>By The Common Man
This post actually came out of a Twitter conversation that Bill and The Common Man were having yesterday. Here’s the timeline. Tyler Kepner wrote a thoughtful and persuasive article for the New York Times, in which he argues that there is room for Jack Morris in the Hall of Fame, saying “Numerous studies clearly prove that Blyleven was a lot better, so the point is not worth debating. One has nothing to do with the other…. It’s a feel thing with Morris, and that’s not always wrong. Emotions mean a lot.”
TCM agreed, saying that he would “be happy to support Jack Morris for the Hall of Fame, but only after Bert Blyleven is ushered in.” This got Bill up in arms, because Bill doesn’t think Morris is an acceptable candidate, and he challenged TCM “to explain this so we can go on being friends.” Bill’s joking, of course. We were never friends. But in the interest of continuing our productive partnership here on the site, The Common Man figures he owes you and Bill an explanation that is longer than 140 characters. So here goes:
Jack Morris does not have a strong statistical case for the Hall of Fame. Yes, he won 254 games, which is more than 27 other Hall of Fame pitchers. And his .577 winning percentage is better than Catfish Hunter, Steve Carlton, Fergie Jenkins, Early Wynn, Gaylord Perry, Robin Roberts, and Phil Niekro. But if you know anything about TCM, you know that he thinks “wins” and “W-L %” are terrible ways to judge a pitcher, since so much of what determines those statistics is out of a pitcher’s control.
If Morris were elected to the Hall of Fame, he would have the highest ERA (3.90) of any pitcher there. He would have the second worst ERA+ (105) of any pitcher in the Hall, behind only Rube Marquard and tied with Catfish Hunter. And via Wins Above Replacement, he would have the eighth lowest Wins Above Replacement (BR.com version) amongst starting pitchers. According to FanGraphs, his Wins Above Replacement would rank below David Cone, Chuck Finley, David Wells, and Bret Saberhagen. He never won a Cy Young Award. His performance as a post-season pitcher is vastly overrated. And claims that he pitched to the score are ludicrously and demonstrably wrong.
So why in the hell would The Common Man support his induction? By rights, Jack Morris would be one of the worst pitchers in the Hall of Fame. And if the case were solely about his statistics, Jack Morris falls short.
But the Hall of Fame voters have never relied solely on career statistics in making their decisions. Indeed, Waite Hoyt is in the Hall of Fame almost solely for being the ace of the 1927 and 1928 Yankees. Jack Chesbro is in the Hall of Fame because he won 41 games in 1904. Jim Rice is in because of “Teh FEAR!!!11!1!. Bill Mazeroski is in because he hit a homerun to win the 1960 World Series and because he is considered among the best defensive 2Bs in history. Ross Youngs, Freddie Lindstrom, and George Kelly are in because they had the good fortune to play with Frankie Frisch. Lloyd Waner is in because he played with his brother, and because “Little Poison” is such a cool nickname. Tinker, Evers and Chance had a poem. Hugh Duffy is in because he hit .440 one year in which the rules of the game were vastly different from how they are now. And Tommy McCarthy is in because…well, TCM isn’t rightly sure why Tommy McCarthy is in.
But the point is that there is a place for Jack Morris. None of the above players have the career statistics to justify their inclusion, but were given extra credit by the bodies that elected them for their contributions to the game’s history. A pitcher who has a marginal statistical case for the Hall of Fame can and should be given extra credit, if you will, for their contributions to the game’s history. For the “fame” part of their Hall of Fame career. And Jack Morris has plenty of fame. He holds a significant place in baseball’s history. He has a defining moment. And that moment, of course, is the famous Game Seven, in which Morris pitched 10 scoreless innings. And if 75% of the electorate get the “feeling” that Morris is a Hall of Famer because of this and his “ace”ness, maybe it’s reasonable to believe that he was.
In The Common Man’s opinion, for instance, that performance and Morris’s place in baseball history is enough to justify including him in the Hall of Fame. It is not enough to prioritize his candidacy over more deserving players like Bert Blyleven, Tim Raines, Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Jeff Bagwell, Alan Trammell, Edgar Martinez, Mark McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro, but it is enough to make TCM comfortable with the thought of him getting into the Hall of Fame, and being a deserving candidate under the precedents previously set.
There is are a couple of objections to this position, however. And that is the notion that including Morris in the Hall of Fame lowers the standards for inclusion. It’s true, if you consider Morris part of the statistical continuum on which candidates are judged, he would lower the standards. However, no one (serious) compares Ron Santo to Freddie Lindstrom when they make a Hall of Fame argument for him. No one tries to argue that Barry Larkin should get in because he’s better than Dave Bancroft or Travis Jackson. Alomar isn’t compared with Bill Mazeroski. These players exist outside of the continuum on which players are judged, either because historians and voters view their induction as mistakes or because they were elected for reasons that go beyond their career statistics. No one seems to have a particular problem doing that. It’s unclear why the practice couldn’t continue with Morris.
The other objection TCM anticipates is the idea that allowing voters to use their “feelings” to elevate a particular candidate opens the door to the Hall of Fame campaigns of Trot Nixon, Kent Hrbek, Don Mattingly and other popular players. TCM’s response would be that it’s highly unlikely that you could get 75% of voters to agree that those candidates and their contributions meet the necessary requirements for induction. But if they do, 75% is a huge burden to meet. It’s a higher percentage than is required to change the Constitution. It’s beyond a super-majority. So maybe, if 75% of voters get that “feeling,” it’s a legitimate one.
Likewise, just because a player has a significant moment wouldn’t make them Hall-worthy. Kirk Gibson could not meet the 75% requirement, even as voters consider his 1988 homerun. Orel Hershiser didn’t do enough to get in, despite his scoreless innings streak. And Bucky Dent didn’t sniff the Hall, despite his homer.
But if enough people feel that Morris’ record combined with his dramatic performance and reputation are enough to get him in, then that’s acceptable to TCM. Indeed, TCM would go so far as to encourage it, since the Hall is ultimately a museum and a keeper of the game’s great history. A history of which Morris is indelibly a part.
To be clear, The Common Man isn’t advocating for Morris to get in this year. There are too many other deserving candidates, and voters can only pick 10 of them. It’s far more important to make sure that better candidates get in. These candidates include Blyleven. But as Kepner notes, there is room for both in the Hall of Fame. It’s a big building.