Jack Morris is not a Hall of Famer/Michael Bleach
For the 20,000 or so walking around Comerica Park for the Great Lakes Invitational this past weekend, the mind naturally wandered to considering the Detroit Tigers of old.
Everywhere the head turns there is a photo or statue – or bizarre amalgam of the two for one concept-art piece gone horribly wrong in the concourse behind home plate – reminding fans of the Tigers’ greats and occasionally the Tigers’ above-averages.
Even the press box is inundated with art detailing the organization’s history, a nice subtle reminder to those with a press pass around their neck, Hall of Fame ballot in the mail and a free soda in their hand.
In other words, a hockey tournament did an excellent job to get Michigan citizens’ blood boiling if/when former Tigers pitcher Jack Morris is rejected from the MLB Hall of Fame next week by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
For the past seven years or so, Jack Morris has served as the line in the sand the supposed old and new schools of baseball thinking choose to lock horns over when the Hall of Fame ballot is released.
In one corner, you have the crowd quoting wins, Game 7 (1991 World Series), pitching to the score, durability and bulldogginess. Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci probably speaks best for this crowd.
In the other, writers – oft from the confines of their mothers basements – pin their reasoning on ERA (Morris’ 3.90 mark would be the highest of all in the Hall of Fame), ERA-plus, strikeout-to-walk ratio, WAR, other stats you have never heard of and a whole bunch of words detailing how the concept of pitching to the score is garbage and wins are a terrible way to measure a pitcher’s effectiveness. Look up anything written by NBC’s Joe Posnanski to get the general idea.
Unless there is a surprise surge for Morris this weekend in his 15th and final try on the ballot, the former Tiger will likely fall short of the 75 percent mark needed for induction. The debates will move on to another candidate, one likely tinged with PEDs and how the heck we deal with that.
Which is a bummer. Because as an enthusiastic observer of all-things Hall of Fame, I’m not sure I have read anyone make the proper argument for Morris yet.
It’s a simple one. The Hall of Fame is too exclusive.
(Note: I don’t actually believe this, but devil’s advocate and what-not.)
But it is the only leg left to stand on for the Morris crowd. So allow me to make the argument for them.
As the Hall of Fame is currently constituted, it should be clear to anyone not wearing a cap from the ‘D’ or sporting an AARP card that Morris does not belong.
He gave up too many runs, too often and falls short of basically every mark we have set for our Hall of Famers. His wins come from playing for a bunch of high-scoring teams, and his Cy Young finishes (he topped out in third place, twice) reflect that at no point was he actually considered the best pitcher of his day. You point to Game 7, I point to Game 5 of the ’92 World Series, where Morris got bombed for seven runs in 4 2/3 innings.
There really isn’t much rational discussion left to be had on this account. Morris does not stack up with other Hall of Famers.
But last summer, for the first time since 1996, the BBWAA did not elect a single player to the Hall of Fame. Despite a dugout of worthy candidates – Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza and Tim Raines are no-brainers, and that is before entering the Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens PED hellfire – the 2013 class included an umpire, pioneer/executive and a Deadballer who played the hot corner with a hot mustache.
All three have been dead since 1939. The speeches at Cooperstown were rousing.
This is a significant downer. It is hard to celebrate players of old when the BBWAA determines there aren’t any players of new worthy inducting.
So the Morris argument should go like this.
He was an incredibly durable pitcher who made 20-plus starts in 17 seasons and 30-plus in 11. He was usually good, occasionally great, enjoyed one of baseball’s iconic moments, and most importantly – was someone you can build a winning team around.
As a longtime Brewers fan, I understand the value of a good starter (through omission) who you can hand the ball to every fifth day and expect a good result. Morris ability to provide a winning-chance 30 times a year for 18 seasons has a lot of value.
The Hall of Fame doesn’t need to be just the superstars, the ones you can speak of in the same breath as Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Ty Cobb and Tom Seaver. The Hall can also include the key pieces you watched day in and day out, the ones who bring to mind stories in bars and with which to bore your kids.
The Hall of Fame can be more than it is right now. Regardless of where you fall in the Morris debate, this should be apparent.
For the BBWAA, this argument comes too late.
Perhaps it will be more effective with the Veterans Committee.
Michael Bleach can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter at @michaelbleach.