The Case For Jack Morris
We're going to step into the Way-Back Machine here for a second, so bear with us.
We love, nay worship, the Minnesota Twins. If you couldn't figure that out, then why the hell are you reading a blog titled "Off The Baggie". Oh, I see, you thought it had something to do with pot... Get a job stoner...
Anyway, one of the happiest moments of our childhood back in South Dakota was the 1991 World Series. The world stood still for 7 glorious games that October. Kirby was the man back then. Where we lived, fat people were meant to lay around watching TV, not rob home runs. When he hit that game 6 shot into space, we wept just a little.
All this being said, the most admirable performance of that series wasn't from the rotund one. It was Jack Morris and his game 7 masterpiece. 10 innings, 7 hits, 0 earned runs. As one Twin Cities reporter put it "Morris could have outlasted Methusela".
Normally we're not ones to post someone elses work, but this is just too good. Someone by the name of Gary Zwillinger left this as a comment on one of our posts, and it must be shared. Wherever and whoever you are Gary Zwillinger, you will forever be a friend.
THE CASE FOR JACK MORRIS
In his first year of eligibility for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001, Jack Morris received 101 out of a possible 515 votes cast (19.61%). In his second year, Morris received a similar number and percentage (97 votes out of 472 votes cast – 20.55%). His third year bumped that percentage to approximately 23%. Over the last few years, his numbers have risen to 42.1%. In order to be elected, a candidate must receive at least 75% of the votes cast.
The question is why would the man who: (i) won more games than any major league pitcher during the decade of the 1980’s; (ii) is generally credited with having pitched the defining 7th game of a World Series; (iii) whose 254 career wins exceeds the career win totals of Hall of Famers Carl Hubbell, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Jim Bunning, Hal Newhouser and Bob Lemon, among others, and (iv) was called by Hall of Fame baseball writer Peter Gammons, the “best of his time, especially when it counted. It never dawned on me that he wouldn't be a first-ballot winner”; be on a course to languish among the large group of “good but not worthy” pitchers over the course of a “solid” career.
The answer, as set forth in this presentation, is that the absence of one or two magnificent “career” years or one meteoric statistic has allowed a clearly worthy Hall of Fame career to be obscured.
The purpose of this presentation is to set the record straight and make the case for Jack Morris’ entry into the Hall of Fame.
THE FACTS AND THE ARGUMENT
The game of comparisons among pitchers from different decades is a tricky one. The use of the total number of wins as the basis for either side of an argument (e.g. Morris won 70 less games than Don Sutton but was clearly more dominant and worthy, or Morris won 89 more games than Sandy Koufax but never reached his heights) provides support for Mark Twain’s distrust for statistics. However, a pitcher’s dominance in comparison to the other pitchers of his time, during the bulk and prime of an extended career, must be a valid yardstick for analysis.
Morris’ prime was the 14-year period from 1979-1992 (he pitched only 151 innings before 1979 and only 2 years after 1992). During that period, his 233 wins were not only the most by a major league pitcher, they were shockingly the most by 41 games (Bob Welch was next at 192, 174 for Dave Stieb and 168 for Nolan Ryan).
The purpose of this analysis is not to detract from Nolan Ryan, but it’s hard to ignore that during a 14 year period of what is Ryan’s “second prime” (it is, after all, Ryan’s longevity and strikeout numbers which propelled him into the Hall so overwhelmingly), Morris outwins the near unanimous first rounder by 65 games.
It’s instructive that 14 consecutive years seems to be an accurate yardstick for great pitchers who stake their Cooperstown claim on the strength of their “prime” (we’ll call them the “Prime Pitchers”) as opposed to the group of great pitchers who base their claims on longevity (we’ll call them the “Endurers”).
Step back 10 years from Morris’ prime and look at the great pitchers of the late 60’s and 70’s. In what is the prime of the great Tom Seaver (1969-1982 - remember 1969 is the “Miracle Mets” year when Seaver wins 25), Seaver wins one game less than Morris in his 14 year prime (233 for Morris and 232 for Seaver). The 14-year period from 1961 to 1974 for Bob Gibson shows Gibson winning 242 games, 9 more than Morris. Jim Palmer’s 14 year prime (1969-1982) has him winning 240 games (7 more than Morris). Steve Carlton’s 14-year prime (1969-1982) is the best of that era at 258 wins followed by Gaylord Perry (14-year prime from 1966-1979) at 255 wins. Ferguson Jenkins’ 14 year prime (1967-1980) is next at 251 wins. Other than the somewhat earlier era career of Warren Spahn (the tops at 270 during his 14 year prime from 1947-1960), the only other two post World War II pitchers to win more than Jack Morris in their 14 consecutive year primes are Greg Maddux ( 1987-2000 – 238 wins – 5 more than Morris) and Juan Marichal (1961-1974 – 237 wins - 4 more than Morris). All of the above are Hall of Famers (including the certain future entry of Maddux)
The following Prime Pitchers fall short of Morris’ 233 wins in his 14-year prime:
• Whitey Ford (1953-1966) 225 wins (Hall of Famer)
• Jim Bunning (1957-1970) 221 wins (Hall of Famer)
• Roger Clemens ((1986-1999) 231 wins (Certain Future Hall of Famer)
• Don Drysdale (1956-1969) full career – 209 wins (Hall of Famer)
• Tom Glavine (1987-2000) 208 wins (Maybe Future Hall of Famer)
• Dennis Martinez (1977- 1990) 159 wins (Unlikely Hall of Famer)
• Robin Roberts (1949-1962) 227 wins (Hall of Famer)
• Bob Welch (1979-1992) 192 wins (Unlikely Hall of Famer)
When we jump to the “Endurers” and give each of them the benefit of the doubt by counting only their “best” 14 years as the basis for the comparison (rather than any one 14 year consecutive period) Morris’ case for immediate entry into Cooperstown is only strengthened. The near unanimous first rounder, Nolan Ryan’s best 14 years gives him 10 less wins than Morris’ prime (Morris’ 233 wins to Ryan’s 223 wins). Bert Blyleven’s so far unsuccessful attempt is based on longevity and strikeouts. Blyleven’s best 14 years are the same as Ryan’s – 223 wins and 10 less than Morris’ prime. Other relevant Endurers and their best 14 years are as follows:
• Orel Hersheiser ---196 wins ---37 less than Morris’ Prime (Unlikely Hall of Famer)
• Bob Feller ---242 wins ---9 more than Morris’ Prime (Hall of Famer)
• Catfish Hunter ---222 wins --- 11 less than Morris’ Prime (Hall of Famer)
• Jim Kaat --- 228 wins --- 5 less than Morris’ Prime (Maybe Future Hall of Famer)
• Jimmy Key ---185 wins --- 48 less than Morris’ Prime (Unlikely Hall of Famer)
• Phil Niekro --- 236 wins --- 3 more than Morris’ Prime (Hall of Famer)
• Don Sutton ---228 wins --- 5 less than Morris’ Prime (Hall of Famer)
• Early Wynn --- 237 wins --- 4 more than Morris’ Prime (Hall of Famer)
• David Cone --- 182 wins – 51 less than Morris’ Prime (Unlikely Hall of Famer)
Whether it’s the “Prime Pitcher” analysis or the “Endurer” analysis, the answer is the same. The only pitchers greater than Morris are the consensus Hall of Famers: Seaver, Palmer, Gibson, Carlton, Jenkins, Perry, Marichal, Maddux (when he retires), Feller, Niekro, Spahn and Wynn. The others who have made it as well as those who haven’t are not at his level and the numbers bear that out.
On a more typical time analysis, the winners of the most games in every decade in the 20th century are all existing. or in the singular case of the 1990's and Greg Maddux, future Hall of Famers except for one; Jack Morris. The 00’s found Grover Cleveland Alexander as the pitcher with the most wins. The 10’s was led by Walter Johnson; the 20’s by Burleigh Grimes; the 30’s by Lefty Grove, and Hal Newhouser was the winningest pitcher in the 40’s. Probably more instructive is the comparison of Morris with the “modern” pitchers. When you make that comparison, Morris is right in the middle of that group and belongs with them in Cooperstown. They are as follows:
1950’s Spahn 3 more wins than the next highest, Robin Roberts
1960’s Marichal 33 more than the next highest, Don Drysdale
1970’s Palmer 8 more than the next 3 highest, Jenkins, Seaver and Carlton
1980’s MORRIS 22 more than next highest, Dave Stieb
1990’s Maddux 12 more than next highest, Tom Glavine
Jack Morris is in the rarified air that Hall of Famers occupy. His absence would be a great injustice.
Morris’ curricula vitae is as follows:
• Greatest 7th game pitching performance in World Series History (Game 7, 1991, 10 IP – 0 ER – 7 hits- Winning Pitcher in 1-0 victory over Braves)
• One of the Innovators of the Split Fingered Fastball
• 1979-1992 – 233 Wins- 41 more than the next highest total and 65 more than Nolan Ryan
• 254 career wins in 527 starts – comparable to Jim Palmer’s 268 career wins in 521 starts (consider the talent of the Orioles teams over Palmer’s career against that of Morris’ Tigers)
• 3 seasons with 20 wins or more – compared with Don Sutton’s 1 season- Jim Bunning’s 1 season
• 5 seasons with 17 wins or more (but less than 20 wins). Ryan had 3 - 17+ seasons
• 3824 innings pitched – 6X 250+ innings – 11X 200+ innings
• Pitched on 4 World Champions – Ace of 3 of those teams with a World Series record of 4 wins – 2 losses and a 2.96 ERA in the World Series
• Acknowledged big time clutch pressure pitcher
• Unquestioned Pitcher of the 1980’s
• Pitched a No-Hitter
• Started 14 consecutive Opening Day games during his career, tying him with the great Walter Johnson for most consecutive Opening Day games
• Acknowledged number one pitcher on 1984 Detroit Tigers – one
of baseball’s all time great teams
Absent from the c.v. is any Cy Young Award. He never led the league in ERA. He led
the league in strikeouts only once, innings pitched only once and games won twice.
The picture is clear. While he never dominated for one year in a Koufax or Gibson mode, he did, perhaps more importantly, dominate his era with a magnitude that is the equivalent, at least, of the greatest modern day pitchers. He was the clutch pitcher of his generation and his success in the World Series venue bears that out. When you stack up the numbers, Morris is outperformed only by the most “elite” pitchers of the modern day. Other than those most elite (Seaver, Palmer, Gibson, Carlton, Perry, Spahn, Maddux, Jenkins) existing Hall of Famers fall consistently short of his greatness.
Morris is a Hall of Famer, plain and simple. The absence of a few stellar years or a Ryan like strikeout ability has to be the answer for the results of his first 2 years on the Hall of Fame ballot. BBWAA writers should take note and correct this mistake. Morris may not be the media friendly quote machine of someone like Palmer, but his dominance of his era over an extended career means he belongs there beside Palmer, Seaver, Gibson and Carlton in Cooperstown.
**Update: While we really love the debate that this article has generated, we have to mention once more that we did not write this. If anyone who reads this knows Gary Zwillinger, please hook us up with some contact information so we can get him the credit he deserves for such intelligent work. Whether you agree with him or not, you have to admit it's pretty damn well written...
**Another Update: This post has spawned the most intelligent debate we've ever had here. If you don't believe us, just look at the comments. Not single use of the word "Poop" or any sentence that threatens our lives because of our hatred for Phil Mickelson.