderson.
Morris, of course, has a chance to get in when the balloting results are announced Wednesday. But is he the right Tiger who should go in? Trammell remains on the ballot as well, but received just 37 percent of the vote last year. Whitaker, despite strong but underappreciated credentials, fell off the ballot after one year. Their career stats:
Morris: 254-186, 3.90 ERA, 3824 IP, 3567 H, 1390 BB, 2478 K, 39.3 WAR
Trammell: 2293 G, .285/.352/.415, 185 HR, 1003 RBI, 1231 R, 67.1 WAR
Whitaker: 2390 G, .276/.363/.426, 244 HR, 1084 RBI, 1386 R, 71.4 WAR
Let's do a quick survey of how the three players ranked in James' annual "Abstract," to give us another view of how they were viewed at the time.
Morris: Fourth among starting pitchers (behind Fernando Valenzuela, Steve McCatty and Steve Carlton). Morris had a career-best 3.05 ERA in that strike season (it was also the lowest-scoring season in the AL between 1977 and 2012).
Trammell: Sixth among shortstops.
Whitaker: Seventh among second basemen.
Morris: Fifth among starting pitchers (behind Carlton, Dave Stieb, Fernando and Steve Rogers).
Trammell: Fourth among shortstops (behind Robin Yount, Dave Concepcion and Dickie Thon).
Whitaker: Third among second basemen (behind Bobby Grich and Joe Morgan).
Morris: Fifth among right-handed starters. One of his best seasons: 20-13, 3.34 ERA, led the AL in innings and strikeouts.
Trammell: Fourth among shortstops (behind Yount, Thon and Cal Ripken).
Whitaker: First among second basemen. Hit .320, won a Gold Glove, eighth in MVP voting (the only time he received MVP votes).
Morris: James rated entire rotations instead of pitchers. Morris didn't rank in the top 10 in the AL in ERA or innings.
Trammell: Second among AL shortstops. Trammell was the World Series MVP, hitting .450 with two homers and six RBIs.
Whitaker: First among AL second basemen.
Morris: Fourth among AL right-handers (behind Bret Saberhagen, Stieb and Bert Blyleven). In separate article on the Hall of Fame progress of active players, James wrote, "Among the pitchers of his generation, Jack Morris is the one who is making the strongest progress toward the Hall of Fame. It is not that he has done anything spectacular that immediately projects him forward, as Dwight Gooden did last year, but that he is picking up plusses here, there and everywhere, adding something almost every year.
Trammell: Third among AL shortstops (behind Ripken and Tony Fernandez).
Whitaker: First among AL second basemen. "May have been the only unanimous selection other than Gooden," James wrote.
Morris: Fourth among AL pitchers. "He's probably three or four good years away from the Hall of Fame now."
Trammell: Fourth among AL shortstops (behind Fernandez, Ripken and Julio Franco).
Whitaker: Third among AL second basemen.
Morris: Second among MLB right-handed starters (behind Roger Clemens). "For the ninth straight year, Jack Morris last year did a few things that would be characteristic of a Hall of Fame pitcher."
Trammell: Third among MLB shortstops (behind Ozzie and Fernandez). A little surprising that Trammell didn't rate ahead of Fernandez, after finishing second in the MVP vote (and he should have won it over George Bell).
Whitaker: Third among MLB second basemen.
James did not publish a book in 1989.
James published "The Baseball Book," but did not include player rankings. He did include his 1980s decade All-Star team and had Morris as the No. 3 starting pitcher, behind Dwight Gooden and Roger Clemens. That's the argument, of course, that has essentially gained Morris momentum in recent years ("Most wins in the '80s.") Morris did pitch the most innings in the decade, and while defining a decade as artificial as any 10-year division, it is instructive to note what happened to the other top pitchers on James' all-decade team:
- Dwight Gooden: Suffered shoulder injury in 1989.
- Roger Clemens: All-time great.
- Ron Guidry: First season didn't come until he was 26, so had a short career. Crushes Morris in career Cy Young shares -- he's 16th while Morris is 76th.
- Bob Welch: 211-146, 3.47 in career, won a Cy Young award, received one vote for Hall of Fame.
- John Tudor: Developed late and then got hurt, but was great for a few years.
- Orel Hershiser: Led National League three consecutive years in innings pitched and then tore rotator cuff. Came back and managed to win 204 games. Fell off the ballot in second year.
- Teddy Higuera: The little guy from Mexico could really bring it. Was 27 as a rookie and later had back surgery and then tore his rotator cuff.
- Bret Saberhagen: Two-time Cy Young winner had thrown over 1,300 innings at age 25 (Morris had just under 600). Shoulder issues rest of career.
- Dave Stieb: Had the second-most wins in the '80s. Averaged 275 innings from ages 24-27. Morris averaged 228 at the same ages. Shoulder and back injuries.
- Fernando Valenzuela: Led league in innings at age 20. Averaged 269 innings from 21 through 25. Arm died.
You see what happened here, right? Most of the best pitchers of the '80s got hurt. With guys like Valenzuela, Gooden and Saberhagen, it's not surprising, seeing in retrospect the workloads they carried as young pitchers. This requires a more in-depth article, but the 1980s was a sort of transition decade: Teams were moving to five-man rotations, hitters were getting bigger and stronger, the 300-inning workloads of the 1970s had ceased, but pitchers weren't handled as carefully as now and medical and training techniques weren't as advanced.
Morris and Clemens -- both college pitchers, by the way -- weren't abused at a young age like some of the other top pitchers. They survived. Morris first threw 200 innings at age 24 (between the majors and minors) and threw 250 at age 25, but then had the shortened season at age 26. His first back-to-back big workloads didn't come until 27-28.
That makes Morris unique for his generation of pitchers -- but doesn't make his value more than what it was. But back to the point: Based on James' rankings, Morris was considered one of the best pitchers at the time -- not the No. 1 or No. 2 or No. 3 guy, but you don't have to be the very best to achieve Hall of Fame status.
Trammell and Whitaker also ranked consistently high and there was certainly a time when Whitaker was defended as the best second baseman in baseball. Trammell might not have quite achieved that status -- but, again, you don't have to be No. 1 to be a Hall of Famer (it would be a small Hall of Fame if that were the case). On the other hand, Morris probably was the most famous of the three. One year, James wrote that one of these days America would wake up and realize how great Whitaker was. That, unfortunately, never did happen, even though Whitaker remained effective until he retired after 1995 (he slugged .518 that year).
OK, this was really just a long post to give a reason to post the poll above. What do you think?
1. Joe Posnanski with a fun post on the Topps numbering system -- if you collected cards, you remember the best players would get card No. 100 or 300 or whatever, stars would get No. 250 or 450, and minor stars would get the other cards ending in 0. And Mario Mendoza would always get No. 78 or No. 253 or the like. So Joe checked all the big names -- I have no idea how long this took him -- and awarded points each time a player got a card ending in 0, with more points for a "prime" card (ending in 00 or 50). Jack Morris, as it turns out, appeared only once on a "prime" card -- No. 450 in 1982. That's it. So Topps definitely didn't view Morris as a Hall of Famer.
(Here's Joe's Hall of Fame ballot.)
2. OK, OK, maybe that's not the most scientific analysis. But it is one argument that contradicts the view that many are now holding that Morris was viewed as a huge star while active. You can argue that Morris was more widely respected by those in the game than outside, but that doesn't make him a better pitcher than he was. ESPN Insider Dan Szymborski compares Morris to first-time ballot guy Curt Schilling. The Morris-Schilling comparison is an interesting case study, because there will be many voters who will vote for Morris but not Schilling (largely because Morris had 40 more wins), but as Dan points out, Morris' "edge" in wins isn't that valuable -- Schilling would have to go 38-40 to match Morris' record. And if Morris' trump card is his Game 7 performance, Schilling can counter with the fact that he's one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time, with an overall record far superior to Morris' (11-2, 2.23 ERA in 19 starts versus 7-4, 3.80 in 13 starts). Basically, there isn't a rational reason for voting for Morris but excluding Schilling.
3. Joe Sheehan had a strong take on the Hall of Fame in one of his recent newsletters (subscribe here):
What we've seen is that Hall voting in the modern era has moved away from the stats -- because when the voters made arguments about the stats, they got crushed by the outsiders -- and towards the narrative, because the writers could make up whatever they wanted. So Bruce Sutter wasn't a guy with five good years and just eight in which he did anything, with 23 WAR and a save total that wasn't at all impressive just a few years after he retired no, he was a split-fingered pioneer who revolutionized the closer role and was a critical piece on a World Champion, and look at that beard!
Now, we have Jack Morris, and once again, the statistical case for Morris was tried and found lacking a decade ago, from his postseason work to his "best pitcher of the 1980s" to "pitching to the score". The traditional voters were beaten on the stats, so they brought in the stories of him being a bulldog, of Opening Day starts (a stat that has never before and will never again be part of a Hall of Fame case), of one night in October, and they created a legend, and that legend -- that narrative -- is what will be elected to the Hall.
Joe's point is that on his first five years on the ballot, Morris never received more than 26 percent of the vote. The rejection of his 3.90 career ERA, at that time, was pretty sound. You can argue that this is why we give players 15 years on the ballot. But those 15 years also allow narratives -- like Sutter, like Morris, like Jim Rice -- to build momentum.
By the way, you knew who else was a World Series hero? Mickey Lolich, who won three games for the Tigers in 1968, beating Bob Gibson in Game 7. He was a good pitcher as well: 217 wins, 3.44 ERA, career WAR a little higher than Morris', had a season in which he started 45 games and pitched 376 innings (the first of four straight 300-inning seasons). In his fourth year on the ballot, he received -- get this -- 26 percent of the vote. But that was it. He declined thereafter, oddly falling from 26 percent to 11 percent in one year. His narrative never developed, and memories of him faded away.
4. Tim Marchman of the Wall Street Journal says it's time to give the vote to ... the fans:
The problem is simple: The elections are carried out by writers who have been members of the Baseball Writers Association of America for at least 10 years, and consequently, the debates aren't about baseball or ballplayers but about sportswriting and sportswriters -- much less interesting subjects.
An obvious solution -- one so elegant it's surprising it wasn't put in place decades ago -- is to simply strip writers of the vote and give it to the public. Writers and traditionalists would cry to the heavens, and all would fret over the perils of mass democracy, but we'd at least be rid of an inherently toxic structure.
The worst element, though, is that the writers debating all of this have the franchise even though there's no real reason for them to have it: They have no special knowledge of the game relative to anyone else, and they've never done a good job.
I will say this: Based on voting results I've seen on the past on ESPN.com, fans would be tougher than the writers. Many think giving fans the vote (or part of it) would lead to more absurd selections or fan favorites. Actually, the opposite is true: It would lead to fewer selections. The fans, for example, certainly wouldn't have voted in Sutter or Rice. Put it this way: It's hard enough getting 75 percent consensus from 500-plus writers; it would be near impossible getting 75 percent consensus from an even larger bloc of fans, excepting only the obvious candidates.
5. Somebody has been counting published ballots, and as of Dec. 27 (and 114 ballots, or 20 percent of last year's total), NOBODY will make it in this year. That early roll call had Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza and Tim Raines all over 60 percent, but nobody at 70 percent. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds were both at 44.7 percent. I predicted the other day that Biggio and Morris would make it, but I won't be surprised if neither does.
Giving us a Hall of Fame ceremony this summer of Jacob Ruppert (owner, died 1939), Hank O'Day (umpire, died 1935) and Deacon White (played when catchers caught the ball barehanded, died 1939).
On Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m. ET, the Hall of Fame voting results will be announced. It's possible that Jack Morris makes it in, and maybe Craig Biggio makes it in, and maybe nobody makes it in.
One guy who won't make it in is Jeff Bagwell, who received 42 and 56 percent of the votes his first two years on the ballot. There will be much consternation and many angry words written about his failure to get elected, but I'm here to tell all you Bagwell supporters: Relax. Your man is on an excellent Hall of Fame trajectory; he will get in soon enough.
Hey, I'm with you. I believe he had a Hall of Fame career; I wrote a post last year headlined "Denying Jeff Bagwell would be a travesty." OK, maybe that was a little strong, but sometimes we have to write headlines to stir things up and the good news is that Bagwell received a big bump in his vote percentage. Yes, there are some who refuse to vote for him because they suspect he used steroids and some who just don't believe he was a Hall of Famer (even though he's one of just 31 players with at least 1,500 RBIs and runs scored).
Anyway, here are the Hall of Famers elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America since 2000, the year on the ballot they first received at least 56 percent of the vote and the year they finally got elected:
Roberto Alomar: First year, elected in second
Bert Blyleven: 11th year, elected in 14th
Andre Dawson: Fifth year, elected in ninth
Rickey Henderson: First year
Jim Rice: Seventh year, elected in 15th
Goose Gossage: Seventh year, elected in ninth
Cal Ripken: First year
Tony Gwynn: First year
Bruce Sutter: 11th year, elected in 13th
Wade Boggs: First year
Ryne Sandberg: Second year, elected in third
Paul Molitor: First year
Dennis Eckersley: First year
Eddie Murray: First year
Gary Carter: Fourth year, elected in sixth
Ozzie Smith: First year
Dave Winfield: First year
Kirby Puckett: First year
Carlton Fisk: First year, elected in second
Tony Perez: Third year, elected in ninth
As you can see, Bagwell is ahead of the "pace" of several of these guys, including Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter and Tony Perez, none of whom have the Hall of Fame credentials of Bagwell.
Also, once a player gets up to 56 percent, his eventual election is a near certainty. The only three players in the past 30 years to get to that percentage and not get elected are Orlando Cepeda (who got to 56 percent in his 13th year), Jim Bunning (who got there in his 10th year, got to 74.2 percent in his 12th year, but then dropped off) and Gil Hodges (got there in his fifth year but peaked at 63 percent in his final year). Cepeda and Bunning were eventually elected by the Veterans Committee, while Hodges remains the player (other than Jack Morris) with the highest vote percentage never to make the Hall of Fame.
Bagwell isn't the only player on this year's ballot on a possible Hall of Fame path.
Tim Raines received 48.7 percent of the vote in his fifth year on the ballot last year. Here are some Hall of Famers who received less than that percentage at one time yet still got elected by the BBWAA: Blyleven, Rice, Gossage, Sutter, Carter, Luis Aparacio, Hoyt Wilhelm, Eddie Mathews, Duke Snider, Hank Greenberg, Early Wynn, Lou Boudreau and -- get this -- Joe DiMaggio (although I believe there was some confusion at the time about his eligibility). And that doesn't include the numerous Hall of Famers elected by the various veterans committees, including many players who never sniffed election from the writers (Rick Ferrell never received 1 percent of the vote, for example).
Even Edgar Martinez, who received 36.5 percent of vote on his third year on the ballot, has started better than some Hall of Famers.
Look, I can't explain why this happens, why a player's vote total can increase dramatically in a few short years. Sure, the roll call of voters changes over time, but it changes very slowly, since once voters have reached their 10 years in the BBWAA they get to keep voting until they die, whether or not they still cover baseball or have watched a game in 20 years.
There is a psychological phenomenon known as groupthink that perhaps applies here. This occurs when a group of people seek harmony or conformity in their decision-making. In social psychology, this is applied in a negative manner. Irving Janis, who wrote "Victims of Groupthink" in 1972, suggested events like the failure to anticipate the attack on Pearl Harbor or the Bay of Pigs fiasco were results of groupthink, cases in which opposing views weren't considered.
Is that what happens here? Eventually, the Hall of Fame voters form a consensus opinion. Basically, the voters want to elect somebody to the Hall of Fame, so it's natural that a form of groupthink develops. That seems to be the case with Jack Morris. Here's a guy who was under 30 percent of the vote his first five years on the ballot. To use the Malcolm Gladwell terms from "The Tipping Point," there were then "connectors" and "salesmen" -- leaders of sorts within the BBWAA with a heavy influence -- who started voting for Morris, helping to increase his vote totals by influencing others that Morris' narrative trumps the 3.90 ERA that voters had soundly rejected as Hall of Fame material in his early years on the ballot. As the vote total slowly builds, others climb on board -- groupthink. Jim Rice got in because he had connectors and salesmen on his side; the comparable Dale Murphy never had the right guys leading his cause.
Anyway, this gets us back to Jeff Bagwell: He was at 56 percent last year and should climb over 60 percent this year, putting him even closer to the 75 percent threshold. His election by the BBWAA appears inevitable.
It's possible that this is Morris' last best chance to get into Cooperstown, at least until he's voted on in some future incarnation of the Veterans Committee. Morris is the highest remaining holdover from last year's vote and has reached the percentage where enshrinement is usually guaranteed. Of course, this year's ballot includes many worthy newcomers, but the ties of several of them to performance-enhancing drugs means their enshrinement is unlikely. On the other hand, the ballot now includes many viable Hall of Fame candidates and it's possible some writers who voted for Morris a year ago won't find room on their 10-man ballots this year. If Morris doesn't get elected, next year -- his 15th and final year on the ballot -- won't be automatic either. The additions of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and even Mike Mussina -- all clearly Morris' superiors as pitchers -- means Morris may not receive that boost to get over the 75 percent threshold, as borderline players often see a drop in their vote totals when inner-echelon Hall of Famers join the ballot.
Anyway, many words and columns have been about written about Morris for many years now. I'm not going to go completely down that windy road again, but I do want to present this little table:
Pitcher A is Morris. Pitcher B is a new player on this year's ballot: David Wells.
I suppose the idea of comparing Morris to Wells may seem a little silly to some of you, but the two ended up with similar career totals: Morris won a few more games, but Wells had the higher winning percentage. Morris threw a few more innings, but Wells was close -- pretty remarkable considering his first full season as a starting pitcher didn't come until he was 30 years old -- and while Wells' career ERA is higher, once you adjust for the offensive environments each pitched in, Wells' ERA is actually a little better.
Morris, of course, pitched the Game 7 shutout in the 1991 World Series, while Wells was an excellent postseason pitcher. Morris went 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA in 13 starts (five complete games) but Wells went 10-5 with a 3.17 ERA (17 starts and 10 relief appearances). Wells beats Morris in career Wins Above Replacement, and pretty easily.
"He was the last of a breed," Sparky Anderson told Sports Illustrated of Morris in 2003. "Somebody who actually comes to the park with anger to beat you. I never went near him when it was his day to pitch." After that World Series game in 1991, Twins pitching coach Dick Such said, "Tonight, he was a racehorse, a thoroughbred. He was going to run and run and run and not stop until his heart burst." The Jack Morris story always starts, with one of the great games ever pitched. Stories about Wells usually involve things like gout and beer.
* * * *
On his first year on the ballot in 2000, Morris received 22 percent of the vote. I suppose you could argue that indicates those most immediately familiar with Morris didn't initially view him as a Hall of Famer, or even anything close to one. Dale Murphy was on his second year on the ballot that year and Morris received five fewer votes. Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe probably summed up a lot of voters' opinions then when he wrote, "Morris is a worthy candidate and was a terrific big-game pitcher (remember the seventh game of the 1991 World Series?), but a 3.90 ERA is too high for the Hall. (Jim) Kaat (283 wins) is probably a better candidate and has never gotten a sniff. (Bert) Blyleven (287 wins, 3.31 ERA) is a better choice than both, but can't get voters' attention."
The Hall of Fame voting process is an odd thing to anaylze. Some candidates' vote totals surge for reasons sometimes explicable and sometimes not, while others' stagnate. Murphy, for example, peaked in 2000 but fell to 9 percent by 2004. Blyleven, who received fewer votes than Morris in 2000, surged with the help of an Internet campaign that used, in part, sabermetrics to argue his cause. I think the support for Blyleven helped Morris in many regards, because a large numbers of the voters clearly view the two in the same light: Innings eaters, durable, good for a long time if never quite the best pitcher in the game (neither won a Cy Young Award). Of course, the fact that Blyleven and Morris aren't really close in value -- Blyleven finished in the top five in his league in ERA seven times while Morris did it just twice (fifth both times), to cite one measurement -- doesn't matter all that much. As with Wells, we're talking about perception.
In that 2003 article on Morris -- interestingly, from what I can tell, Sports Illustrated never did a full-length feature on Morris while he was active -- Tom Verducci wrote about the moment when Twins manager left Morris in to pitch the 10th inning in Game 7:
Kelly turned. He looked Morris in the eye.
"I can pitch," Morris said.
Kelly paused, then said, "Oh, hell. It's only a game."
"He was giving me the chance to take myself out," says Morris. "But I think he wanted me to look him in the eye and say, 'I'm not going nowhere. This is my game."
I suppose some of the increase in Morris' vote totals can be attributed to a backlash against the steroids era. Again though: Why Morris and not Murphy? Why Morris and not Keith Hernandez or Don Mattingly or Alan Trammell or some other star of the 1980s? Is it fame? Was Morris more famous than those guys? It's hard to argue that he was. Having been a fan in the 1980s, I can assure you that there were certainly other pitchers of that era as "famous" as Morris: Fernando Valenzuela, Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser, Dave Stewart, Bret Saberhagen, guys who never get elected. Heck, Saberhagen won two Cy Young Awards and also pitched a shutout in Game 7 of the World Series. I can tell that you while Morris was certainly perceived as one of the better pitchers of that decade, he was never perceived as the best at any given time. (You often see Morris supporters point out he won the most games in the decade, which is true; among pitchers with at least 1,500 innings, he also had the 28th-best ERA.)
This isn't meant to turn into an anti-Jack Morris piece. Frankly, there is already too much unnecessary anger out there over the Morris debate, with the sabermetric crowd lashing out at the pro-Morris bloc and vice versa. If anything, that has probably worked to fuel the Morris case as much as anything: Backlash against statistics and WAR and bloggers and vitriol, and in favor of a simpler time, when you could look a manager in the eye and say, "This is my game."
Morris will almost assuredly get in this year. He received 66.7 percent of the vote last year, putting him on the brink of the 75 percent needed for election, and once a player gets that close the voters will put him over the top.
Which brings me to Andy Pettitte, who is apparently about to sign a deal to return to the Yankees for another season. Pettitte and Morris certainly have comparable résumés: similar career win totals and ERAs, key member of multiple World Series champions, workhorse mentality, big postseason moments, right on down to neither ever winning a Cy Young Award. Here, the career numbers for each:
The problem in electing a marginal candidate like Morris to the Hall of Fame is it opens the door for similar players. In fact, it's hard to prove that Morris is a better Hall of Fame candidate than Pettitte. Once you adjust for the different offensive eras each pitched, Pettitte comes out on top, with a better ERA and a higher Wins Above Replacement.
Morris, of course, has THE GAME, but it's not like Pettitte is devoid of big performances in the playoffs. Pettitte has started more games (44), pitched more innings (276.2) and won more games (19) than any pitcher in playoff history. Since 1995, he's in appeared in every postseason except four. His signature playoff performance was a 1-0 win over John Smoltz in Game 5 of the 1996 World Series (8.1 scoreless innings).
But like Morris, his overall postseason numbers don't quite match the reputation as an ultra-clutch playoff performers. Pettitte is 19-11 with a 3.81 ERA; Morris is 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA. In other words -- good numbers, but essentially what both did in the regular season.
That's not to discount those accomplishments. The Hall of Fame does include the word "fame" and making 44 starts in the postseason serves to boost Pettitte's reputation. One thing Hall of Fame voters have historically rewarded is being a key member of championship teams -- players like Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers and Tony Perez have weak statistical arguments for the Hall, but played on multiple World Series winners. That's one reason Morris will get in (he played on four winners, although he was injured in 1993 and had pitched poorly and didn't pitch in the postseason).
One more Pettitte note: Here are the career ERA+ (this statistic normalizes a pitcher's ERA for his era and home ballparks) of some pitchers, all with at least 3,000 innings pitched, since 1950:
Bert Blyleven 118
Tom Glavine 118
Gaylord Perry 117
Andy Pettitte 117
Dennis Eckersley 116
Steve Carlton 115
Phil Niekro 115
Fergie Jenkins 115
Jim Bunning 115
Robin Roberts 113
Nolan Ryan 112
Morris, on the other hand, with his 105 ERA+ is aligned with pitchers like Kenny Rogers (107), Charlie Hough (106), Bob Welch (106), Frank Tanana (106), Tim Wakefield (105), Jamie Moyer (104) and, yes, Hunter (104). In fact, of 61 pitchers since 1950 to have thrown 3,000-plus innings, Morris ranks 50th in adjusted ERA. In terms of career WAR since 1950 (no innings qualification), Pettitte ranks 32nd, Morris 74th (remember, WAR calculates regular-season contributions only).
Look, player-versus-player Hall of Fame comparisons can be the worst kind of arguments to make. But when Jack Morris gets inducted in early January, Andy Pettitte's Hall of Fame candidacy will take a gigantic leap forward.
(OK, I realize I didn't give an opinion, in case you want one: Morris is below the fence for me; Pettitte is straddling it ... but I would be inclined to vote for him, assuming more qualified candidates like Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina are in by the time Pettitte hits the ballot.)
You can read the whole post and reader comments here. That idea leads me to Omar Vizquel, who is winding down the final days of his 24-year career. It's actually fairly easy to construct a Hall of Fame framework for Vizquel: Any position player with at least 10 Gold Gloves is clearly one of the greatest fielders of all time and merits a Hall of Fame selection purely on his fielding ability. The list of those with at least 10 Gold Gloves:
Brooks Robinson, 16
Ozzie Smith, 13
Ivan Rodriguez, 13
Roberto Clemente, 12
Willie Mays, 12
Omar Vizquel, 11
Keith Hernandez, 11
Johnny Bench, 10
Mike Schmidt, 10
Ken Griffey Jr., 10
Al Kaline, 10
Roberto Alomar, 10
Andruw Jones, 10
Ichiro Suzuki, 10
Most of those guys are already in the Hall of Fame or will eventually get elected. OK, you'd have to include Keith Hernandez (who peaked at 10.8 percent of the vote but was a fine player and MVP winner) and Andruw Jones (Willie Mays-like in center field and has more than 400 home runs).
So that wouldn't be so bad. We have to include the "10 Gold Gloves" corollary, because you once you get below that you start getting to names like Don Mattingly and Torii Hunter (nine Gold Gloves) or George Scott, Mark Belanger and Frank White (eight apiece), players who don't really fit a Hall of Fame profile.
Of course, Vizquel's Hall of Fame currency doesn't solely reside on his defense. You could add a few other things:
1. Played more games at shortstop than any other player.
2. Ranks 41st on the all-time hits list (2,874) and 78th all time in runs scored (1,444).
3. Key member of six division winners with Cleveland.
4. .272 career hitter with more than 400 stolen bases, so not a complete zero on offense.
There are probably a few other things you could add on his ledger, but those are the big ones.
* * * *
When Vizquel joins the ballot in a few years, his candidacy -- like the one with Morris -- will spark an intense debate, divided among old-school purists and new-school statheads. When it comes to career Wins Above Replacement, Vizquel does not fare particulary well: His 40.6 Baseball-Reference WAR, while higher than some of the more marginal Hall of Famers, is well-below the general threshold of most Hall of Famers.
Compared to his contemporaries at shortstop, Ozzie was a little more productive at the plate: 44.5 offensive Wins Above Replacement compared to Vizquel's 27.8. Compared to an average hitter of his time, Smith was 119 runs below average over his career while Vizquel was 243 runs below average. Of course, this gets back to the steroid era argument. Vizquel is being evaluated against all those big hitters (and players at his position that included Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada), while Ozzie gets Garry Templeton and Shawon Dunston.
Still, this brings the argument back to Vizquel's fielding. How good was he? Baseball-Reference does rate him as a superb fielder, 29th among all players since 1947 in runs saved and fifth among shortstops (behind Belanger, Ozzie, Cal Ripken and Luis Aparacio). Belanger (240 runs saved) and Ozzie (239 runs saved) rank second and third overall behind Brooks Robinson. You may not like advanced fielding metrics, but it's hard to argue with the rest of Baseball-Reference's top-10 list: Jones, Clemente, Adrian Beltre, Carl Yastrzemski, Mays, Ripken and Barry Bonds. Maybe you don't recognize Belanger's name, but he was the shortstop for the Orioles during the Earl Weaver dynasty years, a tall, think shortstop with great range but even less of a bat than Ozzie or Omar. He won those eight Gold Gloves despite a .228 career average, so was certainly recognized as a great fielder during his time.
Even if you believe the metrics underrate Vizquel a bit, is there enough there? Even at his peak, he was the fifth-best shortstop in the American League. He received MVP votes just once in his career (16th in 1999), which isn't a reason to dismiss him entirely, but doesn't equate with a player viewed in his own time as one of the best in the league (Ozzie once finished second in the MVP vote).
Vizquel's longevity, while unique, doesn't increase his value; he just managed to hang a long time. Since turning 40, he's scratched out 400 more hits while batting just .250/.305/.310. Many voters will cite his career hits total, but that ignores that he hung on for six seasons as basically a replacement-level player.
Two more issues to raise. Personally, I would find it hard to see Vizquel as a Hall of Famer while Alan Trammell (67.1 career WAR) remains unelected. Any easy rule for any Hall of Fame debate: Is he the best player at his position not in the Hall of Fame? But Trammell doesn't have that one signature element to his career like Omar ("Best shortstop other than Ozzie!") and besides he'll be off the ballot in four years.
Finally, there are players like Jones and Hunter, who nobody seems to really consider as Hall of Fame-caliber even though they were regarded as terrific fielders (remember, Hunter has won nine Gold Gloves) and contributed more at the plate than Vizquel, even for their positions. What makes Vizquel a better candidate than them?
You can probably see where my opinion sits. It's been an amazing career, no doubt; as someone who watched him when he first came up with Seattle, I can guarantee you that there wasn't one Mariners fan who believed Little O would someday turn into a Hall of Fame candidate. I actually think he will get elected after a few years on the ballot.
Maybe Jack Morris will be sitting behind at the induction ceremony.
1. With Troy Tulowitzki undergoing groin surgery and another tough loss, we couldn't avoid the train wreck that is the Colorado Rockies. Can we just put Jim Tracy out of his misery already?
2. Mike Trout is awesome, but so is Stephen Strasburg. We talk about Strasburg's workload and how to keep him fresh for ... October. Yes, we said October.
3. I was at the Orioles-Mets game so we talk some Orioles and Mets, and dig into Ike Davis' continued struggles at the plate.
4. A user email prompts a discussion about which pitchers from the 1990s and 2000s are Hall of Famers. And, yes, Mike Mussina was better than Jack Morris.
5. We talk about some prospects -- Billy Hamilton of the Reds, Danny Hultzen and Nick Franklin of the Mariners and, of course, #freetrevorbauer.
All that, plus Jacob Turner makes his debut on Thursday, Matt Moore versus Gio Gonzalez and much more!
In 1977, Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish, Steve Kemp and Dave Rozema debuted for the Detroit Tigers. Trammell, Whitaker and Parrish were September call-ups; Morris debuted in late July and made six starts; Rozema won 15 games as a 20-year-old rookie, completing 16 of his 28 starts; Kemp was the oldest of the group, turning 23 in August that year, and he hit .257 with 18 home runs, 71 walks and 88 RBIs.
It was an amazing collection of talent. Here, compare their career WAR figures from Baseball-Reference to the fabled 1995 Yankees' group of debut players:
What's more, the team also had 23-year-old All-Star first baseman Jason Thompson, who hit .270 with 31 home runs; center fielder Ron LeFlore, who hit .325 and scored 100 runs; outfielder Ben Oglivie, who hit 21 home runs and slugged .464; and in 1979, Dan Petry and Kirk Gibson reached the majors.
From there, it only took the Tigers until 1984 to win the division. With all the talk of Jack Morris this week, I was thinking about those Tigers teams and wondering, with all that talent, why it took them so long to finally gel into a playoff team. Their seasonal records:
1979: 85-76 (Sparky Anderson hired midseason)
For five years seasons, the Tigers remained stagnant. Why, despite all that young talent, didn't the Tigers improve? A few reasons:
1. Thompson was an All-Star again in '78 but had a poor 1979, and after a slow start in 1980, was traded for outfielder Al Cowens, who hit six home runs in two years with Detroit.
2. Oglivie was traded in 1978 to the Brewers for Jim Slaton, who pitched one year for the Tigers and then signed as a free agent with ... the Brewers. Oglivie became a three-time All-Star with the Brewers, including a 41-homer season in 1980.
3. LeFlore was traded after the 1979 season to the Expos for Dan Schatzeder. Deal didn't work out for either team.
4. It took some of the guys some time to get going. While Whitaker was the 1978 AL Rookie of the Year, he didn't really become a big star until 1982, when his power blossomed. Gibson had a strong 1981 strike season, but was injured in 1982 and had a poor 1983.
5. Sparky did weird things like fooling around with Tom Brookens at third base for the better part of a decade, long after he had shown he couldn't hit. The team played Enos Cabell two years at first base and he hit seven home runs.
6. The Tigers had problems filling the back of rotation after Morris, Petry and Milt Wilcox. Rozema kept missing time (yes, a guy who threw 16 complete games as a 20-year-old developed arm problems) and they'd rush guys to the bigs too often. GM Jim Campbell (he was the club's GM from 1963 through 1983) just couldn't find enough arms and Sparky failed to show the same proclivity for building a bullpen that he had shown in Cincinnati.
Anyway, the team acquired Chet Lemon for Kemp in 1982, improved in 1983 as Trammell and Whitaker had terrific seasons, Morris pitched 293 innings and Juan Berenguer blossomed as a swingman. Still, the '83 team finished six games behind the Orioles, a team that featured Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray, Ken Singleton, six platoons and one pitcher who made 30 starts. It's amazing Sparky still kept his job.
It all came together in 1984, of course. What's amazing about that team is nobody really had a career season, with one notable exception: Willie Hernandez was acquired from the Phillies for Glenn Wilson and John Wockenfuss and he finally gave Sparky a dominant reliever, winning Cy Young and MVP honors after going 9-3 with a 1.92 ERA and 32 saves in 140 innings. In fact, he and Aurelio Lopez combined to go 19-4 out of the pen. Bench guys like Dave Bergman, Ruppert Jones and Johnny Grubb were also outstanding.
Even though Whitaker, Trammell, Parrish, Lemon, Gibson, Howard Johnson, Morris, Petry, Hernandez and Berenguer were still all younger than 30, that group could only scrape together one more division title, in 1987. True, the AL East was much stronger than the AL West in those days, so the Tigers faced some stiff competition. But they fell to 84 wins in 1985, won 87 in 1986, 98 in 1987 and 88 in 1988 before the bottom fell out in '89.
Two final thoughts: I wonder if Morris and Trammell would be Hall of Famers if that squad had done a little more -- another playoff appearance or two would have added another stamp to their legacies. Finally, is there a team similar to the Tigers now? That team that couldn't get over the hump ... until it finally did. The Blue Jays are probably the closest analogy, as since 2005 they've won 80, 87, 83, 86, 75, 85 and 81 games.
Maybe the Jays are where the Tigers were in 1982. They take a leap forward in 2012 and then another big leap in 2013 ...
There are too many layers to this onion to sort it out entirely and explain the sudden jump in votes. But in broad strokes, some of my fellow statheads seem to be looking for a new Cooperstown cause to champion now that Bert Blyleven has been given his belated due, while some of my fellow BBWAA members are looking to honor a “pitcher of the '80s.” Sticking with the broad strokes, those are both worthy goals. There have been too many mistakes already as far as the Hall has been concerned -- with Blyleven, Ron Santo and Lou Whitaker representing the worst cases -- while the '80s are a big chunk of recent history that deserves to be remembered.
But in this case these two parties wind up diametrically opposed about Morris. You’ve got mainstream commentators inventing, and then deriding, statheads’ supposed “joyless” worldview about Morris, while the blogosphere burns down any cobbled-together case made for him. I’ve always counted myself among the latter where Morris is concerned. Nevertheless, is there something to his case?
Now if we went with a definition of the “Big '80s” as 1980-1990, Morris handily leads the field with 177 wins, innings pitched (2,693 1/3) and starts (368). These numbers represent the pitcher that he was: a durable workhorse, usually pitching with support of good-to-great lineups and good-to-great defenses. At least this was the case up the middle when he had Whitaker and Alan Trammell plus Lance Parrish behind the plate and Chet Lemon in center. There’s no shame in that -- Morris was a critical component for the Tigers because of his durability. That shouldn't be the standard for best pitcher of a decade, though.
So the question is whether Morris was anywhere close to being the best pitcher of the decade? He clearly was not. Among the 68 guys who made 200 or more starts from 1980-90, Morris is tied for 22nd in ERA+, behind guys like Charlie Leibrandt or Bryn Smith. So let’s raise the bar to 300 starts -- Morris winds up tied for seventh out of 12 men, behind Dave Stieb, Bob Welch, Frank Viola, Nolan Ryan, Charlie Hough and Blyleven. Morris' “pitcher of the '80s” tag owes everything to his durability, not the quality of his work. If you want a pitcher of the '80s, it was Stieb, because he was almost every bit as durable as Morris (364 starts, 2537 1/3 IP), and significantly better (128 ERA+). And nobody’s firing up a Stieb-for-Cooperstown campaign.
None of this is to meant to diminish the value of Morris’ durability, though, and perhaps we take that for granted. In rushing to discredit arguments for and against Morris, perhaps neither side is doing a very good job of wrestling with a more fundamental issue: There is simply a shortage of "pitchers of the '80s" for which cases can be made.
That 11-year span of 1980-90 generated just a dozen men capable of pitching 300 or more turns. In contrast, 1970-80 produced 21 guys making 300 or more starts. The strike season of 1981 is responsible for a small fraction of the drop off, but even allowing for that fact only brings the ’80s close to the standards set since. During the “steroids era”: 1990-2000 gives another 16 300-game starters, and 2000-2010 just 15. So the number of guys we might broadly define as “workhorses” was lower in the '80s than in the period immediately before, and is also lower than what came after. That might speak well of Morris overall as a survivor in a generation that didn’t have many.
This hints at a broader historical problem. The '70s put all sorts of things out of whack for subsequent interpretation and analysis, where two key factors come into play. First, there’s the introduction of the DH in the AL in 1973. Second, immediately before 1973 you have a generation of young starting pitchers coming up at the end of the high-mound era -- perhaps the best time ever to be a young pitcher making his way to the majors because of low scores and short games.
Nolan Ryan might be the most famous member of that generation, but he was far from the only one who lasted forever. Steve Carlton, Don Sutton, Jerry Reuss, Phil Niekro and Tom Seaver comprise a short list of all-time greats who made it to the majors long before Morris debuted in 1977, and who then wound up being his contemporaries. (You can also add Vida Blue, Tommy John, Jerry Koosman, Joe Niekro, Charlie Hough … the list goes on.) Morris barely outlasted this older cadre by the time his career ended in 1994, but he didn’t start off with the same advantages they did.
So on the one hand, with the addition of the DH you have something that makes pitching in the American League harder, and on the other, you have a new standard set for the kind of workloads that starters are supposed to be able to maintain. Morris faced this new combined challenge and survived, which makes him relatively rare among the first generation of starting pitchers who pitched during what we might call “the early DH era.”
To give Morris the benefit of the doubt, let’s stretch the scope to include 1973 to 1992 -- or the end of Morris’ career as an effective big-league starter. Put him in that context, and a stat like WAR still has little love for Morris. According to Baseball-Reference, he ranks just 17th overall among big league starters during the first two decades of the DH era. However, half of those 16 men ahead of Morris were his predecessors, older men who benefited from the high-mound and/or no DH.
Fair enough. Let’s look at him in the context of guys who, like Morris, arrived in big league rotations to stay in 1973 or later. Among the leaders in starts over those 20 years there are five guys we might call near-peers, starting pitchers who established themselves and endured at time when the DH was in play: Frank Tanana, Rick Reuschel, Doyle Alexander, Dennis Martinez and Morris. In that group, Morris and Martinez are the youngest, born just two days apart in May of 1955. Let’s switch to a table to spotlight the full careers of those five guys:
None of them ever finished higher than third on a Cy Young ballot during his career -- Morris and Reuschel both managed that twice. That’s symptomatic of the challenges they faced, following in the wake of that tremendous group of aces, and then combating the faster-fizzling or more fragile aces of the ’80s: briefly great starters such as Ron Guidry, Mario Soto or Steve Rogers.
Morris got the best run support within this small peer group, with 4.9 R/G. That goes a long way toward explaining why he gets the most wins, and why this conversation even exists. Contentions that Morris “pitched to the score” were refuted almost 15 years ago by the late Greg Spira, before it was easy to do the research. Meanwhile, Reuschel got the worst support with just 4.1 R/G, which is essentially why he ends up being the great forgotten workhorse while Morris gets kudos. Of course, Big Daddy Reuschel was also the one of these five who was in the NL for almost the entirety of his career -- and a Cub for most of it, the poor soul -- where everyone else on this list spent most of his career in the AL, with the benefit as well as the hazard of the DH.
Which leaves us where? Even with this much special pleading, Morris wasn’t even that remarkable among these few that make up this first cadre of the most durable starters who had to come up after the high-mound generation and having to face designated hitters. Being better than Doyle Alexander is really, really good, but is that really Hall of Fame-level good?
Putting someone in the Hall of Fame because this generation of pitchers risks being overlooked in Cooperstown represents a reasonable enough goal. But why Morris instead of Martinez, or Reuschel? Because he was fortunate in the teammates his teams put around him, where Reuschel obviously was not? Because he barely won more games than Martinez? Because he’s the one left on the ballot and still eligible? If that’s what we’re left with, that’s pretty weak. If the instinct is to be fair to an era as well as a good pitcher, does it make sense to reward this one but not the other, better pitchers who were his peers?
Of course Morris was one of the most durable pitchers of his generation -- he was, and you can love him for it, as we did watching him muscle through one outing after another back then. If you’re a believer in the virtues of a big Hall you might even almost talk yourself into voting for him. Going through this exercise brought me a lot closer to “maybe” than I initially thought possible. But even then, with as many allowances as you might make for Morris, he wasn’t exactly the most durable any more than he was anywhere close to the most effective. Which leaves us with a likely Hall of Famer who is going to wind up as an idiosyncratic generational selection as Jim Rice, Andre Dawson or Bruce Sutter were in recent years. And he is someone we’re just as likely to argue about after he gets elected as we have beforehand.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.