By In Baseball

More more Morris

In the middle of writing this longish post on Jack Morris — the 48,384th one I’ve done — I stopped for a moment to ask myself the obvious question: What’s this obsession with Jack Morris anyway? It’s not like I’m opposed to Morris going in the Hall of Fame. I’m not. Frankly, at this point, I WANT him to get elected into the Hall. He does not deserve to have his career so publicly argued about and to come achingly close to election time after time. No, I won’t vote for Morris because he falls below my Hall of Fame line, but I’d be happy if he was elected. No, I don’t think the obsession has much to do with Morris himself.

Instead, I think it has to do with something a little bit mistier. One of the things that fascinates me most is that thin line between myth and reality, between what we want to believe is true and what is actually true. Some of my favorite movies, some of my favorite novels, some of my favorite television shows tightrope that line, gently leading our minds to where they want to go and away from what is tangible and true. I love that riddle, i’m sure you’ve heard it, a father and his son are in a car accident. The father is killed. The son is taken to the hospital where the surgeon suddenly says, ‘I cannot operate on this boy, he is is my son.’ How is this possible?

The first time I heard it, many years ago, my mind went to all sorts of crazy places and could never quite come back to the simplest answer of all: The surgeon was his mother. I’ve heard people say the answer is too easy, but I don’t think that’s quite right. The answer is shielded by the roads we’ve already taken. For a long time, I thought the riddle would stop being effective as everyone became more and more used to the idea of women surgeons, but just a few weeks ago I tried this riddle on my daughters. And they fell for it. The brain is a complicated organ that has a lot of one-way roads in it.

In so many ways, Jack Morris’ career is a one-way road. Morris was so durable — the guy NEVER missed a start — and he pitched for so many good teams and he had this reputation as a bulldog or gamer or whatever you want to call it. He won a lot of games when winning games was how everyone judged pitchers, and so he built this aura … an aura that was multiplied by itself when he pitched that legendary Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. These things, I believe, left an impression that Jack Morris was a better pitcher than his numbers indicate, an impression that the brain simply cannot unload.

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. This is where the whole “pitching to the score” line of thinking began. Jack Morris may very well have pitched to the score in his mind — he might have consciously thought he was pitching differently when the score was close — but it does not show up in any quantifiable way that anyone has found. I got another statistical breakdown just today from Brilliant Reader Alan showing that Morris did not pitch to the score any more than his contemporaries (I get one of these studies every three weeks or so). Alan looked at Dave Stieb, Bob Welch, Fernando Valenzuela, Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris, and found that Morris actually had the lowest percentage of games decided by one run. He found numerous other equally compelling things. No surprise. The whole pitching-to-the-score thing with Morris was a hope.

That seems to be what so much of this stuff is. It’s like the search for the Fountain of Youth, this attempt to find the statistic or argument that shows Jack Morris was as good as so many people remembering him being or want him to be.

This week, Joel Sherman, who I think is one of the best and shrewdest baseball writers around, made his pitch for Jack Morris. I’ve had conversations with Joel about Morris, and I greatly respect his baseball knowledge and his opinion on Morris. That said, I didn’t buy his arguments here. That’s what got me writing this in the first place.

Joel basically made two points in his Morris Hall of Fame case. First he quotes a Tom Verducci statistic that shows Morris pitched 248 games where he lasted at least eight innings — the most by an American League pitcher in the designated hitter era. It goes without saying that I think Tom is brilliant, by the way.

The statistic is semi-interesting — it amplifies the point that Jack Morris was an extremely durable pitcher — but then there’s the usual Morris overreach. That stat — Morris had the most eight-inning starts for any AL pitcher in the DH era — is one of those hyper-specific stats that drive me nuts. It’s fun to play that game, but not very helpful. For instance, I can say that only one player in baseball history has hit at least 575 doubles and 350 homers while also driving in 1,400 RBIs, stealing 100 bases and getting hit by pitch more than 100 times. Only one player! Ever! And it isn’t Willie Mays! It isn’t Babe Ruth! Can you guess who is this titan of baseball?

It’s Luis Gonzalez. Yes. And that’s why Luis Gonzalez belongs in the Hall of Fame!

Here’s the best part of that nonsense. If you are paying attention, you might say: “Well, sure, you added that ‘hit by pitch’ caveat which is meaningless — I mean, that’s a dead give away.” But that’s the way the conman works. I argue for a few minutes that HBP are important and then finally act like you wore me down and say: “OK, fine, take away Hit By Pitch.” Now you have just four players left. Hank Aaron. Carl Yastrzemski. Barry Bonds. And Luis Gonzalez.

Gonzo for the the Hall!

See, the WHOLE STATISTIC is a setup. It works because the combination is built around Gonzalez’s numbers and are fairly random. The Jack Morris stat only works because (1) You start in the “DH Era,” which happens to be just before Jack Morris’ career begins; (2) The stat is “8 innings,” we’re not talking complete games and we’re not talking seven innings ; (3) You have to say AMERICAN LEAGUE pitcher because, in fact, Morris did not lead all pitchers in this nebulous statistic over this odd time period. Nolan Ryan pitched more 8-inning games in the DH era. And you know who else did? Right. Bert Blyleven.

I went back to Tom’s original post and he actually goes more in depth on this thing. He takes this statistic back to 1961 — Morris is 12th in eighth inning starts. That doesn’t seem as impressive until Tom points out that the 11 in front of him are all in the Hall of Fame.

Then again, it might be worth mentioning that he’s 33 games behind the 11th guy on the list (Juan Marichal) which seems a pretty wide gap. But the larger point is that while he’s 33 behind Marichal, he’s only two ahead of Tommy John, three ahead of Jim Kaat and nine ahead of Mickey Lolich. None of them are Hall of Famers. Even in this invented stat, Morris really compares better to non-Hall of Famers.

And, you can add this: Morris had a lot of eight-inning starts, but he had a LOT OF STARTS period. Lolich actually had a HIGHER PERCENTAGE of eight inning starts than Morris. So did Andy Messersmith, Luis Tiant, Dennis Leonard, Wilbur Wood, Mike Cuellar and so on.

So, no, I don’t care much for that eight-inning stat.

The other point Joel made is one a lot of people have made — Morris started Game 1 in the 1984 ALCS and World Series, started Game 1 in the 1991 ALCS and World Series and started Game 1 in the 1992 ALCS and World Series. This is a marvelous thing — six Game 1 starts — and I think it’s perfectly viable to use this as a point in the Hall of Fame argument. But again, with Morris, you need to watch out for that overreach. Joel argues that Sparky Anderson, Tom Kelly and Cito Gaston were all hugely successful managers and they picked Morris to start Game 1 and maybe they know just a little bit more than the sabermetric crowd these days.

And, yeah, that goes a bit too far. Yes, Sparky Anderson started Morris in Game 1 twice in 1984. But … who else was he going to start? The Tigers second-best pitcher that year was Dan Petry. I don’t hear too many sabermeric types making the argument that Dan Petry belongs in the Hall of Fame. Their third best pitcher was Milt Wilcox or Juan Beranguer. I’m not hearing any Hall of Fame arguments for them either.

But this gets to the point — nobody I know is arguing that Jack Morris wasn’t a good pitcher. He was a very good pitcher. Nobody is arguing that he was worse than Juan Berenguer or Milt Wilcox. If the Tigers had Tom Seaver and Jack Morris, who would have started Game 1? How about Steve Carlton? Bob Gibson? Juan Marichal? Jim Palmer? Sandy Koufax? Nolan Ryan? These are the people in the Hall of Fame, these are the pitchers Jack Morris must compare with. Some might argue that Morris would start over some Hall of Famers like Phil Niekro or Don Sutton or Bert Blyleven or Jim Bunning or Ferguson Jenkins. I don’t think he was as good a pitcher as any of those guys. But we can certainly have the argument.

But all of us agree that was a better pitcher than Dan Petry (though Petry was very good that year). That doesn’t make Morris a Hall of Famer.

In 1987, when Sparky Anderson had Doyle Alexander, who did not receive a single Hall of Fame vote at the end of his long career. Alexander went 9-0 with a 1.57 ERA for the Tigers down the stretch that year; Sparky Anderson chose Doyle to pitch Game 1 over Morris. I suspect many sabermertically minded folks think Jack Morris was better than Doyle Alexander. Maybe Sparky knew something that the sabermetricians didn’t know.

You go with what you have. That’s the point. The 1991 Twins had Jack Morris and Kevin Tapani and Scott Erickson. You could argue that Tapani and Erickson both had better years than Morris, but it was close, and Kelly went with Morris in Game 1. Let’s say it again: Morris was better than Kevin Tapani and Scott Erickson. It’s not much of a Hall of Fame argument.

In 1992, the Blue Jays chose a 37-year-old Morris over David Cone, who had come over toward the end of the season. Cone IS a borderline Hall of Famer and so I suppose you could make a point about it. But the larger point might be: Cito chose wrong, Morris lost Game 1 and got shellacked in Game 4 of the ALCS. In the World Series Morris lost Game 1 (though he pitched well) and didn’t make it out of the fifth inning in his last World Series start. The Blue Jays won the 1992 World Series in spite of Jack Morris, not because of him.

The search goes on for a statistic that makes Jack Morris the legendary pitcher so many remember him being. But there is no such statistic because Jack Morris wasn’t that pitcher. He was, as mentioned, a bulldog who started every fifth day, completed a lot of games, struck out quite a few people, gave up more than his share of home runs, never had a sub 3.00 ERA but competed his rear end off. He was a better pitcher, I think, than Catfish Hunter, Jesse Haines and Rube Marquard, and they’re all in the Hall of Fame. I think this is the best case that can be made.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

85 Responses to More more Morris

  1. PhilM says:

    I think it still all comes down to Wins. Now that Blyleven is in, and Mussina and Schilling might make it eventually, the voters have FINALLY started to shrug off the mystique of the Win. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: all the BBWAA inductees (with the exceptions of Don Drysdale and Bert Blyleven) have either 300 career Wins or at least one five-year span leading the majors in Wins, or both. That’s it: it covers all of them except the Big D (in Koufax’s shadow) and Rik Aalbert (287 wins, with only Tommy John between him and the 300ers — and John may get in via the Veteran’s this year). The barrier is falling, and Mussina and Schilling may help dismantle it, but too many voters still see the Win as paramount, and Jack Morris has the Wins. It may be enough to put him over the hurdle this final time: we’ll see!

    • Who are you arguing for here? Mussina has more wins than Morris, so are you saying neither Morris nor Mussina should be in the HOF ….because wins don’t matter…. But Schilling, who has fewer wins, should be in? I didn’t quite follow your point.

      • PhilM says:

        I’m just saying that historically the Hall voters have defaulted to using wins as the be-all and end-all: 300 wins for career assessment, five-year win titles for peak. Drysdale was an anomaly, as was Blyleven — so maybe the voters are starting to “come around” to the fact that not only wins matter. I don’t know if Schilling or Mussina “should” be elected, but their likelihood is eroding the edifice of the almighty Win — which I do see as progress. Morris might be a holdover in that regard: enough old-school “look at those wins!” voters still exist and may put him over the 75% threshold this final time.

        • Morris has 254 wins, and a 7 year peak WAR of 32.8…. I know WAR is not old school, but you can also use traditional stats to show Morris did not have an impressive peak career….so under your logic, wouldn’t old school voters tend to NOT vote for him because he didn’t approach 300 wins and didn’t have a dominant peak? He also didn’t have a CY Young, which is another traditional voter HOF box to check.

          • Nick says:

            I think for Morris it’s just that’s he’s everything that is old school. Pitches every fifth day, wins a lot of games, so gritty!

            I agree that Mussina and wins aren’t particularly at odds with one another.

        • Blyleven ranks 11th all time in WAR for pitchers. That makes him an anomaly? He ranks 5th all time in strikeouts. 9th all time in shutouts. Those are not anomaly numbers. His curve ball was considered the best in baseball when he pitched. He also has a postseason ERA of 2.47 as icing on his cake. But he pitched for a lot of bad teams which depresses his win total (but not his WAR).

          Jack Morris ranks in the top 30 all time in only one positive pitching stat: putouts. I doubt you’ll find many who argue that putouts is as important for a pitcher as strikeout, shutouts, WAR, or the many other things that Blyleven did better than Morris. Morris did not have a defining pitch as the best one in baseball. Morris in the postseason had an ERA of 3.86, and was badly outpitched by Blyleven in the one game they faced each other. He was the ace on many good teams, especially ones built on offense, not pitching.

          Morris would clearly worsen the HOF average for pitchers. Blyleven does not. It is the travesty of perceived wins (even though Blyleven had many more wins for his career) and one anomalous ten innning start on the biggest stage, that makes Morris’s career.

    • Mac says:

      Hadn’t heard that particular trend. Interesting attempt to argue for wins ruling all. The 5 year thing though. On it’s face the 5-year span sounds just like the hyper specific junk that Joe advocated. What about 4 year or 6 year spans? And how close are the 2nd most win totals? Wish I had the data mining chops to dig in here.

      I appreciate the underlying point: all about the wins, but your argument needs more context.

      • PhilM says:

        I ran a study looking at 2-year spans through 12-year spans, and five years matches up with what the HOF voters have done historically: it’s nothing more than a commonality, not necessarily a criterion for induction. I wrote a Dugout Central article about it all:

        Morris led ML in wins 1981-85, 1982-86, and 1983-87. To the typical HOF voter (thus far), that’s what dominant peak looks like.

  2. Pyzeguy says:

    I believe Sparky went with Alexander in 1987 because Morris would have pitched on 3 days rest after going 9 innings vs. Jays in his previous start.

  3. Chip S. says:

    Looks like “tangible” is becoming the new “literally.”

    I think the word you want is “quantifiable.”

  4. nods. yes. he doesn’t belong, and you’re going to very, very reasonable in explaining..and re explaining…why not.

    you write so well, joe. please write about other stuff. at a certain point, you’ve not only regurgitated the original theme, you’ve eaten that and regurgitated *that*…changing it mildly, but it’s still…regurgitation.

    • BobDD says:

      I’m at the other end of this spectrum – please keep ’em coming Joe.

      I grew into baseball during grade school years in the 50’s sharing a bedroom with my younger brother, we’d fall asleep listening to Harry Carey and the Cards (westernmost team then) baseball broadcast, while talkin’ baseball (arguing). My little brother could be counted on to always take whichever side I didn’t so we had constant debates and we found those as interesting as the game.

      Now I get that again ever since the Baseball Abstracts ramped up the Sabermetric craze. I love reasonable and respectful debate, and Joe Poz is the king of that kind of writing. I so appreciate the friendly manner almost as much as the rarer findings in the weeds.

      I don’t know what to recommend to stoneface and others who want Poz to stop – maybe read less – but just to let you know that I (and almost certainly many others) have never gotten tired of all the generous (lengthy and free) offerings here and mean to affirm and cheer the Poz on.

      I love talkin’ ’bout things I love!

      • DjangoZ says:

        I agree. I really enjoy these columns. Some of my favorites.

        • invitro says:

          I enjoy all HoF articles, all MVP articles, all baseball award articles of any kind, and I can’t wait for 2014’s Trout vs Cabrera articles. And I’m excited for anything about the 2014 HoF voting, which promises to be the most interesting ballot in a long, long time.

    • Yeager says:

      100% with you sir. I skipped this one.

      • The Morris article was a predictable rehash. It had to be written, and he did come up with another angle…. Refuting another nonsensical pro Morris column. The good news is that this kicks off the bigger HOF voting questions that are upcoming on this years ballot. I’ve been waiting for this and I’m ready to go….. Glad Joe has kicked things off.

  5. Logan says:

    To me, this is a difference between statistics and trivia. These facts that prove Morris’ HOF credential feel more like the answers to the Aflac trivia question during the 7th inning of a Tigers game. It’s a fun little fact that, ultimately, doesn’t say nearly as much about Morris case as a HOF’er than WAR or ERA+ or even a very flawed statistic like wins.

    And the best trivia questions are the ones like the second Gonzo one. Where there are 4 answers, a couple are pretty obvious, one is a bit harder, and the 4th is one you would never guess.

  6. Ken says:

    I actually think it’s a lot simpler than that – he won that legendary game 7. That’s really it. If you took out that one start and the rest of his career was identical, I think most people would agree that he was a very good but not HOF pitcher and that would be that. Everything else is justification, the “pitched to the score” nonsense and the rest of it – that one game gives him a narrative, an image that sticks in the mind and makes him seem so much greater than he actually was, because he had the game of his life at the best possible time.

  7. Mean Dean says:

    These things, I believe, left an impression that Jack Morris was a better pitcher than his numbers indicate, an impression that the brain simply cannot unload.

    I don’t totally disagree with this, but do note that, five years after Morris retired, only about one out of five writers voted for him (22.2%). Three years after that, it was still fewer than one out of every four writers voting for him. It can’t entirely be about the subjective impression he made as a player, when at the period of time when that impression would have been the strongest, he wasn’t doing well.

    (Steve Garvey’s trend — debuting at 41.6%, then a steady downward slope — would be what I would expect to see from someone whose primary argument is “we all knew when he was playing that this guy was a Hall of Famer!”)

    I think Morris’ candidacy is mostly about:

    1. In fact using the numbers, but misunderstanding them. The 250-300 win range is not Hall of Fame automatic, but it’s a range where the writers will be more inclined to put you in rather than not. If you’re 250+ and have some sort of claim to “dominance”, then they will feel you should be in. Morris has a great winning percentage and was a very visible player when active, so the writers figure that plus the 250+ is good enough. The intangibles do play into it, but it’s only because the wins and winning percentage have gotten him most of the way there, in their eyes.

    2. Desire to “balance the ballot.” Bert Blyleven has been the only MLB starting pitcher selected to the Hall of Fame (by any route, not even just by the BBWAA) since 1999. Morris came on the ballot in 2000. If you feel like a ballot should probably have a starting pitcher on it somewhere, Morris has looked like a helluva candidate to you for his entire decade and a half run. (And doubly so if you didn’t support Blyleven… and I think it’s likely that Morris and Blyleven’s supporters share as little overlap as you can expect when each guy ultimately commanded at least two-thirds.)

  8. Dan says:

    Someone must be the best pitcher not in the Hall of Fame. Who gains this honor if Jack Morris loses it? Tommy John? Then after Tommy John who gets it next and when does the honor ever stick?

    • Ian R. says:

      Who says Jack Morris is the best (eligible) pitcher not in the Hall of Fame? Excluding guys who just hit the ballot last year, I’d say that’s either Rick Reuschel or Luis Tiant, with the aforementioned Tommy John in the conversation as well.

      But you’re right, someone has to be the best pitcher not in the Hall of Fame, and because of the presence of weak Hall of Famers like Jesse Haines, said pitcher is probably always going to be worse than the worst pitcher IN the Hall of Fame. I just don’t think Morris is even especially close to being the best among non-Hall of Famers.

    • invitro says:

      Morris has never had that honor nor ever been close. Schilling has it now (if Clemens doesn’t count).

    • PhilM says:

      Excluding Clemens (and Pedro and Unit as shoo-ins once they’re eligible), I’d say that “honor” belongs to Tony Mullane or Kevin Brown — assuming that Glavine and Mussina eventually make it.

    • The best HOF eligible pitcher not in the HOF is Greg Maddux. He is closely followed by Roger Clemens (who I downgrade a little for PEDs) and Tom Glavine. Morris makes my top ten best HOF eligible pitchers no in the HOF, but not my top five, and unless we get at least two elected this year his ranking is likely to worsen, not improve.

      Tommy John has more wins, more shutouts, more starts, better WAR, better ERA+, a postseason ERA more than a run better than Jack Morris, and was a medical pioneer who has helped save the careers of lots of better pitchers than Morris or John. Morris is only seen as being the best pticher not in the HOF in the misguided minds of his followers. I’d take John over Morris in a heartbeat; you might get one famous shutout, but I’d win the other 12 head to head matchups, all of which you’d forget.

      • Ian R. says:

        I wouldn’t count Maddux as an eligible pitcher not in the Hall of Fame. He’s on the ballot right now, he hasn’t been voted on yet, and he’s a cinch to get in in his first shot. Glavine is pretty likely to be a first-ballot guy too (300 wins and all that), but because the ballot is so loaded that may not happen. Still, I’d wait a year before putting him on any such lists.

      • I’d take Tiant over John. I might take Jim Kaat over John.

  9. Maneesh says:

    As a life-long Tigers fan, I have been a full-throated “Morris for HOF” supporter–although I think Trammell is much more deserving. The more I learn about it, the more I realize it really is about confirmation bias for me. Stepping away from my own lifelong perception of Morris as a “gamer” and a winner, I finally see that he is (at best) a borderline HOFer. That then reminds me of sitting at home listening to Ernie on WJR, while my dad was SCREAMING that Morris was an “overpaid bum” who never performed up to his image or contract. And so we revel in the joy of the argument itself!

    • Mac says:

      FWIW I’d love to see those 80’s Tigers get a representative in. Single players don’t wholly drive teams, but that Tigers squad deserves recognition in baseball’s hallowed hall.

      • Ian R. says:

        Both Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker should represent those tigers in the Hall. Morris? Eh, not quite.

        • invitro says:

          I find it fiendishly diabolical that Morris has gotten ahead of Trammell and Whitaker in the HoF discussion mainly by benefitting from their offense that was a big factor in his 1980s win totals.

    • largebill says:

      I have no problem with Tigers fans being strong supporters of Morris. As an Indians fan I’ve long supported players like Colaviti, Tiant and others and let my allegiance to players I watched cause me to over value their contribution.

      • Ian R. says:

        I don’t think the issue is that Tigers fans support Morris; the issue is that they support Morris instead of the much more deserving Trammell and Whitaker. I feel the same way about the legions of Red Sox fans who campaigned for Jim Rice without giving Dwight Evans a second thought.

  10. Marco says:

    The flip side of the Morris argument is Kevin Brown. People bend over backwards to make up reasons to exclude a guy who has the numbers.
    Joe- I’d love to hear your take on his hall worthiness.

  11. John Leavy says:

    Joe, every time you re-write this same column, I tell you the same thing:


    You keep writing against him as if you were a lonely underdog battling against millions of enemies, but the reality is, your side is WINNING! Jack Morris did NOT coast to HOF election on the first ballot. Or the second. Or the third. Here we are, coming up on his final year of eligibility, and he probably WON’T get in, because there are just too many superior choices available.

    Repeat after me “Jack Morris is NOT in the Hall of Fame. Bert Blyleven is. MY side WON. I should be turning cartwheels and whooping it up in celebration. The fact that I keep on rehashing the same arguments long after everyone else has moved on reflects poorly on me, and makes me look obsessive.”

    • BobDD says:

      Joe did not do this again all on his own; it was in response to Joel Sherman – he provided a link to Sherman’s piece. All of the last 20-some Jack Morris articles from Joe have been in response to someone else’s ‘newish’ argument. I have always enjoyed the – admittedly almost unending – Morris (and Blyleven) cases. Yes, it covers Sabermetrics 101 again and again, but that never gets old for me.

    • Bill Caffrey says:

      …”long after everyone else has moved on…” This amounts to burying your head in the sand. His vote percentage has been steadily climbing the past few years. Based on historical voting trends, Jack Morris should be a shoo-in for election this year.

      Last year he hit 67% and nobody has ever gotten that high and not eventually been elected. Players also usually get a bump in their last year on the ballot. The only reason that he MIGHT not get elected is because of the unusually large number of worthier candidates. But it;s far from clear that he won’t get in and to talk in terms of “MY side WON” is so premature it’s absurd. Counting your chickens before they hatch and all that.

      In fact, it’s so obviously absurd that the only conclusion I can draw is that you, John Leavy, are a supporter of Morris for the HOF, and wish Joe to quiet down so as not to hurt Morris’ final-year chances.

      And as a final note, if you think that Joe would be “turning cartwheels and whooping it up in celebration” if Morris is finally left out of the Hall, it reflects poorly on your level of reading comprehension.

      • John Leavy says:

        Sheesh, lighten up, Francis. You’re not only wrong, you’re wrong at the top of your voice.

        Am I a Jack Morris fan? Hardly. I grew up in Queens, and am a lifelong Yankee fan. I feel about Jack Morris as I did about Catfish Hunter, Dave McNally and Allie Reynolds. He was a very good pitcher, but not an elite one, and doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame. BUT…

        1) The Hall of Fame is like the Oscars- it’s fine to get excited on Oscar night, but if YOUR favorite movie loses (or a movie you hate wins) it isn’t important enough to get THAT excited about. If you spend more than 10 minutes cheering or booing, that’s too long.

        2) There are already far worse pitchers than Morris or Hunter in the Hall already, so it’s not as if the Hall is some sacred temple that would be besmirched by Morris’ presence.

        I repeat, the Sabre crew is the side obsessing over Jack Morris, who has NOT been elected to the HOF, and PROBABLY won’t ever be. Far too many sabre geeks have gotten used to the idea that they’re gritty, besieged underdogs fighting against a sea of old school know-nothings. In reality, the geeks are winning, but they keep ACTING as if nothing’s changed.

        • Bill Caffrey says:

          “The Hall of Fame is like the Oscars- it’s fine to get excited on Oscar night, but if YOUR favorite movie loses (or a movie you hate wins) it isn’t important enough to get THAT excited about. If you spend more than 10 minutes cheering or booing, that’s too long.”

          That’s a value judgment that you’re incapable of making on everyone’s behalf.

          And factually, it’s weird to describe the sabre-side as winning when, each year, MORE writers decide that Morris should be in the Hall. If the sabre-side was truly winning, his percentage would be going down (as more and more voters became convinced of the correctness of the sabre argument).

          As to whether Morris probably will or probably won’t get elected, we just disagree. I think he probably will. Everyone that has gotten as high as he has in the voting has eventually been elected. Everyone. It’s only the super-crowded ballot that MIGHT keep him out.

          • John Leavy says:

            “Might” keep him out? You think voters will select Morris over the far superior Greg Maddux and Tommy Glavine? Not a chance!
            Jack Morris has HAD his best chances to get elected and it hasn’t happened.

            Morris has his supporters AND his detractors, but even his supporters will admit he’s not a no-brainer pick for the Hall of Fame. A lot of the newly eligible players ARE no-brainers, including several starting pitchers.

          • invitro says:

            “That’s a value judgment that you’re incapable of making on everyone’s behalf.”

            I agree. Voting for Morris is wrong, but deciding when people can cheer or boo is worse.

            If Morris doesn’t get in this year, and the VC acts as it has historically acted, he is a lock for a VC selection. I suppose the second is a big if.

        • If 2/3 of voters voted for Morris, how exactly if Joe “winning”? Yes, the 75%standard is very high, but in every other type of vote, 2/3 is referred to as a super majority or a landslide win. So, no, Joe hasn’t won. HOF voters overwhelmingly are rejecting Joe’s arguments against Morris. But in the HOF vote, the 1/3 are still carrying the day.

          • It is not winning if Jack Morris does or does not get into the HOF. It is winning if the most deserving pitchers do get into the HOF. Morris is clogging the process; 2/3 of the people voted for him, and although I hate hate HATE Roger Clemens part of why he is not in the HOF is because people preferred Morris. The best way to get much more worthy candidates like Maddux, Glavine, Pedro, and Schilling (let alone Raines, Piazza,Biggio, Trammell, etc.) into the HOF is to get Morris off the ballot, even if that means electing a man who is subpar. It won’t be the first time, and sadly probably won’t be the last. Morris, if elected, would worsen the HOF average, but he would not be the worst pitcher in the HOF.

          • Ian R. says:

            @Richard – At this point, it doesn’t matter whether Morris gets elected – this is his final year on the BBWAA ballot regardless. I suppose electing him now would keep him off future Veterans ballots, but that’s about it.

  12. Bobby A says:

    Dave Steib was better than Morris.

  13. Toar Winter says:

    I have a simple question for Joe: how did you feel about Morris back in his heyday? Did you feel he was a good/great starter, possibly top five in the league? Or did you hate him with all the passion an Indians fan would naturally have had towards any Tigers pitcher? I’m wondering if the personal narrative you have towards him explains the vehemence of your argument against him.

  14. Brian says:

    ” He was a better pitcher, I think, than Catfish Hunter, Jesse Haines and Rube Marquard, and they’re all in the Hall of Fame.”

    He was also better than Happy Jack Chesbro. For whatever that’s worth (hint: not much).

    • PhilM says:

      I would also toss Herb Pennock in there — generally revered in his time, and apparently had that “big game winner” reputation among contemporary writers. There is some cherry-picking of sources, obviously, but G. H. Fleming’s “Murderers’ Row” is replete with sportswriters fawning over Pennock. He does have his five-year Win title (1923-27 with the Yankees) to accompany the reputation, so that was enough to get him elected.

  15. Blake says:

    While I don’t believe he should be there, I’ve made peace with the idea of Morris in the Hall because he did pitch the most famous championship-winning game ever.

    If Dan Petry pitched that game, he’s probably not a HOF pitcher. But you take a very good pitcher like Morris, add in the fact that he beat John Smoltz 1-0 to win one of the greatest Series ever, and it’s fine.

    It’s a helluva lot better argument than Jim Rice, or for that matter, those 17 Negro League inductees that nobody can name. It is a Hall of Fame. Jack Morris is famous. Quick, tell me anything you know, anything at all, about Ray Brown.

    • 18thstreet says:

      Bo Jackson is famous. Jose Canseco is famous. Bill Buckner is famous. They’re all more famous than Eddie Matthews.

      Don’t get distracted by the word “fame” in “Hall of Fame.” It leads you to lousy places.

    • Jamie says:

      The Hall bestows fame on the individual, not recognizes already present fame. This is how you avoid having the Bo Jacksons and Mark Fidrychs getting plaques there.

    • Smoltz didn’t figure in on the decision since he didn’t allow a run

    • Brian says:

      “Quick, tell me anything you know, anything at all, about Ray Brown.”

      I know he was a better pitcher than Jack Morris.

    • Blake says:

      Morris pitched 10 scoreless innings. Smoltz pitched 9 innings, was done. When he came out, the Braves lost.

      Go ask John Smoltz if Morris beat him.

    • wordyduke says:

      I don’t object to the entirety of your comment, though I think Joe did us a service by responding to Joel Sherman’s argument. It’s always good to have more examples of well-written logic, taking someone else’s contentions and subjecting them to detailed analysis. That’s what Joe did here, to Sherman’s new argument, so Joe has done more than rehash.

      But as to Ray Brown. Jack Morris was able to play in the national spotlight and make a lot of money doing so. That circumstance enabled his fame. Ray Brown did not have that opportunity. I don’t know anything about his Negro “League” career. A committee, not doubt flawed as with many committees, made the call on him. Maybe he’s more or less deserving than Jack Morris. But what I know, quick, about Ray Brown is that it doesn’t make sense to disqualify him because he isn’t famous.

  16. PhilM says:

    I wonder if we somehow devalue the contributions of individuals on great teams. Morris isn’t that impressive in isolation, I agree, but are we losing the forest for the trees? Two of the greatest teams of my lifetime (and actually of all time) were the 1984 Tigers and 1986 Mets. Look at these run differentials: this is dominance on an historical scale.

    DET 104-58 186
    TOR 89-73 54
    NYY 87-75 79
    BOS 86-76 46
    BAL 85-77 14
    KC 84-78 -13
    CAL 81-81 -1
    MIN 81-81 -2
    OAK 77-85 -58
    CLE 75-87 -5
    SEA 74-88 -92
    CHW 74-88 -57
    TEX 69-92 -58
    MIL 67-94 -93

    NYM 108-54 205
    HOU 96-66 85
    PHI 86-75 26
    CIN 86-76 15
    SF 83-79 80
    STL 79-82 -10
    MON 78-83 -51
    SD 74-88 -67
    LA 73-89 -41
    ATL 72-89 -104
    CHC 70-90 -101
    PIT 64-98 -37

    It took a while for Carter to be elected, and he’s the only ’86 Met. The ’84 Tigers have Sparky, but no Trammell or Whitaker or any players at all. That’s not to say we need to elect Keith Hernandez and Jesse Orosco, but I wonder if phenomenal team success overshadows individual contributions to said success. And maybe it’s hard to shine on a supernova team.

    • No, in the Mets case anyways, the players themselves …. Gooden, Strawberry, Hernandez, Dykstra, et al derailed themselves with drug use and hard living. It had nothing to so with the voters. On Whitaker and Trammell, they were great players, and a case can be made for them, but if you take a dispassionate look at their career, at best, they are borderline cases…. As the voting has demonstrated. I would vote for Trammell in, but it’s not a slam dunk HOF case.

      • Blake says:

        Lou Whitaker was a Jehovah’s Witness. He proselytized to sportswriters and they didn’t like interviewing him. He fell off the ballot after one year.

        It is fair to call him a borderline Hall of Famer, not a shoo-in. But falling off the ballot after one year never gave sportswriters a chance to look at his career in greater context.

        I believe Whitaker being dismissed so quickly hurts Trammell’s case. I think they both deserve it and should go in as a unit. Maybe some future Veterans’ Committee will make that happen.

      • Jamie says:

        I don’t know about the Mets. Hernandez is ~60 in both fWAR and bWAR. Gooden is at 55 fWAR. Dykstra and Strawberry are over 40. Not only did none of them make it, none came close, and only Hernandez lingered more than a year. Now only Hernandez and possibly Gooden (though probably not) seem like even maybe HoFers. But they were all better than Garvey who lingered a long time and is getting a shot on the veterans ballot. They are similarly valuable to Mattingly who seems destined to linger, but never was on a WS champion, and all of those Mets were on at least 2. The same can be said for Jim Rice, and he did make it. I am not really arguing that any should have made it, but we never even had the conversation about the possibility, and all of them deserved to have the conversation.

  17. […] Posnanski looks at the lengths people will go to convince themselves (and others) of something they want to believe, in the context of Jack Morris’ Hall of Fame […]

  18. Brian says:

    @ Phil M:
    I think that’s because often times great teams have a lot of really good players rather than one major superstar.

    Look at the late 90s Yankees. Yes, they had Jeter and Rivera who are obvious HOFers. But that team was so good because they had a ton of really good players: Bernie, O’Neill, Tino, Knoblauch, Cone, Wells, Pettitte, etc.

    As for the ’84 Tigers, they do have HOF-level players. Trammell and Whitaker are the guys who should be getting the HOF support. They’re actually a major reason why Morris looks better than he actually was.

  19. Mac says:

    Whoo, HOF season is here! My favorite time of the year on Joe’s blog. It’s when Joe morphs into baseball’s John Stewart, maintaining a modicum of rationality in a world gone mad.

    This should be a banner year, with Morris, PEDs, the great Schilling debate, the crowded ballot conundrum, and more.

    If I could put in a request: one of favorite features this time of the year Joe is when you take a moment to reflect on the career of every single candidate. Daunting task this time round, but you once mentioned how 10 years of MLB service is impressive itself no matter how one did it and certainly worthy of a moment’s reflection.

  20. James says:

    Here’s one of those blind comparisons that has always intrigued me:

    Pitcher A: 335 GS, 173-112, 2471 IP, 3.55 ERA, 114 ERA+, 1.24 WHIP, 36.4 WAR, 0 Cy Young Awards, 1 IP title, 1 AL K title

    Pitcher B: 348 GS, 175-96, 2468 IP, 3.15 ERA, 131 ERA+, 1.20 WHIP, 59.9 WAR, 1 Cy Young Award, 1 IP title, 3 straight years of leading MLB in K

    Pitcher A is Morris from 1979-1988. Pitcher B is David Cone from 1988-1999.

    The thing with Cone is that he never had much of a run before and after his prime, so his counting statistics aren’t overwhelming (just short of 200 W and 3,000 IP). His prime from 88-99 took up 90% of his career. Morris did have more longevity, but for the most part he wasn’t very good after 1988 (179 GS, 4.58 ERA, 91 ERA+, 1.40 WHIP, 6.5 WAR over six seasons… although with those numbers, he managed a 77-68 record). He had a good year with the Twins in ’91 and an up and down year with Toronto in ’92. But in 89, 90, 93 and 94 he was pretty bad.

    What is strange about Cone is that he’s always had the narrative that sportswriters would seem to embrace. 5 World Series rings, a Cy Young Award, 3 straight years leading the majors in strikeouts, won 20 games ten years apart for both New York teams, pitched a perfect game, was twice a “hired gun” at the trade deadline (’92 Jays and ’95 Yankees), 8-3 in the postseason, and had the famous 19 strikeout game in Philly at the end of the ’91 season. He even had the narrative of successfully coming back from an aneurysm in 1996, throwing 7-no hit innings in Oakland in his first game back, then winning game 3 of the World Series in Atlanta with the Yankees down 0-2. You would think this is the type of narrative voters would eat up.

    At the time of his retirement, Cone was 38th all-time in WAR (right between Drysdale and Marichal), 46th in ERA+ (among pitchers with more than 2,000 innings), 8th in K/9, 43rd in K/BB, 17th in K, and 23rd in H/9. You could argue that he was the best pitcher on the 100-win 1988 Mets, and the back-to-back champion 1998-1999 Yankees.

    And yet Cone was one-and-done on the HOF ballot, and Morris has gone from 22% to the verge of induction. It’s never made sense to me how Cone has slipped through the cracks. Many voters dismiss “compilers” (which is a ridiculous term anyway) and use that word to tear down very deserving players like Biggio. But on some level, it seems like “compiling” is exactly what they’re looking for, because Cone’s prime from 88-99 is certainly good enough. If he had two more decent-to-bad years on each end of his prime to tack on some more starts, innings, wins and strikeouts, even at the expense of a poor ERA, he’d have the counting numbers to merit serious consideration.

  21. tombando says:

    Joe you should take a cue from Noted_Sage Craig Calcaterra and just sit this one out…seriously again you undersell Black Jack’s career, cherry pick his era the way you rail about sportswriters doing the same w batting ave and Darrell Evans, then ignore the man’s more favorable fangraphs war ranking as it, again, doesn’t square w your little Narrative. Equating Morris w Marquard and Jesse Haines? Nice. Can we equate Quisenberry w Firpo Marberry just to keep it on an even footing then?

  22. TWolf says:

    If Morris’s ERA was 3.50 instead of 3.90, he would have been elected several years ago.
    In the end, ERA is a commonly understood statistic that all baseball fans and baseball writers
    understand. I believe that this is the principal reason that many baseball writers are reluctant to vote for him.

    • largebill says:

      Correct. His high ERA is a large part of the argument against inducting Morris. ERA refers to runs allowed by a pitcher. A pitchers primary job is to keep opposing players from scoring by keeping them off the bases. That is primarily accomplished by not surrendering many hits or walks. Ability to keep opponent from scoring is measured by ERA and keeping them off base is measured by WHIP. Those rudimentary stats show Morris to be a fairly average pitcher. No advanced stats necessary to make this case.

  23. Joe Leahy says:


    Here’s where all of those eight inning outings might matter:

    What would Jack Morris’s ERA look like if he were used like a pitcher is used today (i.e., 7 innings, then relievers). I realize that Jack harkens back to a different era, but not fully — he sort of overlaps the eras where pitchers pitched complete games in their sleep and the modern era, where the Cy Young pitches like one complete game per season. So, if it were shown that Jack Morris was a fantastic 7IP guy, but got shellacked regularly in the eighth — in games that he won anyway — then maybe we should be a little more generous about his ERA, because those eight inning runs didn’t matter. I am not even sure if there is a stat that captures this exactly — sort of like the opposite of the late/close type analyis for hitters (which always get bandied about in arguments about clutch hitting). By contrast, if it turns out that he cruised in the later innings and got hit hard in the earlier innings, I think his HoF suffers even more.

    Someone may have done this analysis, so I’m just curious.


  24. I agree with the observation that this isn’t about Morris. However, I do think the Morris debate becomes so heated, and even “vitriolic” (as Verducci says), because it’s about a way of analyzing baseball. There are a lot of people who want to believe in WAR and ERA+ as being the only rating systems that matter. There are a lot of people who are having a counter-reaction to this philosophy.

    I think there are other ways of looking at statistics. For example, Joe and others have stated their disdain for Wins as a statistic. I think Wins for a starting pitcher are meant to be a statistic that indicates when the starting pitcher could fairly be argued to be “responsible” for his team winning. So they set the bar at more than half the outs and more than half the innings of the game. I think that bar is arbitrary. So why not set another bar to determine how responsible a pitcher is for a win? Why not keep track of how many times a pitcher won a game in which he got at least 21 outs? It’s kind of like complete games as a statistic.

    Morris won 216 games in which he completed at least 7 innings. Tom Glavine won 215 games in which he completed 7 innings. That’s because when Morris was credited with a Win in a game he started, he completed 7 innings in 86% of those Wins.

    41% of Morris’ starts were games in which he pitched 7 or more innings and won. Here are some comparisons for this statistic:

    Pitcher %starts %wins (when starting)

    Reuschel 29% 75%
    Blyleven 34% 82.5%
    Kaat 34% 83%
    Mussina 34% 68%
    Clemens 39% 78%
    Schilling 40% 85%
    Stieb 33% 78%
    DMartinez 31% 77%
    John 35% 85%
    DWells 34% 69%
    Pettite 31% 64%
    Glavine 32% 70%
    Smoltz 34% 78%
    PMartinez 38% 75%
    Palmer 45% 89%
    Ryan 35% 86%
    Seaver 43% 89%

    Morris was much more like Hall of Fame Pitchers in terms of how often he won his starts by completing at least 7 innings, and what percentage of the time he went at least 7 innings in starts that he won. Obviously, from the 1960s to today, pitchers are going 7 innings less and less. However, comparing Morris to his contemporaries, he was more likely to go 7 innings or more and win. His wins involved less help from the bullpen.

    Getting outs is important. Winning games is important. Shouldering the work load so that your team needs less innings from its relievers, and needs less pitchers to be shuttled up and down from the minors, helps a team. Is this quantifiable? Could it be incorporated into a rating system like WAR? I don’t know.

    When the 1984 Tigers were on their streak, the bullpen needed to appear for less than one inning per Morris start, but more than three innings the day after Morris started. It helped the Tigers (and Milt Wilcox primarily) to be able to go to the bullpen early on days after Morris gave them a rest. This is just one example of how Morris helped his teams during the regular season by leading his teams in innings pitched 13 different seasons, and was among the league top-10 in innings pitched 9 different seasons and top-5 7 seasons. He was somewhat in a transitional era between the time when starting pitchers were expected to go deeper into games and the modern era where they aren’t expected to, nor sometimes even allowed to go deeper into games. However, even for his era, he shouldered the burden for his teams and won games better than his contemporaries. That could help explain why he was the Ace on three different WS Champs.

  25. Morris also completed a lot of games — more than his contemporaries. And in games where a closer could have been brought in for a save, Morris won 49 out of 52 (94%). That he could close his own games is another reason he won so many games. (Please notice that I didn’t say he pitched to the score.)

  26. I like the point about how the 1984 Tigers didn’t have another #1 pitcher. Neither did the 1991 Twins. The Jays had Jimmy Key, who might have been able to fill that role if they didn’t have Morris. However, I think this bolsters the argument that the Tigers and Twins (at a minimum), needed Morris to win in those seasons. It’s also significant to note that the three teams Morris led to WS Championships had either no HOFers or only one other HOFer. He wasn’t just joining teams, that were already going to win it, just to get a ring.

  27. Apart from the epic 1991 World Series game seven win and all the quantifiable statistics, Morris is a remarkable man. His character was revealed on the show with John Smoltz and Bob Costas. He was contrite and thoughtful-not using usual sport clichés and platitudes. His insight and honesty were refreshing even if it was uncomfortable. He is a man’s man in the manner of a Robert Mitchum or Gary Cooper.

  28. […] if you're offense isn't giving you runs.  The idea that pitcher pitch to the score is a myth (see Jack Morris).  It's less intuitive with ERA, but if you're defenders get to less batted balls (resulting in a […]

  29. […] said Jack Morris’ career statistics are not one a Hall of Famer would have. Writers such as Joe Posnanski, Jay Jaffe, and David Schoenfield among others have written many articles concerning why they […]

  30. Hi, all the time i used to check weblog posts
    here early in the break of day, because i enjoy to learn more and

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *