A Hall Without Jack Morris is No Hall at All
by, 01-09-2014 at 06:13 PM (507 Views)
On Wednesday afternoon, it was announced that the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) elected Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas into the Baseball Hall of Fame as the Class of 2014. While each of the candidates were worthy of election (as each were some of the most dominant players of their own or any other era in baseball), there remains a glaring omission from the class that should offend baseball historians and fans of all ages and I am not suggesting that the omission has anything to do with a player from the PED era. Instead, the player I was referring to was none other than St. Paul, Minnesota native Jack Morris.
Morris has garnered a lot of attention over the past few years regarding his candidacy for baseball’s Hall of Fame. Most recently, Morris’ attention has stemmed from his inability to get elected to the Hall in his final year on the ballot. The media attention surrounding Morris throughout his candidacy’s career has centered around the polarizing notion of whether or not Morris is Hall of Fame worthy or not and at its core, the argument presents many conflicting points.
On one hand, had Morris been elected, his ERA (3.90) would have been the highest ERA ever allowed in the Hall of Fame, ousting Red Ruffing’s career 3.80 ERA. According to Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, Morris also gave up so many hits and runs that he never finished among the top four in his league in ERA or WAR and only once did so for WHIP.
On the other hand, over his 18 year career, Morris compiled a 254-186 over 549 games—527 of which were starts—which places him 43rd on the all-time wins list. For comparison, Ruffing (whose aforementioned 3.80 ERA is the highest among Hall of Fame pitchers) had a career 273-225 record over 624 games—536 of which were starts—and he was elected into the Hall of Fame. As it currently stands, one of the 50 winningest pitchers of all-time will not be in the Hall of Fame and if you consider the thousands of pitchers who have pitched throughout the game’s history (some good, some bad), leaving out one of the top 50 (based on wins alone) is a travesty. Morris was only 19 wins behind Ruffing, started 9 fewer games, had a 0.10 higher ERA than he did, and pitched in an era with a designated hitter; yet, Ruffing is in the Hall and Morris is not. That—to me—makes little sense.
According to Verducci, from 1979-1992, Morris threw 18% more innings than any other starting pitcher and made it through the 8th inning in his starts 45% more often than any other pitcher. In an era where five men rotations were becoming more common and pitchers weren’t being asked to pitch more than six innings as often, Morris’ accomplishments during his career represent a dying breed of pitchers who pitched deeper into games on a more regular basis and accumulated more innings over the duration of their careers. Even more impressive, he accomplished this all while pitching in the American League with a designated hitter in every lineup. Among all starting pitchers who debuted between 1970 and 1984, Morris won the most games (254), completed the most games by far (175, or 22 percent more than the next closest pitcher), posted the second best winning percentage (.577) and had the second most strikeouts (2,478) (Verducci). Those stats, however, do not give justice to the complete profile that Morris has assembled over his illustrious career.
Morris made 14 Opening Day starts, six Game One playoff starts (of which he went 4-2), one unforgettable Game 7 start in 1991, was selected to five All-Star teams, and finished in the top five for Cy Young Award voting five times in his career. Although Morris only had three seasons of 20 or more wins, his perception as a staff ace and bulldog on the mound garnered him a reputation around the game as one of the most durable and productive pitchers of his era. In a culture in which a player is equally judged by the number of championships they won as they are by their individual achievements, Morris’ playoff resume is equally impressive. Morris won three World Series titles and sported a career 7-4 record with a 3.80 ERA in the playoffs and a 4-2 record with a 2.96 ERA in the World Series. These statistics reflect a pitcher who excelled on the biggest stage where players careers are often judged at most critically and that factor should not be overlooked when evaluating Morris’ candidacy. If anything, it should strengthen his case as one of the top pitchers in the game.
I understand that no pitcher has ever pitched their entire career in the American League during the designated hitter era and been elected into the Hall of Fame, but why shouldn’t Morris be the first? Sure you can point to his high ERA and his lower win total compared to other Hall of Fame pitchers, but that shouldn’t deter voters from electing Morris into the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is made for players who left an impact on the game of baseball and were among the elite players of their era. Morris fits the bill for both of those characteristics. His 10 inning masterpiece in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series has gone down as one of the greatest outings in Major League history and his statistics rank among the best pitchers from the era that he came from; so what seems to be motivating voters to keep Morris out of a place that he rightfully belongs?
A lot of the skepticism surrounding Morris’ candidacy is related to the lack of quality pitchers coming out of the era in which he pitched in. Despite the lack of elite pitching talent during this era compared to other eras in history, Morris shouldn’t be punished for pitching at the time that he did. The fact of the matter is this: Morris was one of the elite pitchers of his time and thus, he should be recognized for it.
When Kirby Puckett was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001, there was little arguing amongst baseball minds that Puckett “deserved” to be in the Hall of Fame. I would tend to argue that Puckett was one of the greatest players who ever lived. He dominated the era that he was in and gave several lasting memories that will stand in baseball history forever; however, if you look at his stats and judge Puckett solely by those stats, one could argue that Puckett’s stats aren’t completely “Hall of Fame worthy” by comparison to other players already in the Hall. Puckett may have been a 10-time All-Star, 6-time Gold Glove Award winner, and 5-time Silver Slugger Award with career totals of a .318 batting average with 2,304 hits, 207 HR and 1,085 RBI over his 12-year career, but those statistics don’t rank among the game’s elite. At the time of his election in 2001, Puckett ranked 24th in career batting average, 47th in career on base percentage, 50th in runs, 25th in home runs, and 34th in RBIs out of the 59 total outfielders in the Hall of Fame. Since Puckett’s numbers ranked among the middle to lower end of the spectrum when compared to all of the outfielders in the Hall of Fame, does that mean he shouldn’t be in the Hall? No way.
Puckett was judged by so much more than simply his statistics. His legacy had just as much to do with him getting in the Hall as his play on the field did. What created and solidified Puckett’s legacy among the game’s greats were his performances on the biggest stage, the World Series. His infamous catch and walk-off homerun in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series is firmly implanted in the minds of baseball historians and fans forever and it undoubtedly had an impact on how the voters perceived Puckett when his “Hall of Fame Judgment Day” came in 2001. With that in mind, why shouldn’t Morris’ strong performances in the World Series (i.e. Game 7 of 1991) hold the same kind of impact on his candidacy?
If you rank Morris among some of the pitchers already in the Hall of Fame, his rankings might be similar in comparison to that of Puckett’s and the rest of the Hall of Fame outfielders, but does that make him any more or less worthy of election? The answer to that question is no. While some of the statistical categories clearly show that Puckett is Hall of Fame worthy and ranks among the game’s best to ever play the position, others rank him among the bottom of the group when it comes to particular statistics; however, Puckett was still elected to the Hall and so should Morris.
In fairness, an important factor to consider when comparing the election of Puckett to the failed election of Morris is timing. Puckett was elected in 2001 when there weren’t as many viable candidates jockeying for position as there are in 2014 when Morris is trying to get in. Morris had to compete for votes with PED era holdovers and stalwarts such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa whereas Puckett had to compete with Gary Carter, Morris, Goose Gossage, Jim Rice, and Bruce Sutter for votes. Although many of the players Puckett had to compete with for votes eventually were elected into the Hall, the situation and voting attitude is much different now than it was back then. Voter’s opinions are more diversified now than ever before and it has resulted in a declining number of players getting elected each year.
So what does this all mean and where am I going with all of this? The reason for the Puckett comparison is to discuss part of the rationale for how Puckett got elected into the Hall of Fame and relate it to Morris’ situation. I am by no means suggesting that Puckett isn’t Hall of Fame worthy. Instead, I am stating that Puckett’s candidacy benefited from his memorable moments in the World Series in addition to his strong statistical performance. My argument is that Morris should receive a similar benefit for his candidacy that Puckett received and, as a result, that benefit should have been the extra push that got Morris into the Hall of Fame.
If the Hall of Fame is truly the sacred place that the BBWAA is trying to uphold and build upon by adding the greatest players in baseball history—while keeping out the players who tarnish the game’s integrity—then Morris deserves to be a part of it. If you look at his complete body of work considering his statistics, reputation, and performance during his specific era, he will remain among the best pitchers who ever played the game. Sadly, it seems as if the BBWAA has their own hidden agendas behind their voting that may stem from personal experiences or perceptions of the players instead of their performance on the field. These hidden agendas are costing players like Morris—who deserve to be in the Hall—a chance to be recognized for the greatness of their careers. I shudder at the thought of who else may be left out because of these hidden agendas or other nonsensical reasoning.
By not electing Morris in his last year of eligibility, the BBWAA hasn’t upheld their duty to elect the best players into baseball’s most sacred place. Should the system be changed? I’m not sure; but if you ask me, a Hall without Jack Morris is no Hall at all.
Photo Courtesy of Rick Stewart-Getty Images