12/23/06 10:00 AM ET
Hall of Famer or not, Morris a winner
Ex-pitcher realizes being a 'crank' may have hurt his chances
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
"I think my relationships with the press probably had something to do with it," Morris said a couple years ago. "And I regret that. That was then. I was an ornery crank, no question about it. I did it to protect my players. I wish I could go back and do it over. But if you're voting on my personality, I can understand your argument."
The more cited argument to his Hall of Fame credentials, however, is less relevant to his personality than his place in World Series lore. It's a question that has followed Morris ever since he became eligible for the Hall: Were his teams great because he pitched on them, or was he great because of his teams?
Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus once decided to track down the argument about Morris "pitching to the score," that his high ERA was merely because he had so many sizeable leads when he was on the mound. Sheehan chased down the theory by going through play-by-play descriptions or box scores for every one of Morris' 527 career starts; going through not only how long he pitched and how many runs he allowed, but also charting run support, whether he left with the lead, whether he gave up the lead or whether he even allowed the first run of the game.
What Sheehan's study found were mixed results. Morris' run support was only a tenth of a run better for his career than that of his teammates, and he threw a complete game in nearly one-third of his starts, ahead or behind. However, he enjoyed many more games with five or more runs of support relative to his total games pitched than his peers in the American League.
On the other hand, addressing the notion that that Morris' inflated ERA was due to giving up meaningless runs in games he either led or trailed by wide margins, Sheehan's analysis didn't find it. Noting the lead or deficit Morris took into each inning of his starts, Sheehan found Morris' ERA didn't show a consistent pattern whether he was ahead by one or seven runs. His ERAs were best when either tied or ahead by two or seven runs, while his ERAs when trailing were understandably worse the more he trailed.
Morris has no apologizes for the way he pitched. When he had a lead, Morris the pitcher was a lot like Morris the person. He was more direct than deceptive.
"If I had a three-run lead, I was throwing fastballs down the lead trying to get the inning over," he said. "If I threw a fastball down the middle and they hit it out, they hit it out."
Morris' aura was built on winning. He won more games than any other pitcher in the 1980s, and it carried over to the game's greatest stage. He won three World Series with three different teams and served as the Game 1 starter for each of them. His Game 7 performance for the Twins in 1991, dueling John Smoltz in a game that went scoreless into the 10th inning, is part of postseason lore.
Beyond that, working complete games in one out of every three starts for his career showed an ironman status just as baseball was embracing the roles of specialized relievers beyond the closer. For part of that, Morris can thank the slow hook of Tigers manager Sparky Anderson, who helped make Morris' gruff, hypercompetitive mentality famous and later called him the greatest pitcher he'd ever managed.
"Jack has had that wonderful, wonderful postseason success," former pitcher Frank Tanana once said. "His postseason heroics are pretty well-documented. You can say that if Jack Morris hadn't done that, he probably wouldn't be close. But because he's had those postseason hurrahs, he's receiving a lot of votes."
At this point, however, Morris' legacy is at the same point as longtime Alan Trammell. He was a great player on one of the greatest single-season teams in history with the 1984 Tigers, but not a Hall of Fame player. The difference is that Morris went on to more postseason success.
"I've come to the realization that if I don't make it, then I don't make it," Morris said. "The only thing that changes in my life is that I'd get a lot more money and when I walked by people would say, 'There goes a Hall of Famer.'"
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.