01/08/12 1:22 PM EST
If not Hall induction, Morris looking for boost
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
DETROIT -- The magic number in Hall of Fame balloting for induction is 75 percent. That's probably not going to happen for Jack Morris when the latest results are released on Monday.
For Morris, the magic number is a little less, maybe around 60 percent of ballots cast. Get to that point, and there's a springboard for getting to 75 in the next couple years.
With this being his 13th year on the ballot, that's all the time he has. The maximum number of years a player can spend on the ballot is 15.
Morris' good friend, Bert Blyleven, was elected in his 14th year of eligibility. But he wasn't named on 60 percent of ballots until three years earlier. Jim Rice, elected in his 15th year of eligibility in 2009, didn't hit 60 percent until his 12th. Bruce Sutter, elected in '06 in his 13th year of eligibility, crossed 60 percent and 75 percent in back-to-back years.
Years ago, when barely a quarter of Hall of Fame voters were putting Morris' name on the ballot, he was nonchalant about his chances.
Hitting 60 percent isn't a guarantee of induction within two years, but right now, it looks like a milestone Morris has to pass to change the perception from a player merely hoping for induction to somebody on the cusp of it.
"I'm not overly confident I will gain enough ground this year," Morris told the Detroit News, "but it will be interesting to see if I gain enough ground for the momentum to carry me through in the next two years."
Morris' vote percentage has risen in each of the past 10 years, but the ascent has been slow -- from a low of 19.6 percent in his second year of eligibility to last year's mark of 53.5 percent.
Second baseman Roberto Alomar (90 percent) and Blyleven (79.7 percent) earned their ticket to Cooperstown on the 2011 ballot. Morris and former Reds shortstop Barry Larkin (62.1 percent) are the top returning vote-getters from last year's ballot.
Blyleven and Rice provide the best examples of the better-late-than-never Hall of Famer, those rare candidates who are inducted after more than 10 years on the ballot. In both cases, they had to change minds among voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, and they had to have their ardent supporters.
Morris has gained backers as new voters have cycled into the pool -- writers having gained eligibility after 10 seasons of covering baseball. But as more voters have also embraced more specialized statistics, Morris has also had new challenges to induction as voters try to weigh his worthiness and find reason to induct him now after so many years.
His supporters will point to the end result. It's not just that Morris was the winningest pitcher of the 1980s -- it's that nobody else was close. Morris won 162 games from 1980-89, according to research on baseball-reference.com. The next-closest total was Blue Jays ace Dave Stieb with 140 -- essentially a great season's worth of wins as a difference.
Morris is one of those Hall of Fame candidates who can point to one game as a snapshot and not feel pigeonholed. His Game 7 performance in the 1991 World Series is one of the ultimate postseason performances -- 10 scoreless innings to outduel John Smoltz. He gave up three Atlanta runs over 23 innings for that Series and put up a 2.23 ERA for that entire postseason. He was even better for the Tigers in '84, with two complete games in the Fall Classic and seven innings of one-run ball in the American League Championship Series.
Without question, wins can't be a sole measure of a pitcher's Hall of Fame resume. It's still worth noting that every Hall-eligible pitcher who has led a previous decade in wins has been inducted, a group that includes Jim Palmer, Juan Marichal, Warren Spahn, Hal Newhouser, Lefty Grove, Burleigh Grimes, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson.
As longtime baseball columnist and Hall of Fame voter Joe Posnanski pointed out a year ago, Morris had a dozen 15-win seasons. Just nine pitchers in Major League history have more, and eight are in the Hall of Fame, with Greg Maddux on his way soon. Three of the four other pitchers with exactly 12 seasons of 15 wins are in, too.
If the question of who a random fan or writer would pitch in one must-win game came up, Morris would've been at the top of the list for many in his era.
His detractors will point to the route Morris took to get there. No Hall of Famer has been inducted with an ERA as high as Morris' mark of 3.90. For his career, his ERA was just slightly better than the league average, and he never finished better than fifth in ERA for a season. He also never won a Cy Young Award.
The debate has gone on for so long that both sides would seem entrenched, yet his numbers still move. If he can move himself a little further this time, he has a shot.