The debate over Jack Morris’ place in baseball history has gone on almost as long as his big-league career. No wonder Morris felt relief, along with disappointment, when his Hall of Fame ballot eligibility expired with the righthander still uninvited to Cooperstown.
Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas will be inducted in July, the baseball museum announced Wednesday, but the St. Paul native and MVP of the Twins’ 1991 World Series championship was excluded for the 15th time.
“I’ve very glad it’s over,” Morris, 58, told mlb.com after learning that he was named on only 61.1 percent of ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in his final year on the ballot, well short of the 75 percent plurality required for enshrinement. “Fifteen years of being critiqued ought to be enough for anybody.”
Actually, the debate is only suspended, not extinguished, since Morris will be eligible in three years to be considered anew by a veterans committee that includes several Hall of Famers. “I’m going to be a guy who’s probably going to be at the center of attention for quite some time,” said Morris, who won 259 games over his 18 seasons with the Tigers, Twins, Blue Jays and Indians, “even though I’ve had enough of it.”
The 571 voters increasingly seem to have had enough of candidates with links to performance-enhancing drugs; Roger Clemens (35.4 percent), Barry Bonds (34.7), Mark McGwire (11.0), Sammy Sosa (7.2) and Rafael Palmeiro all received fewer votes this year than in 2013. Palmeiro — one of four players in history to eclipse both 3,000 hits and 500 home runs — was named on just 25 ballots, or 4.4 percent, falling below the 5 percent necessary to remain on the 2015 ballot.
With no suspicion about steroids, there were no such concerns for the three all-time greats elected on Wednesday. Maddux was chosen on 555 ballots (and left off of 16), for 97.2 percent, the eighth-highest percentage of all time. Glavine followed at 525 votes or 91.1 percent. Thomas received 478 votes, or 83.7 percent, and became the first player elected who spent the majority of his career as a designated hitter.
All three were appearing on the ballot for the first time, and will be inducted July 27 along with managers Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre.
The Class of 2014 just missed growing to seven, but former Astros catcher and infielder Craig Biggio fell two votes short of election, finishing with 427 votes or 74.8 percent of the ballots. Mike Piazza came in fifth with 62.2 percent; both Biggio and Piazza were on the ballot for only the second time, and figure to eventually reach 75 percent.
Of course, Morris once appeared a decent bet to get there, too, but peaked at 67.7 percent a year ago. A customary final-year push, the sort that carried Jim Rice to Cooperstown in 2009, failed to develop, partly due to a ballot overcrowded with controversial candidates, and partly due to a campaign, fueled largely by statistic-oriented skeptics on the internet, to deny him entry.
“It sure seemed as though there was a focus by some to dispel Jack’s Hall of Fame worthiness, so to speak,” said Twins president Dave St. Peter. “It’s ironic that a lot of the sabermetricians who tried to help Bert Blyleven’s [candidacy] worked against Jack’s.”
But Morris said he respects his critics. “I have to accept [that] a percentage of the writers have determined that, for now anyway, I’m not a Hall of Famer, and that’s fine. They have their opinion. It’s America,” Morris told mlb.com. “I cannot begrudge anybody for whatever their opinion is.”
The opinion of those close to him didn’t change, no matter the vote total.
“We’re very disappointed, like a number of people in baseball. Most of us thought last year was probably Jack’s best shot at getting in, that it would be a tough go this year, and that proved out,” said Tom Kelly, who managed Morris during the Twins’ championship season in 1991. “I think he understands — I hope he does — that in a lot of people’s minds, he’s the guy. He was an ace, a true ace. Maybe that’s not enough, but there’s no doubt that he’s a Hall of Famer.”
“Whether he got the votes or not, Jack’s legacy is secure,” St. Peter added. “There are a lot of people here with the Twins — we know what Jack Morris meant to our club. We wouldn’t be wearing these [1991 championship] rings without him.”