What Jack Morris Would Mean to the Hall of Fame

First, a few Hall-related notes:

One of my new favorite bloggers, Diane at Value Over Replacement Grit, reminds us that “Lee Smith Cooperstown” is an anagram for “Whoops… elect on merits”. Diane’s site may keep me from getting any work done/feeding my kids/remembering my anniversary for years to come.

Another bright and prodigious blogger, William at The Flagrant Fan, thought my
100% Club piece
was the best in the BBA’s genial chapter this week. I’ll return the favor and point you all toward his brilliant piece on batted ball tendencies and why Vernon Wells is as awful as he is.

But enough about the Hall of Fame, let’s talk about the Hall of Fame. I’d rather take some time off of thinking about the injustice the writers are doing to Jeff Bagwell, so I’ll focus on another candidacy about which the voters and I disagree. Jack Morris got 67% of the vote this year, suggesting that his eventual induction may be inevitable. I just don’t get it.

We’ll start with what may be the best article about Morris and the Hall I’ve read yet, courtesy of Christina Kahrl. As Christina points out, Morris’s best contemporary comps are Rick Reuschel, Frank Tanana, Dennis Martinez, and Doyle Alexander, of whom only Alexander offered less value throughout his career than Morris, but none pitched a ten-inning shutout in Game Seven of a World Series, so no one’s trying to force-fit any of them into the Hall.

In fact, if every player with more than Morris’s 39.3 WAR (per baseball-reference) were in the Hall of Fame, there would be 135 additional plaques in Cooperstown, including those honoring Al Orth, Jack Fournier, and Morris contemporary Bob Welch.

I understand you may not agree with WAR (though I wonder what you’re doing here if that’s the case). I’m sure you’ve heard that Morris’s 3.90 ERA would be the worst in the Hall if he were elected. Of course, it’s possible, and probably likely, that a pitcher with a 3.90 might one day make the Hall of Fame. ERAs rise and fall with eras, as ballparks grow and shrink, weight training regimens change, and scouts value different skills in players. A 3.88 ERA, as Andy Pettitte maintained throughout his career in the late 1990s and early 2000s, could be as much as 17 percent better than the league average in a hitters’ era. When Red Ruffing, owner of the Hall of Fame’s current highest ERA, worked in baseball’s roaring ’30s, his 3.80 ERA was 21 percent better than average. In Morris’s era of skinny arms and mustaches, 3.90 was five percent better than league average.

Five percent. If we put Morris in the Hall of Fame, do we have to put every pitcher who was five percent better than the league over a long career in Cooperstown too? If we do, and we draw the line at 1,000 innings pitched, we’re adding 433 new pitchers to the Hall of Fame, including such legends as Bump Hadley, Geoff Zahn, and, when he’s eligible, Tomo Okha.

But Morris’s ERA doesn’t define his case. His supporters like to tell us that he had more wins than any pitcher in the ’80s. While it’s foolishly arbitrary to draw lines at the beginning and end of any ten-year period, let alone a calendar decade, and find out who led his league in a certain stat over that time, some voters seem to think it makes sense. To those voters, I say let’s elect Mark Grace, who had the most hits in the ’90s. At least hits are an individual statistic, as opposed to wins, which are earned by teams and credited to the pitcher who happened to be in the right place at the right time.

I’m sure we could find hundreds more non-Hall-of-Famers who led some decade in something. In the 1950s, Ellis Kinder’s 96 saves led all of baseball. Let’s put him in the Hall. What’s that? Saves were irrelevant in the ’50s because the closer role hadn’t been invented? That’s true, but pitcher wins have always been irrelevant. Even if we use the ’80s, when most teams had closers and started limiting them to the ninth inning, we’d have to induct Jeff Reardon if we want the decade’s save leader in bronze.

From 1910 to 1919, Gavvy Cravath led the majors in home runs with 116. Home runs may be the Hall voters’ favorite statistic (or at least they may have been until they started assuming everyone who hit a bunch of them cheated), but nobody put Gavvy in.

From 1970 to 1979, Al Oliver had the most doubles of any Hall-eligible player (isn’t it fun ignoring Pete Rose in these discussions?). Fit him for a plaque, right next to Gus Suhr, who led the 1930s in triples.

Maybe some voters don’t care about Morris’s alleged superiority to the pitchers of his era. Maybe they’re focused on that Game Seven. It’s true that few pitchers have one game as dominant as that one on their resumes, but Don Larsen threw a perfect game in the World Series. Should we ignore his 81-91 career record and below-average ERA and throw him in Cooperstown too? Is there room for Edgar Renteria, a two-time World Series hero? How about Kirk Gibson, author of perhaps the most indelible World Series image of the decade Morris “dominated”?

I can respect a Hall argument that doesn’t use WAR or conflicts with my beliefs about the relative importance of longevity and peak value. I have a hard time buying arguments based on arbitrary cutoff lines, one-game sample sizes, and which rotation spot a pitcher most often occupied (the “ace” of three championship teams mantra). Jack Morris is hardly a “borderline” Hall of Famer. His induction would drop the standard for pitchers in the Hall more than any induction since Catfish Hunter’s, if not Rube Marquard’s.

We’ve got a lot of great pitchers hitting the ballot over the next few years- Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Mike Mussina, even David Wells. For the Hall of Fame’s sake, let’s hope the voters realize how much better all of them were than Jack Morris.

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2 Responses to What Jack Morris Would Mean to the Hall of Fame

  1. dianagram says:

    Thanks for the shout-out! Feeling is mutual.

  2. Jim Falato says:

    I don’t like WAR because it’s too subjective. That & the formulas have been modified 2 times in last 2 Seasons, so how solid a measurement can it be. Also, I’m not a Jack Morris guy, but I don’t think Curt Schilling should be considered for HOF ahead of Morris. Schilling had phenominal Post Season Records, but his Regular Seasons were a Roller Coaster of Super-to-Average-to-Poor over 20 years. Schilling never had more than 4 Seasons back-to-back with .500 win %. His 1st 4 Seasons he wasn’t even a starter, and was a mediocre relief pitcher. So, for me dropping Jack Morris is okay, but you should drop Curt Schilling & 216 wins in 20 yrs too.

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