Hall of Fame call unlikely for Jack Morris

  • Article by: DENNIS BRACKIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 9, 2013 - 8:54 AM

Even after getting 66.7 percent of the vote last year, the St. Paul native's credentials are being overshadowed by the steroid era debate.

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Former Twins pitcher Jack Morris.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Jack Morris prefers to keep his Hall of Fame candidacy simple, hoping to be judged simply by what he calls "the eye test." Does a pitcher who excelled in big games, started 14 times on Opening Day and has three World Series rings look like a Hall of Famer?

Oh, if only it were that easy for Morris. The righthander has been analyzed ad nauseam by baseball's statistical wing, many of whom find his career numbers to be just short of Cooperstown. Still, he has surged enough in voting last year that his candidacy is now being analyzed by students of voting charts and trends, and at first glance those results appear more favorable to Morris.

On second glance, maybe not.

The St. Paul native and Twin for a year (1991) gained 66.7 of the vote last year, with 75 percent approval required in Hall of Fame voting by Baseball Writers' Association of America eligible members. Morris is in his 14th year on the ballot, and no player since the BBWAA began voting on an annual basis in 1966 has failed to be elected after getting more than 65 percent of the vote with at least one year remaining on the ballot.

Joe Posnanski, a former Kansas City Star columnist and now a best-selling author and one of the nation's foremost experts on Hall of Fame voting, said he initially believed Morris would be elected this year, based on the momentum generated last year. But Posnanski has changed his opinion because of the confusion that exists over what to do about first-time eligible stars from the steroid era such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa.

Posnanski said he thought Morris would look good in voters' eyes in comparison to alleged cheaters. But with several writers saying they submitted blank ballots or abstained from voting this year, and others arguing for and against the likes of Bonds and Clemens, Posnanski now believes Morris has been relegated to the background, his candidacy lost in the shuffle with no trace of significant momentum.

"I'm doubtful," Posnanski said of Morris' chances, "and I don't think it has anything to do with Morris himself. This ballot is so confused and overcrowded, and there's so much handwringing going on, he seems to be getting a little lost in the discussion."

Posnanski, for the record, is among those who believe Morris to have been a very good, but not Hall of Fame, pitcher. But even strong Morris supporters are starting to have doubts about this year.

Phil Rogers, longtime national baseball columnist for the Chicago Tribune, said he has voted for Morris every year he has been on the ballot.

"I hope he makes it this time, but the crowded ballot seems likely to work against him," said Rogers, who declines to vote for known performance-enhancing drug users, but still made nine selections on his ballot this year. Since a sizeable number of BBWAA members likely will vote for alleged steroid users Bonds and Clemens, Rogers concludes, "This could get ugly for Jack."

The baseball newsblog site, www.baseballthinkfactory.org, has collected the vote of every BBWAA member who has made his or her ballot public. As of Tuesday, the blog site had 142 ballots (24.8 percent of the vote based on last year's numbers), and Morris had been named on 63.4 percent. Craig Biggio was the leader at 68.3 percent.

Unusual voting history

Morris' history in the voting process is intriguing, full of unexpected twists and turns. Posnanski's research shows that starting with the 1966 class, 66 of 636 eligible players have been elected. Of those 66, 37 were chosen in their first year of eligibility, and 17 others getting at least 45 percent of the vote in their first year were all voted in.

Going below 45 percent in Year 1 made selection a crapshoot. Hoyt Wilhelm, Jeff Bagwell and Steve Garvey each got 42 percent of the vote their first year. Wilhelm was voted in on his eighth ballot, Garvey went 15 years without ever getting as many votes as he got the first year and Bagwell is in his third year on the ballot.

For borderline candidates, Posnanski said, the key is timing, specifically being the best in a category -- be it power hitter, hitter for average, basestealing middle infielder, starting pitcher or closer -- on the ballot in any particular year. Posnanski points out that Morris' jump from just over 53 percent in 2011 to 66.7 percent last year came after Bert Blyleven, clearly a superior pitcher statistically, was voted in, leaving Morris as the more clearcut top pitcher last season.

Morris had only 22.2 percent of the vote his first year of eligibility, stamping him as a true borderline candidate, and his vote total dropped in Year 2. But Morris' "eye test" supporters have been persuasive, taking him to the threshold.

Posnanski said he believes Morris' best chance will come next year, in his 15th and final year on the ballot. Human nature, the writer says, will make it more likely for people to be sympathetic to Morris' case.

Said Rogers: "I have sometimes voted for guys in their final years on the ballot -- [Ron] Santo and Dale Murphy, to name two. ... At some point, voting for a guy just feels like the thing to do."

But that 15th and final year for Morris would come with a danger: On the ballot for the first time next year will be 300-game winners Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, both seemingly first-ballot locks. Where would that leave Morris?

"To get the extra 8 percentage points he needs, he's got to have one more push," Posnanski said. "This year, there's just been no push for anybody."

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