By NICK LECO
June 4, 2008
Last week we debated the Hall of Fame credentials of Roberto Alomar, a player who will be eligible for enshrinement for the first time in 2010. Without a doubt, as the initial vote on the 2010 class draws near there will be heated debate for and against Alomar, Fred McGriff, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez and others. However, this week we’ll switch gears and revisit the Cooperstown worthiness of a player who has been eligible since 2000. I’m talking about Jack Morris, one of the star pitchers of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, who has now been on the ballot eight times but has so far been unable to accumulate the necessary percentage of votes for induction.
JACK MORRIS’ CAREER STATISTICS
Complete games: 175
Played for: Detroit Tigers, 1977-1990; Minnesota Twins, 1991; Toronto Blue Jays, 1992-1993; Cleveland Indians, 1993
Morris was arguably the best big-game pitcher of his era. He won a total of four World Series rings - one each with the Tigers and Twins, and two with the Blue Jays - and will always be remembered for his epic Game 7 performance in the 1991 World Series in which he threw 10 shutout innings to win the clincher for the Twins and earn the World Series MVP Award. You could also argue that he was the best pitcher in the majors over the 14-year period from 1979 to 1992. Morris had more wins (233) than any other pitcher over that period, including Nolan Ryan, who had 168. He also had more complete games (109) that any other pitcher during that stretch and had the eighth best ERA (3.71). In fact, Morris’ 233 wins during that 14-year span than Hall of Famers Ryan, Jim Bunning and Robin Roberts had during any 14-year period during their illustrious careers.
One of the true aces of his time, Morris started for the American League in three All-Star Games and made two other appearances in the Midsummer Classic. He made a record 14 straight opening day starts from 1980 to 1993 and was a model of consistency and reliability, making nearly 500 consecutive starts without missing a turn. Morris led the A.L. in wins twice (1981 and 1992) and strikeouts once (1983). He topped the 20-win mark three times and had more than 15 wins in 12 different seasons. Morris exceeded 200 innings pitched 11 times, topping out at 293 in 1983, a season in which he also had an amazing 20 complete games. He pitched a no-hitter against the White Sox in 1984 as a member of the Tigers.
Morris amassed 254 career wins - more than prominent Hall of Famer pitchers Carl Hubbell, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and the afore mentioned Bunning. Considered by some to be the best pitcher of the 1980s, Morris is the only pitcher to lead the majors in wins in any decade since 1900 who isn’t in the Hall of Fame (Greg Maddux, who had the most victories of any pitcher in the 1990s, is a certain Hall of Famer). He finished in the top 10 in the A.L. Cy Young vote seven times and is also known as one of the pioneers of the split-fingered fastball.
One of the biggest arguments against Morris’ enshrinement is his 3.90 ERA, which is high compared to other Hall of Famers. He also had eight seasons in which he posted an ERA over 4.00. His detractors cite the fact that he pitched for so many above-average-hitting teams as the reason he was able to amass so many victories despite his pedestrian ERA. Morris also issued a high number of walks (1,390) and home runs (389) over the course of his career.
Morris never had the kind of “breakout” season that most Hall of Fame pitchers enjoy at some point during their career and which sometimes serve to define their greatness. He never won a Cy Young Award, and in perhaps one of his best seasons, 1986, he was overshadowed by the sheer domination of a young Roger Clemens. His Hall of Fame candidacy was built on many “good” seasons, which some voters view as falling short of the greatness required for Hall of Fame induction.
Morris was also a controversial figure. He was known for his fiery temper and controversial quotes that did not always sit well with the media, whom he often refused to speak to. It has been argued that Jim Rice’s Hall of Fame chances have been bruised because of his caustic relations with the media and the same may be said for Morris as well.
How Morris has never gotten more than 41 percent of the vote in any of the years he has been eligible is beyond me. To win more games than any other pitcher over the course of a decade takes an abundance of determination, guile and skill - three of the main ingredients for greatness. Morris can also stake claim to the ultimate World Series Game 7 performance in the history of baseball, which, although it is one game, should put him in a better perspective amongst voters. Unfortunately, for Morris it hasn’t to this point, and I do not expect his name to appear on more than 75 percent of the ballots during any of the next few years. The voters clearly have Rice and Bert Blyleven ahead of Morris in line for induction, so until Rice and Blyleven get in, don’t expect to see Morris’ plaque in Cooperstown. With a bunch of qualified guys gaining eligibility over the next several years, it may be the Veterans’ Committee that one day puts Morris in. That is a shame because Morris deserves to be in the Hall of Fame today.
Do you think Morris deserves a plaque in Cooperstown? Why or why not? Post a comment in the field below and state your case.
Nick Leco’s Cooperstown Bound? column runs every Wednesday here on National Pastime.
Be sure to check out our previous Cooperstown Bound? column, Roberto Alomar.