January 2, 2013
Cooperstown 2013: Jack Morris
Fourteenth Year on Ballot (2012 - 66.7%)
Detroit Tigers (1977–1990), Minnesota Twins (1991), Toronto Blue Jays (1992–1993) and Cleveland Indians (1994)
Career record of 254–186 (.577 winning percentage) with an ERA of 3.90 and 2478 strikeouts. Three 20-win seasons, 11 seasons with 200-plus innings pitched and three seasons with 200 or more strikeouts. His 14 Opening Day starts is tied for second best...behind only Tom Seaver's 16. Held American League record for most consecutive starts (515) before being topped by Roger Clemens in 2001. Four-time World Series champion (1984 and 1991-1993) and five-time All-Star selection (1981, 1984-1985, 1987 and 1991). Threw no-hitter April 7, 1984.
Jack Morris is widely considered to be the greatest pitcher of the 1980s, and no one will ever forget his ten inning Game Seven complete game in the 1991 World Series. He was very durable and consistent. Yet, he has been on the Hall of Fame ballot for 13 years and still has not garnered enough votes for election. Why is that?
Well, first of all the “fact” that he was the best pitcher of the 80s, is sort of an arbitrary measuring point. Would anyone know off the top of their head, who was the best pitcher from 1974 to 1984? Or 1987 to 1997? What is special about a ten-year period that starts at the beginning of a decade? Mark Grace led the Majors in hits throughout the 1990s. That didn’t stop voters from dropping him off the ballot after his first year of eligibility. Besides, he probably wasn’t even the best pitcher in his own division. A cursory look at the stats will show that recognition should go to Toronto’s Dave Stieb (who also dropped off the ballot after one year) and his decade ERA of 3.32 to Morris’ 3.66. His contemporaries included Steve Carlton, Roger Clemens, Dwight Gooden, Jim Palmer, Ron Guidry and others who just didn’t have the good fortune to start their careers prior to 1980 and finish after 1989.
Morris’ raw numbers may seem good looking back because he pitched in a much lower scoring environment than we have now. He had a very respectable 3.90 career ERA, but never once had a season below 3.00. In fact, 37 times during his playing years, pitchers posted seasonal ERAs better than his career best. This is borne out by his barely above average career ERA+ of 105. Even during his peak in the “greatest pitcher of the decade” 1980s, his ERA+ was 109. For comparison sake, that’s what Mark Gubicza, who pitched at that same time had for his whole career. For those of you who don’t remember Gubicza, Jason Schmidt, a guaranteed future Hall of Famer (no, not really) beat that with his career 110 ERA+.
If you want to get more sabermetric, all of the following pitchers whose careers overlapped with Morris had career WARs above 50 and have been excluded from the Hall of Fame: Rick Reuschel, Kevin Brown, Luis Tiant, David Cone, Tommy John, Bret Saberhagen, Chuck Finley, Jerry Koosman, Frank Tanana, Kevin Appier and the aforementioned Dave Stieb. Jack Morris fell short of 40 for his career.
To be fair, Morris was very consistent and threw a lot of innings. He threw over 200 innings 11 times, peaking at 293 in a season where he threw 20 complete games. This is unheard of in today’s game (Justin Verlander topped the Majors with only 238 IP and six CGs last year), but was quite common in the 1980s. During his playing years, a pitcher threw 20 or more CGs in one season 17 times. Pitchers threw more than 230 innings more than 80 times…while having an ERA lower than 3.00. Of course Mr. Morris never once accomplished this feat.
If Morris gets elected, that will bring the number of pitchers inducted into Cooperstown to 69. All but one of them had better career ERAs than Mr. Morris.
The real question isn’t why he’s not in the Hall of Fame yet. It’s why he’s still on the ballot! And it’s largely probably due to his heroics in pitching a Game Seven complete game shutout in the 1991 World Series for the Minnesota Twins. Aside from that game, his playoff record is 6-4 with a 4.26 ERA, so it can’t be because he was some kind of great clutch post-season warrior. And that game...well, suffice it to say, that if Lonnie Smith doesn’t make a baserunning blunder, we’d all be talking about how Terry Pendleton was the hero of that Fall Classic instead.
Morris was a good pitcher. Maybe he does deserve induction into The Hall of Very Good. But he’s certainly not a Hall of Famer.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ruben Lipszyc is a rare avid baseball fan from Calgary, Canada. He is a member of the Boston Chapter of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, and as a diehard fan writes about the Red Sox at RSNAlberta.blogspot.com and tweets about them at @RSN_Alberta. He also keeps Albertans up to date on local baseball happenings at BaseballinAlberta.blogspot.com while tweeting at @Baseball_In_AB, and is also a contributor for the Canadian Baseball Network.