While some former baseball players on Wednesday failed to become first-ballot Hall of Famers, Jack Morris has no other choice but to try to be a last-ballot Hall of Famer.
The Baseball Hall of Fame announced that no one was elected for just the eighth time in the history of the vote. For Morris, the St. Paul native and one-time Twin, it was the 14th time he was not named on at least 75 percent of the ballots (the threshold for enshrinement).
Morris was named on 385 of the 569 ballots (67.7 percent), which was 42 votes shy of the 427 needed for election and just three votes more than a year ago. Only former Houston Astros stalwart Craig Biggio, in his first year on the ballot, got more votes (388).
Now Morris has one final chance at being elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America. If he's not elected in 2014, his case will head for the Veterans Committee.
While Morris didn't return phone calls Wednesday, his supporters spoke up for him.
"I'm very disappointed," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I feel frustrated for Jack, I'm very biased but he put rings on guys' fingers and was one of the best pitchers I've had the pleasure of watching. He was old school, he liked to finish what he started and did that many times. Unfortunately, he's in a position that other people control."
No one was elected by the BBWAA for the first time since 1996. The appearance of several players linked to performance-enhancing drugs on the ballot might have hurt Morris' chances this year.
"I just think the writers were in uncharted waters more than ever, with the big names coming on that were swirling in controversy," Hall of Famer Paul Molitor said. "It unfortunately kind of brought a cloud over this year's vote that Jack might have been somehow affected. I don't think anyone has climbed the way he has to the level he has and all of a sudden leveled off in his 14th year."
But that will be the concern going into his final year on the ballot.
Biggio will get more support in his second year on the ballot. Jeff Bagwell (59.6 percent) and Mike Piazza (57.8) are moving into contention. What will make Morris' case even tougher will be the additions of more formidable candidates on the ballot.
Pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and slugger Frank Thomas will appear on the ballot for the first time and are threats for first-ballot induction. Thomas' numbers will look attractive because he's never been linked to PEDs.
If that wasn't enough, Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina will also be on next year's ballot.
Morris has come a long way from 2000, when he received 22.2 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot. Will there be enough votes out there a year from now?
"You don't know how much sentimentality will be attached to Jack in his last year [on the ballot] that might sway a few people who didn't cross this year," Molitor said.
Morris was the winningest pitcher in the 1980s, and his 254 victories since the designated hitter was implemented are the third most. In 16 seasons as a full-time starter, he had a winning record 14 times. He won at least 17 games eight times; three of those times he was a 20-game winner.
Few pitchers looked more comfortable at the front of a rotation than Morris, who took the ball in big games, stopped losing streaks, extended winning streaks and saved his bullpen. Former Twins manager Tom Kelly simply referred to Morris once as "a horse."
But Morris never won a Cy Young Award and his 3.90 ERA would be the highest of any pitcher in the Hall. Those factors, plus an expanding list of formidable candidates, will make Morris' final year on the ballot a suspenseful one. He'll have one more chance to join Molitor and Dave Winfield as Hall of Famers from St. Paul.
"I hope those people pull their heads out and put one of my idols where he belongs, the Hall of Fame," Gardenhire said. "They need to finish what he started. He did his part. He wasn't just a gunslinger, he was a stud."