Known throughout his career as a big-game pitcher and front-end rotation workhorse, Jack Morris has seen his endurance fully tested on the Hall of Fame ballot.
He’s lasted 15 years on the ballot without receiving the requisite 75 percent of the votes to have his own plaque in Cooperstown, N.Y., and now he’s nearly out of time. The Hall of Fame announcement on Wednesday will be Morris’ last year in which he’s eligible to be voted in by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The St. Paul native won 254 games in his career, was on three World Series champions, won at least 20 games three times and threw a no-hitter. But he has become one of the biggest borderline cases in Hall of Fame voting history.
He sounds now like someone once uncomfortable with being a borderline case who now understands the process.
“I wish I could have really let that settle in,” Morris said. “I have [understood the debate] over the last five years, but for eight, nine years [before that] it was kind of eating away at me. What was going on? How does this process work? Why is it the way it is? And know I realize it is what it is because that’s the way it has always been.
“The second point is that I’m, in a crazy sort of way, kind of glad it’s over. I was flattered for quite some time that they were talking about me and now I’m kind of tired that they are talking about me and arguing about me and have to stand up or stand down for me. I’ve had it. I’m sick of hearing about myself.”
He once received less than 20 percent of the vote but last year received 67.7 percent — only 42 votes shy of reaching that 75 percent threshold needed for enshrinement. But this year’s 36-man ballot includes first-timers in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas — considered favorites to be elected — as well as Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent.
If Morris joined Maddux, Glavine and Thomas it would be the first time since 1955 that the BBWAA has voted in four players. And former Houston second baseman Craig Biggio is the top returning vote-getter, having garnered 68.2 percent of the votes last year.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Morris said. “There are a ton of guys on the ballot this year, and a lot of them are worthy candidates.”
Morris has never won a Cy Young award, and his career ERA of 3.90 would be the highest of any pitcher in the Hall. But those who watched Morris pitch remember him as the go-to guy of his era. He began his World Series career by going 4-0 with a 1.54 ERA, including one of the best starts in World Series history when he pitched 10 innings to help the Twins beat Atlanta 1-0 in Game 7 of 1991.
Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated pointed out last month that, among all pitchers who debuted between Bert Blyleven and Roger Clemens, Morris won the most games (254), completed the most games (175, and it wasn’t close), posted the second-best winning percentage (.577) and had the second-most strikeouts (2,478).
“The strength of Morris’ candidacy derives mostly from the volume of his work measured against his peers through this transitional period,” Verducci wrote. “He was a workhorse who gobbled up innings as an ace, not just as a rotation filler. Nobody else in his era equaled him in that regard, especially when you talk about the harsher duty [otherwise known as the designated hitter] in the American League.”
But Morris’ WAR (wins above replacement) of 43.8 is below the average Hall of Fame pitching WAR of 69 and would rank 37th among 46 starters enshrined. Jay Jaffe, who does a terrific job breaking down Hall of Fame candidates for Sports Illustrated, pointed out that Morris’ ERA+ (adjusted to the player’s ballpark) of 105 would be the third-lowest among Hall of Famers.
“Morris was gritty, gruff and exceptionally durable, and he saved his bullpens a whole lot of work,” Jaffe wrote last month, “but he simply didn’t prevent runs in the manner of an elite pitcher, and any modern reckoning of his value illustrates that definitively.”
If Morris doesn’t get the call to the Hall, he would join Gil Hodges as the only two players to not be elected after passing the 50 percent voting threshold. Their cases could, unfortunately for Morris, follow the same path.
Hodges, in his 13th year on the ballot, finished third in 1981 voting with 60.1 percent of the vote. The next year, Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson were first-ballot Hall of Famers as Hodges slid down to seventh, receiving just 49.4 percent of the vote. Hodges finished seventh again in 1983, his final year on the ballot.
Morris has finished second in each of the past two seasons, receiving 66.7 percent of the votes in 2012 and 67.7 last year. But Morris could see his momentum obliterated, like Hodges, by Maddux, Glavine and Thomas being eligible this year.
And if Morris doesn’t get in today, it will be a few years before he would be eligible to be considered by the Veterans Committee. Candidates to be evaluated by the committee have been separated into three eras: Expansion (1972-present), Golden (1947-72) and Pre-Integration (1871-1946), with one era voted on each year. The Expansion era this year is inducting Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre and Bobby Cox. Golden era candidates will be voted on for enshrinement in 2015, followed by the Pre-Integration era in 2016.
So Morris’ next shot at the Hall won’t come until 2017 if he’s not voted in now.