Morris era intersects steroids era in latest vote

  • Article by: DENNIS BRACKIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 16, 2012 - 7:22 AM

In his 14th year of eligibility, the St. Paul native shares a Hall of Fame ballot with names like Bonds, Clemens and Sosa.

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Jack Morris won three World Series, and even though he spent only one season with the Twins, he might be best known among fans for his Game 7 victory in the 1991 Series.

Jack Morris is in his 14th -- and second to last -- year on the Hall of Fame ballot, adding personal drama in its sense of urgency to the annual vote this month by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Morris is the leading returning vote-getter after finishing second to Barry Larkin last year, but this time the St. Paul native and 1991 Twin grudgingly shares the ballot with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa, all of them alleged steroid users who are on the ballot for the first time for one of the most highly anticipated elections in baseball history.

"To me, it's frustrating to hear, 'Oh, Morris might have a chance because he's on the ballot with all the guys who did this and that,'" he said. "Wait a minute. Take that out of the picture. I'm either in or out, based on what I did. I don't think [the alleged steroid users] should have anything to do with it."

Morris, who pitched from 1977 to 1994 and won 254 games, gained 66.7 percent of the 573 ballots cast last year, meaning he needs to pick up 48 more votes -- more if the number of voters increases, as anticipated -- to reach the required 75 percent threshold. He leaves no doubt how he would vote on alleged cheaters.

"Look, guys do [performance-enhancing drugs] to get an edge," he said. "They don't feel good about their God-given ability, so they've got to have an edge. That mentality bothers me. ... I just think it's wrong for society to reward people for doing something that was definitely wrong.

"That sends the wrong message to the next generation. I know I was never raised that way, and I would not want to live that way. I didn't cheat my teammates, myself, or anybody. I'm not a perfect guy. I made a lot of bad mistakes in my life, but not in that regard."

Morris feels so strongly on that subject that he says he's even sympathetic to the voters, many of whom found him as a player to be surly and brusque. The writers, he said, will be the first official baseball entity to make a decision on suspected steroid users, since the commissioner's office has declined to become involved on matters such as placing asterisks in the record book.

"The writers have some tough decisions to make, because other people haven't," Morris said. "It's going to be interesting."

Interesting, in part, because those alleged cheaters have such gaudy numbers. Bonds has every qualification needed for admission, a seven-time NL MVP and eight-time Gold Glove outfielder who holds baseball's home run records for a single season (73) and a career (762). Clemens, too, would be a cinch first-ballot selection based on seven Cy Young Awards and a 354-184 career record. Sosa had 609 career homers and hit 60 in a season three times.

Morris' credentials, on the other hand, inspire debate, not awe.

The eye test

Morris' candidacy draws intense emotions from both sides. Unlike another ex-Twins pitcher, Bert Blyleven, who was elected in his 14th year on the ballot, Morris is not popular with baseball's statistical wing.

He never won a Cy Young Award; won fewer games than either Jim Kaat or Tommy John, neither of whom is in the Hall; and his career ERA is 3.90, higher than any enshrined pitcher.

Why Morris? His supporters point to the fact that he won more games than anyone in the 1980s, was an ace -- 14 Opening Day starts -- and earned a reputation as a big-game pitcher, in large part because of his 1-0, 10-inning victory for the Twins in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

"The majority of time, the voting is career-based," said Hall of Famer Paul Molitior, who like Morris and Hall of Famer Dave Winfield were products of St. Paul's youth program. "Every now and then there's an exception due to injury -- a [Sandy] Koufax, a [Kirby] Puckett -- people like that. I think people who understand and watch the game know the intangible aspect that goes beyond career numbers. When players dominate a decade and come up a little bit short on career numbers, those guys are still Hall of Fame players."

Morris quickly acknowledges that "Bert and I are not the same pitchers," which might explain why Morris never made a serious jump in his vote total when he shared the ballot with Blyleven for 12 years. But after Blyleven was elected in 2011, Morris' total jumped 13.2 percentage points.

That statistic favors Morris, since only one player, Gil Hodges, has had more than a 60 percent vote and failed to eventually get into the Hall of Fame -- although Orlando Cepeda and Jim Bunning were voted in by the Veterans Committee, a body that considers players who did not make it during their 15 years of eligibility.

Numbers game

Morris, who spent most of his 18 years in the majors with the Detroit Tigers, said he's proud of his rising vote total because neither he nor any of the teams he played on has mounted a formal campaign for his election. It means, he said, that writers, on their own, are coming around, even if statistics leave him in a gray area.

"Numbers are great, but you can make them into anything you want them to be," he said. "There's no number for measuring what you meant to your manager. Go ask any current manager what it meant to have a guy on his staff who, almost every game, was going to pitch into the seventh, eighth or ninth inning. To pitch 20 complete games a year. There's no number to measure what that means to a team, and to a staff, over the course of a season."

Well, there might be one number: How did the team fare? Morris was the No. 1 pitcher on three World Series champions -- Detroit in 1984, the Twins in 1991 and Toronto in 1992. Many of those who support Morris base their conviction on what is known as eye appeal, a criterion Morris clearly favors.

"What did you see with the naked eye?" he said.

"That's usually the way you pick a bride. I don't think any woman is going to be too pleased if you ask her to step on a scale, to check her numbers."

Heart and soul

A Hall of Famer? Morris would love to be elected, but even now, so close, he's not begging for votes. A man who admits he had a bad case of "self-centeredness and selfishness" as a player because of his life's purpose -- "win the next game" -- now sounds almost zen-like in his philosophy.

He's become a grandparent, owned a ranch, done baseball broadcasting and now works for MLB.com. Along the way, he says, he's learned to appreciate what he calls "the journey," and these 14 years on the ballot have been nothing if not a journey.

Life, he said, has taught him that you don't get everything you want, "no matter how much you want them." And so he'll let others debate his statistics, content in his belief that numbers alone will never tell the whole story of his career.

"What's in your heart?" Morris said.

"I played the game with my heart and soul, and gave everything I could. And what was in my soul was to win the next game, and I did pretty good at that."

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