The BBWAA Pitches a Costly Shutout Against Jack Morris

Wayne McDonnell January 9, 2013 0

The pearly gates to baseball immortality will remained closed this year as the Baseball Writers Association of America have democratically decided that no one deserves enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer. Whether it’s a result of the moral conundrums that exist due to performance enhancing substances or the influence of advanced statistical analyses, the induction ceremony will undoubtedly lack its customary excitement and universal fanfare. As Craig Biggio, Jack Morris and Jeff Bagwell take little solace in finishing in the top three spots during this year’s election, once surefire Hall of Famers are now dealing with varying levels of rejection and uncertainty. In the aftermath of the formal announcement, a profound sense of sympathy and doubt has been cast over Morris as he embarks upon his 15th and final year of eligibility on the Hall of Fame ballot.

After 13 years of intense scrutiny over his statistics, many Morris supporters viewed 2013 as the year that he would finally eclipse the 75% requirement. Instead of whisking away to a press conference at the Waldorf=Astoria in New York City, Morris is left to ponder the grim reality that he may never have a bronze plaque hanging on an oak wall in Cooperstown that celebrates his illustrious career. In a year where many anticipated Morris to make a quantum leap in the voting, he only saw a single percentage point increase from his 2012 showing on the ballot. The 1991 World Series Most Valuable Player and former ace on three ball clubs that had won world championships has seen his candidacy for baseball’s greatest honor dissected beyond belief by a new generation of baseball analysts, the electronic media and reporters. Instead of the new age statistics and sabermetrics community endorsing his candidacy, Morris has suffered at the hands of Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Earned Run Average Plus (ERA+) and Win Probability Added (WPA).

At initial glance, the modern metrics for evaluating ball players paints an ominous picture for Morris and concludes that he is not a Hall of Famer. Even if you were to compare Morris to the average statistics of a Hall of Fame pitcher in 11 traditional categories plus Wins Above Replacement (WAR), he would still be a borderline candidate at best. Currently, the Hall of Fame identifies 69 of its members as ball players that were pitchers or who at one point in their careers was a pitcher (Babe Ruth).

Only 46 pitchers in baseball history have won 250 or more games and 33 of them have a plaque hanging in the Baseball Hall of Fame. That number will exponentially increase in the coming years due to Greg Maddux (355), Tom Glavine (305), Randy Johnson (303) and Mike Mussina’s (270) inevitable elections to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Morris ranks 42nd all-time in career victories (254) and has the longest streak of 14 consecutive Opening Day starts (1980 – 1993). The five-time All Star has started three All Star Games (1981, 1985, and 1991) and had won 162 games in the decade of the 1980’s. While Morris had never won a Cy Young Award, he did finish in the top five on five different occasions.

Morris’ critics have always gravitated towards his 3.90 career earned run average which ranks him 743rd all-time. Morris’ lowest earned run average in a season (3.05) occurred in the strike shortened 1981 season. If Morris were ever to be elected to the Hall of Fame, he would have the highest earned run average of any pitcher celebrated in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. Currently, that honor belongs to former Red Sox, Yankees and White Sox pitcher Red Ruffing (3.80). Only nine Hall of Fame pitchers have a career earned run average of 3.50 or higher.

Morris’ candidacy has challenged all of us to go back and reflect on the intangibles that sabermetrics cannot and will not capture when it comes to measuring a ball player’s heart, intensity and overall influence on a ball club. He is the quintessential “throwback player” that is personified by guts and the constant pursuit of glory. Morris pitched 250 or more innings on six different occasions. Besides winning 15 or more games 12 times, he also had a streak of winning 14 or more games in a season from 1979 – 1988. In 527 career starts, Morris had pitched into the seventh inning or later on 359 occasions (68.12%).

While you have to applaud the Baseball Writers Association of America for taking a definitive stand with regard to ball players who were either associated or could have been associated with performance enhancing substances, they have inadvertently penalized Jack Morris during a critical moment in his time on the ballot. In his final year of eligibility, Morris will once again have to encounter the same cast of characters on next year’s ballot plus first time candidates such as Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina, Frank Thomas and Jeff Kent. With only 10 spots on a ballot, Morris could easily lose support and could become an afterthought.

Unless an epiphany occurs and the baseball writers begin to appreciate the significance of Morris’ intangibles as a ball player and leader, he will likely remain on the outskirts of the Hall of Fame. However, Morris could one day appear on the Expansion Era ballot every three years just like Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons and Dave Concepcion if his 15th attempt at baseball immortality is unsuccessful. In this case, the 16 member Expansion Era Committee will serve as judge, jury and executioner. Currently, Gil Hodges and Jack Morris are both inextricably tied to the fact that only two ball players have ever eclipsed 60% in the Hall of Fame voting and were never elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

While the dais at this summer’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony might look and feel strange, the festivities in 2014 could be bursting at the seams. Hopefully, the next year can provide clarity and allow the baseball writers to sift through the dense fog that is performance enhancing substances with the proper knowledge and tools. If so, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the likes of Biggio, Bagwell and Piazza join Maddux, Glavine, Thomas and possibly Mussina as members of the Class of 2014. Also, we could see the Expansion Era Committee elect a quartet of eligible managers (Torre, LaRussa, Cox, and Piniella) plus posthumous honors for Marvin Miller and George Steinbrenner as well! No matter what happens in both elections, a Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2014 would be incomplete without Jack Morris.

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