By In Baseball

Let’s Get To the Voting

I, like many, believe four players will get elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame today: Greg Maddux will be elected almost unanimously (I suspect at least four people will not vote for him), Tom Glavine will be in the mid-to-high 90s in percentage, Frank Thomas will go in comfortably and Craig Biggio will just barely slip in.

Mike Piazza will fall short, I think, but end up in that on-deck circle spot that Biggio had last year. Jeff Bagwell may lose a little bit of ground, which is weird but perhaps the consequence of an overloaded ballot. Tim Raines, I hope, will continue his slow but steady march toward election.

And … of course I have a couple of final thoughts about Jack Morris. I don’t believe Morris will be elected. I actually think he will lost a little support in his final year, which almost never happens. Morris’ voting pattern has continuously baffled me, which is part of the reason I’ve written so much about him, but I think I’ve figured something out.

You know the story, presumably, of Luis Tiant. His career numbers are remarkably similar to that of his Hall of fame contemporary Catfish Hunter — I actually think Tiant was a better pitcher — and when he came on the ballot in 1988 it was just after Hunter was elected. Tiant received 31% of the vote. That was a terrific first ballot showing and, by BBWAA history, almost guaranteed that he would be elected to the Hall of Fame at some point.

But that percentage was an illusion. Tiant had entered the last ballot for a decade that did not have a compelling starting pitching candidate on there. The best candidate was Jim Bunning, but he was already in his 12th year on the ballot and just wasn’t exciting the electorate. After that, you had Mickey Lolich and Don Larsen and Wilbur Wood — Tiant was the exciting new face of the Hall of Fame ballot and so a good chunk of voters picked him. Many more probably thought they would get to Tiant eventually. But it wasn’t meant to go that way.

The next year, Gaylord Perry and Fergie Jenkins came on the ballot. Suddenly, Tiant was the third or fourth best pitcher on the ballot. His support plummeted all the way down to 10.5%. The next year, Perry, Jenkins and Bunning were all STILL on the ballot. Tiant’s support went down again. Then Jim Palmer came on. Tiant’s support went down YET AGAIN. The next year, it was Rollie Fingers. Then Tom Seaver. Then Phil Niekro. Then Steve Carlton and Don Sutton. It was an avalanche of great pitchers and 300-game winners and Tiant was swept away as were other terrific pitchers like Jim Kaat and Ron Guidry and Tommy John.

Tiant never even got 20% of the vote after his first year.

So, that story is familiar. But the Morris story, I now think, is PRECISELY THE OPPOSITE of the Tiant story. While Tiant came on the ballot at precisely the wrong time, Morris came on at precisely the right time. The last starting pitcher to be elected by the BBWAA was Bert Blyleven in 2011. Before that, it was — are you ready for this — Nolan Ryan in 1999. That’s an 11-year gap without a single starting pitcher getting elected (not counting Dennis Eckersley who went in more for his relief work, I think, than his starting pitching).

Well, guess who was on all 11 of those ballots. Yep. Jack Morris. Morris came on the ballot in 2000 — just as Nolan Ryan ended an era. Morris received 22% of the vote — quite a bit less than Tiant his first year. His support went down in Year 2. He seemed on a similar voting track to Lew Burdette and Johnny Vander Meer and even Mickey Lolich — that is, it seemed his support would never really go any higher.

But from that point on, look who were the best people added to the ballot each year.

2001: Dave Stewart
2002: Frank Viola
2003: Fernando Valenzuela
2004: Dennis Martinez and Dave Stieb and Jimmy Key
2005: Black Jack McDowell (or Jim Abbott for overcoming odds)
2006: Orel Hershiser
2007: Bret Saberhagen
2008: Chuck Finley
2009: David Cone
2010: Kevin Appier
2011: Kevin Brown

You could argue persuasively that some of these pitchers were better than Morris, but the point is that none of them interested the BBWAA in the least. Only Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser even made a second ballot. That meant that for a dozen years, Morris (and Blyleven) more or less had the ballot to themselves. And they both built up momentum — Blyleven through his impeccable stats and a concerted effort by some people on the Interned, Morris through his Game 7 heroics and a “you had to be there” charisma.

Morris went from 26% in his fifth year, to 41% in his seventh year, to 52% in his 11th year to 66.7% in his 13th year.

But last year, for the first time, a couple of more interesting Hall of Fame candidates than Morris appeared on the ballot — Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling. Neither one was able to garner much momentum for themselves for different reasons, but they slowed the Morris train. This year, with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina joining, I think Morris’ support will go down even though it’s his 15th year on the ballot and there is much sentiment for him.

As I’ve said before, the best thing that can happen to Morris is for him to get off this BBWAA ballot and be a candidate for the Veteran’s Committee. Maybe someday soon we’ll see a Veteran’s ballot with Morris, Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell on it.

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43 Responses to Let’s Get To the Voting

  1. Pat says:

    This is absolutely a big factor in Morris’s ascent. Staying healthy is another, as all of the better pitchers in the 80’s suffered injuries which limited their playing time and effectiveness.

  2. Ian says:

    It’s a pity. I think Morris should be in the HOF but even if you don’t, it’s sad to see how his career has been insulted by this. It can’t be much fun to have to hear about how you aren’t good enough for 15 years and very few of the “not good enough” stories (Joe being an exception) try to be kind to Morris’ career.

    • Guy says:

      You’re missing Joe’s point. If Morris had first come on the ballot this year almost certainly he would have failed to reach 5% and would have fallen off the ballot in the first year. Morris was very, very fortunate when he did. That he couldn’t be elected in more than a decade when he had little or no competition from starting pitchers speaks volumes.

  3. Jake Bucsko says:

    It’s a crime that Kevin Brown isn’t even on the ballot. Forget that comparing he and Jack Morris is barely even fair, Brown compares pretty favorably to guys like Curt Schilling and John Smoltz.

    (disclaimer that WAR is not the end all be all) Nearly everyone above KB in pitcher WAR is in the Hall or will be. Schilling and Mussina may or may not, and there’s some guy named Jim McCormick who retired in 1887. That’s it.

    Also, there are a lot of pitchers already in the Hall below Brown in WAR. I stopped counting at 30 and I didn’t even include John Smoltz, Mariano Rivera, or Roy Halladay.

    He signed the first 100 million dollar contract and was widely mocked for not living up to it, but he did put up over 20 WAR in the first 5 years of the deal. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to offer a 34 year old pitcher a 7 year contract in the first place.

    Here’s an amazing bit of trivia: when the Dodgers traded Brown to the Yankees, one of the prospects LA got back was Brandon Weeden. Yes, the 2nd year quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, that Brandon Weeden. The trade occurred just over ten years ago.

    • Guy says:

      Kevin Brown is the poster child for how much more difficult it is to pitch in the American League than the National League. Brown’s NL only numbers would rank him as one of the best of all time, right up there with Maddux. His AL numbers not so much. Brown’s ERA+ in the NL is 157, in the AL 107 in almost the identical amount of innings. Which is why Glavine being a “slam dunk” and Mussina coming in at 30% is a travesty. Mussina was better than Glavine in every measurable statistic and thats before really digging in the whole NL AL thing. Anyone who voted for Glavine and ridiculously Morris before Mussina should lose their secret decoder ring. Sorry Joe.

      • Jake Bucsko says:

        I feel you on Mussina. Even though he retired at 39, given his last season, he could have stuck around a couple more years to try to get that 300 win mark. Also, he never had that one incredible Cy Young year, though he had at least one where he should have gotten it. His best season was either 92 (that weird Eckersley year) or 01, when he really should have won and didn’t because his record was 17-11 and Clemens went 20-3 despite Mussina being better that year in almost every single way.

      • Ric says:

        I feel the exact same way about those voting for Frank Thomas but not Jeff Bagwell. (I know, I know – “PEDs!” “Maybe!”) Offensively, they are almost eerily identical (see below). But Bagwell was not only a significantly superior defensive player and base runner to Thomas, he was a very good defensive player and base runner in his own right. Interesting fact: Bagwell played 1,279 MORE GAMES at first base than Thomas despite Thomas playing in 172 more games overall.

        Here are their offensive numbers:
        521 HRs; 1,704 RsBI; 1,494 Rs; 10,075 PAs
        OPS+ 156; WAR 69.7

        449 HRs; 1,529 RsBI; 1,517 Rs; 9,431 PAs
        OPS+ 149; WAR 76.7

      • Steve says:

        Most of the Kevin Brown’s time in the AL was when he was young and figuring it out. His ERA+ from age 27-30 was 115, including one 20-win season and an ERA+ of 133 at age 30. And he built on that in the NL with some epic seasons. By the time he got back to the AL, he was pretty much done. So I think it’s oversimplifying it make it strictly an AL/NL deal. Did moving to the NL help? Of course. Just like it helps any pitcher.

        • Guy says:

          Brown pitched til age 30 in the American League, far from “when he was young”. In fact those are typically the better years for a pitcher. In the end he pitched 1656 innings in the American League and 1600 in the National, 3.93 era vs a 2.60. I’d say he’s the perfect sample size to judge the difference in the leagues, especially the difference in pitching in the canyon size parks in the NL West vs. the bandboxes of the AL East. If Brown had pitched his entire career in the NL West and wasn’t such a surly character we would be talking about him as we speak about Maddux.

          • Spencer says:

            Plenty of pitchers take years to “figure it out”

            The AL/NL reasoning is extremely reductive.

      • jpdg says:

        That’s very misleading. Yes we all know it is harder to pitch in the AL than the NL but this is gross overstatement. His AL stats include his age 21-24 seasons in Texas when he was still figuring things out as well as his disastrous final Yankee years. He had four really good years in the AL prior to even going NL. His K/9 in his first year in Florida was only 6.14, which was basically the same (6.11) the prior year in Baltimore and actually lower than the year before that (6.51) in Texas. Then things started really clicking as his K/9 jumped all the way to 7.77 in 97′ before his monster 98′ season when he might have been the best pitcher for the season. At his best he would have dominated either league.

    • Ian says:

      PEDs have a lot to do with that. Although it’s a bit interesting to see why people give Schilling a pass on PEDs. His career arc seems to scream it.

  4. Dave E says:

    I generally don’t point out typos in blog posts. “Butt” the typo in paragraph five is too funny not to mention.

  5. Matt B says:

    I’m not fully convinced by your argument Joe. I buy that part of the reason Morris has stayed on the ballot is because there was no wave of no-doubt Hall of Famers to nudge him off. But as you point out in your list of the best people added to the ballot each year, “You could argue persuasively that some of these pitchers were better than Morris, but the point is that none of them interested the BBWAA in the least.” Which makes the logic of the post rather circular in its reasoning, in essence: Morris has received so much HOF voter love because the writers have largely ignored pitchers better than him, leaving Morris to have the ballot to himself. What is for me the central, frustrating mystery — why Morris continues to fascinate the BBWAA while others demonstrably better than him get the cold shoulder — remains unexplained.

    • Jake Bucsko says:

      Matt, I think that 15 years is just too long. Morris is likely to be the 2nd ever player to hit 50% and not get in, but it also took 11 tries to reach that number. There’s a five year wait, and then ten more years where less than half of the BBWAA voted him in. Isn’t 15 years after the end of a player’s career long enough to evaluate a Hall candidacy? More than long enough, if you ask me.

      Allow writers to vote for whoever they want, as many as they want, for ten years. If they can’t get in after that amount of time, they aren’t Hall of Famers.

      • Guy says:

        Also Joe’s point that Morris’s time on the ballot provided little competition from contemporary pitchers. If Morris came on this say last year with Schilling, and now Mussina, Maddux and Glavine and next year with Pedro, Johnson and Smoltz he wouldn’t have hit 5% and would have been long gone. That he reached the percentage he did was overly generous because of timing not career performance.

      • Spencer says:

        Duke Snider

        Peewee Reese

        Johnny Mize

        Monte Irvin

        Jake, sometimes the dummies at BBWAA take more than ten years to recognize a hall of famer. The above 4 all took more than ten years to get in.

  6. tombando says:

    Maybe because Morris belongs and they’ve decided to keep trying his case so to speak.

    Joe do everyone a favor in the future and Shut Up about Morris, okay? You basically are in denial about this man like you were Joe Paterno two years ago. Let it go.

  7. map says:

    It is the ugly underbelly of the sabemetrics movement. Why not try to get players recognized that have been undervalued and not attack other who you don’t support? Morris isn’t the first – Andre Dawson, Jim Rice – but there will be others. I would rather have someone like Morris in than fight so hard to keep him out.

    • RPMcSweeney says:

      I’d be unbothered by Morris’s enshrinement, but I think the reason he’s become a whipping boy for the stat crowd (of which I’m a part) has less to do with whether he does or doesn’t belong and more to do with the arguments made in support of him. In other words, I take Joe’s point to be not that Jack Morris ABSOLUTELY SHOULD NOT be in the HOF, but that people who support him while overlooking, e.g., Mike Mussina, need to think longer and harder about how to evaluate players.

    • Rich Horton says:

      Isn’t it more that the “old time” crowd is willing to go to the wall for Morris, but happily let better pitchers like Reuschel and Brown and Hershiser and Tommy John and David Cone — and, yes, Luis Tiant — disappear? It’s not that Morris is that terrible, it’s that there’s tons of better guys not getting a sniff.

      (And you can add Mussina and Schilling, who may well yet get in, but who certainly were better pitchers than Jack Morris but got way fewer votes.)

      To say nothing of someone like Alan Trammell, who was fergodsake a huge huge part of the reason Morris even has a small case to be in the Hall?

  8. Joe M says:

    Doesn’t the case of Morris and the additional context that outside of Nolan Ryan and Bert Blylevin state that the problem lies more with the criteria used by the BBWA to evaluate pitchers than it does with the canidates? Glavine and Maddux become easy – 300 wins, done. W/out 300 wins the BBWA has no clue how to evaluate someone. Are Morris and Mussina way better than others because they pitched their entire careers in the AL? should players be evaluated pre/post DH and pre/post interleague? How should longevity be weighted against excellence? Does it matter on Morris that his 10 best seasons together produced 160+ wins and an ERA + of 119.5? or that his 5 best only produced 94 wins and an ERA+ of 120? How do you compare his 3.38 ERA in his 10 best seasons to his peers or that it was against AL only where Maddux and Glavine played in the NL exclusively and the 2 other 300 game winners of the last 15 years spent time in both leagues? My own view that doesn’t mean anything is that Morris belongs in the HOF as much as Sandy Kaufax, Jim Palmer, and Catfish Hunter and Mussina and Schilling do to.

  9. JJ says:

    A brief exercise. Take Morris (or any pitcher’s) ten best seasons. Not necessarily ten consecutive seasons, just cherry pick their ten best. Here is a partial list of pitchers with a better WAR and ERA+ in their best ten years: Kevin Brown, David Cone, Orel Hershiser, Dave Stieb, Luis Tiant, Vida Blue, Steve Rogers, Kevin Appier, Chuck Finley, Dennis Martinez, Jimmy Key.

  10. JJ says:

    Morris did indeed come on to the ballot at exactly the right time. But that shouldn’t be a surprise. He was also born at exactly the right time and pitched at exactly the right time. He came up right after the guys in the 60s and 70s and was done right around the time the Maddux group. So many of his contemporaries like Hershiser, Stieb, Saberhagen, Valenzuela, Gooden, etc. had strong peaks but had injury problems and didn’t last as long.

  11. PS says:

    The narrative that Morris was the best pitcher of the 1980s is nuts. He was a good, durable pitcher, which are both points in his favor, but that’s pretty much where it ends.

    It’s funny that so many of the voters who like him so much are the ones that tend to dismiss “compilers” (a ridiculous term if there ever was one) and reward dominance.

    Morris’ career fit perfectly into the 80s (age 25-34). He was good in ’79 and ’91 and okay in ’92. But there were plenty of better pitchers who were slightly older or younger who had most of their best seasons in the 70s or 90s.

    I took a quick look at the best four seasons several pitchers had specifically during the 80s. I picked four seasons as to not give too much weight to one or two years and I didn’t want to pick too many because it’s usually unfair to weigh six or seven seasons from a single decade (example: Nomar Garciaparra was great in the late 90s and early 2000s – but because his first full year was 1997 and his last great year was 2003, he would take a hit on a best of the 90s list or best of the 00s list).

    Again, if anything this list is skewed towards Morris because it is only considering the 80s and the bulk of Morris’ career starts, innings, wins, etc. took place in the 80s.

    In Morris’ case, I considered his best four seasons of the 80s to be 83, 85, 86 and 87. In those four years he combined for a 19.1 WAR, 123 ERA+, 1.19 WHIP, and a 3.33 ERA.

    Here is how some other 80s pitchers fared in their best four 80s seasons:

    Roger Clemens: 31.1 WAR, 148 ERA+, 1.11 WHIP, 2.88 ERA

    Dave Stieb: 29.4 WAR, 148 ERA+, 1.15 WHIP, 2.91 ERA

    Bret Saberhagen: 28.8 WAR, 136 ERA+, 1.11 WHIP, 3.05 ERA

    Steve Carlton: 26.7 WAR, 133 ERA+, 1.16 WHIP, 2.77 ERA

    Orel Hershiser: 26.5 WAR, 148 ERA+, 1.12 WHIP, 2.43 ERA

    Teddy Higuera: 26.5 WAR, 132 ERA+, 1.16 WHIP, 3.25 ERA

    Dwight Gooden: 25.5 WAR, 142 ERA+, 1.09 WHIP, 2.51 ERA

    Bret Blyleven: 25.5 WAR, 137 ERA+, 1.14 WHIP, 2.92 ERA

    Frank Viola: 24.3 WAR, 135 ERA+, 1.17 WHIP, 3.11 ERA

    Mark Gubicza: 22.4 WAR, 126 ERA+, 1.29 WHIP, 3.30 ERA

    Mark Langston: 22.4 WAR, 125 ERA+, 1.29 WHIP, 3.34 ERA

    Mike Scott: 21.8 WAR, 125 ERA+, 1.02 WHIP, 2.85 ERA

    Mario Soto: 21.2 WAR, 122 ERA+, 1.11 WHIP, 3.04 ERA

    Doyle Alexander: 20.9 WAR, 129 ERA+, 1.21 WHIP, 3.16 ERA

    Fernando Valenzuela: 20.6 WAR, 125 ERA+, 1.13 WHIP, 2.76 ERA

    Bob Welch: 19.5 WAR, 132 ERA+, 1.17 WHIP, 2.84 ERA

    John Tudor: 19.4 WAR, 140 ERA+, 1.10 WHIP, 2.57 ERA

    Jimmy Key: 19.4 WAR, 137 ERA+, 1.16 WHIP, 3.13 ERA

    Jack Morris: 19.1 WAR, 123 ERA+, 1.19 WHIP, 3.33 ERA

    Once you get below that (and only barely below that), you get guys like Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Rogers, Bruce Hurst, and Charlie Hough.

    The reputation of Jack Morris as the dominant force of the 1980s is undeserved.

  12. Owen says:

    My friend came up with an idea to weed out obnoxious voters; do something (like not vote for Maddux, for example) that fewer than 3% of your colleagues did, and you get put on probation. Do it again within a certain time frame (let’s say 3 years), and you lose your voting privileges.

    • Karyn says:

      Some folks tried to game the system–knowing that Maddux was a slamdunk, they didn’t vote for him, but instead voted for someone they felt might be underappreciated.

    • I disagree. There’s a place for an attaboy vote for a hometown guy.

      • Spencer says:

        Not when there are more than ten players on the ballot with actual hall of fame credentials.

        I have no problem doing something like that on with the ballot 5 years ago. Thus years is different.

  13. The AL/NL argument is a little silly. Another silly argument in favor of Morris, so why should we be surprised? We all know that the AL has the designated hitter, which adds a certain number of runs to each game. In the AL East, you have smaller parks and bigger budgets which have some impact. But, if you believe in sabermetrics, then use ERA+ and WAR which normalize for these variables. So, we CAN, in fact ignore the 3.90 ERA & embrace his game 7 heroics. But we CANNOT ignore the 105 ERA+ or the 43 WAR… which are not even remotely in the HOF range. It’s not like we’re splitting hairs over a couple of points here or there (as we sometimes see). Morris is about 10-15 ERA+ points below the lowest level of HOF consideration and about 20 WAR points below consideration. It’s not close.

    • Guy says:

      Silly argument? Randy Johnson’s NL era was .7 runs lower than his AL era. Kevin Brown’s 1.3 runs. Roger Clemens had a 4 era, 1.14 era+ with the Yankees for 5 years, went to the Astros in his 40’s and had a 2.60 era for 3 years, a 180 era+, then back to the Yankees and his era shot over 4. What exactly is your point again?

  14. map says:

    It seems Morris must have pitched in some kind of time warp where there were no Hall of Fame starting pitchers. All the good ones, evidently, were injured and did not pitch long enough to be Hall-worthy. Morris did pitch long enough, but not well-enough according to some. I wonder if there isn’t something everyone is missing about that particular era because I don’t believe in that kind of coincidence. Has there been another era like that in baseball history? I don’t know.

    • Kris says:

      There are no CFers in the HOF who did anything of note in the 70s OR the 80s. There must be something that everyone is missing about Chet Lemon, Cesar Cedeno, and Fred Lynn because that can’t be a coincidence.

      FWIW there are numerous examples of positions that had dry spells for entire decades or more, and that shouldn’t even be surprising. Talent does not get evenly distributed at all times among all the positions in baseball.

      • map says:

        There are many more starting pitchers than center fielders. Can you give me another example of an era with no qualifying starting pitchers?

        • Chris M says:

          This most recent decade might get shut out down the road. Halladay is probably the closest thing to a lock, and even he might have some trouble. Besides him, Santana, Oswalt, Sabathia, Lee, Verlander, and Hudson are the only guys I see with a chance. If Verlander keeps it up for a few more years he’s probably got a very good case, but other than him I don’t see any of those guys as locks.

          I guess maybe Andy Pettite, though I consider him to be of the same era as the guys hitting the ballot now, and I also don’t think of him as a Hall of Famer.

  15. Paul L says:

    The thing that bothers me is that there are many HoF worthy players who are getting passed over, and possibly will never make it, because:

    a. The voters, media and public are all in a collective circle jerk about steroids and Jack Morris, and
    b. The ballot limits you to ten votes

    Ultimately, until this gets ironed out, I can’t take the HoF seriously. And the longer it (as well as other things) takes, the more I stop taking baseball seriously as a whole.

  16. :-) says:

    I remember a Saturday Night Live skit about 30 years ago that came out after George Bush beat Michael Dukakis. It was a satire of a political ad. SNL had been doing satires of the political ads and making fun of all of the mud-slinging that happened in both directions (in retrospect, this type of mud-slinging has probably dominated most campaigns since, but at the time it was kind of a new animal). They had done several ad satires throughout the campaigne. After Bush beat Dukakis, they did a final ad, stating Bush still had some campaign money to spend and the ad basically continued the mud-slinging and ended with “Bush-He beat a bad man”.

    Poz article somehow reminded me of that ad. It’s like he campaigned so hard against Morris for so long and now that Morris has been defeated there is this final, unnecessary, parting shot.

    I’m not saying Morris should or shouldn’t be in the HOF, just noting that this blog seemed to put a disproportionate amount of effort into attacking his candidacy.

  17. KHAZAD says:

    Personally, I am just glad we will have a Jack Morris free zone next year. The fact that he was a cause was about one historic post season game. No, correct that, it wasn’t even about the game, it was about the 10th inning. If Minnesota had won it in the ninth, or Tom Kelly had gone to the bullpen in the 10th, Jack Morris would have fallen off without much protest over a decade ago. Instead, hundreds of sportswriters, basking in the glow of one of the great season ending games, cried tears of nostalgia into their beer, and whispered to each other during awkward man hugs “That was the way pitchers used to be”. The memory of that one moment had more to do with the yearly Morris issue than everything else in his career combined.

    In the article, Joe lists 14 pitchers who became eligible while Morris was on the ballot, and were given short shrift by the BBWA. Adding Morris, that makes 15 pitchers. I would say Morris is in the upper half of those guys, but he is definitely not #1 (Kevin Brown), and if we were forced to vote for 5 of them Morris would still fall just short for me. That is on a group of pitchers that for whatever reason, as a group sadly spent only one more year than Morris spent on the ballot himself.

    The Morris thing was year after year of much ado about nothing. He was a very good pitcher, but not a hall of famer.

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