12/23/09 7:00 PM EST
Morris keeps gaining Hall support
Postseason prowess helps make case for induction
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
Jack Morris has long since accepted that he might not get to Cooperstown after several years of disappointment.
"I've come to the realization that if I don't make it, then I don't make it," Morris said a few years ago. "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.'"
The funny thing is, though, that several years on the ballot have led more Hall of Fame voters to accept Morris.
Little by little, support has quietly grown for Morris, whose credentials as the winningest pitcher of the 1980s and a hero in the postseason have received more attention each winter. As a result, what had been the case of a ballot also-ran now could be changing toward an eventual Hall of Fame dark horse.
A few years ago, Morris spent most of his interviews about the Hall of Fame making the case for his friend Bert Blyleven, who has gone from an unpopular pick to the brink of the magical 75 percent mark for induction. Now, Morris has the momentum to potentially follow Blyleven's course up the ballot.
Morris' aura was built on winning, and his success in the '80s carried over to the game's greatest stage. He won three World Series with three teams and started the series opener for each of them. His Game 7 performance for the Twins in 1991, dueling John Smoltz over 10 scoreless innings on three days' rest, still stands as one of the greatest single-game performances in the history of the Fall Classic.
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.
"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."
He doesn't have nearly enough for induction yet, but his total is climbing. He was selected in 2009 on 44 percent of ballots in his 10th year under consideration. His 42.9 percent in 2008 was his previous high mark. He has five more years to try for induction before his eligibility for the ballot runs out.
As it stands, he is the best chance at an inductee from the great 1984 world champion Tigers, a group whose only Hall of Famer so far is manager Sparky Anderson. Coincidentally, Anderson once called Morris the greatest pitcher he had ever managed.
Morris broke into the Majors with the Tigers in 1977, the same year that Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Lance Parrish made their big league debuts. Together, they would form the core of one of the greatest single-season teams of their generation, winning 35 of the first 40 games and never looking back on the competition. One of those wins was a Morris no-hitter in a nationally televised game against the White Sox on April 7, 1984.
Lost in the aura of that game was that Morris flat-out dominated opponents throughout Detroit's 35-5 sprint out of the gate. He went 9-1 in that stretch, and his loss was a 1-0 defeat in which he threw a five-hitter. He threw five consecutive starts of nine innings at one point in that stretch, not including the no-hitter, and ended up with eight complete games plus one other nine-inning performance out of his first 14 starts. Ironically, it was the only season from 1980-1991 in which he didn't reach double digits in complete games.
The debate that has always followed Morris is his career 3.90 ERA and whether it should keep him out of Cooperstown. He had five seasons in which he ranked among the top 10 in the American League in ERA, but never finished better than fifth. On the other hand, he finished among the AL's top 10 in most earned runs allowed nine times, topping the league in 1990.
Essentially, then, Morris' career has come down to two different debates. First, were his teams great because he pitched on them, or was he great because of his teams? Second, was Morris' high ERA the result of pitching to the scoreboard on days when his team had a big lead and he could afford to give up an extra couple runs?
A study from Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus found that 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. There was no pattern, Sheehan found, as to his ERA and the size of the lead that he had.
Morris has no apologies 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 middle trying to get the inning over," Morris said. "If I threw a fastball down the middle and they hit it out, they hit it out."
That will always be the debate surrounding Morris, who would almost rather be left out for being cantankerous with the media. The difference now is that more voters are coming around to his side.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.