Hal Bodley recently penned an article for mlb.com expressing bewilderment that the BBWAA had overlooked Jack Morris after 12 previous appearances on the HOF ballot. Morris is undoubtedly in a unique position; it seems quite possible that he will be the first player to receive as much hall support, (66.7% in 2012) to never reach enshrinement. That is because the next 2 years, Morris final two years of eligibility see such luminaries as Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens becoming eligible and as Bodley points out ‘before Blyleven the BBWAA had not elected a starting pitcher since Nolan Ryan was elected in 1999’.
Bodley suggests that critics go ‘just by the numbers’ when examining Morris’ case but then uses one of the most banal numbers of all to cement his own case, wins. Bodley tells us that ‘Hall of Famers Whitey Ford (236), Catfish Hunter (234) and Don Drysdale (209) all finished their careers with fewer wins than Morris (254)’.
Surely ‘the numbers’ tell the true tale of a player’s career? Particularly one that spanned 18 big league seasons, as Morris’s did. Bodley also cites Morris’s post-season record, which we will get to in a minute, but first to widen the comparison between Jack Morris and the three HOF pitchers chose to compare him to, Whitey Ford, Catfish Hunter and Don Drysdale.
Despite being bloated by a few poor seasons in the autumn of his career Morris posted a career ERA of 3.90 and a career best ERA of 3.05 in 1981 with the Detroit Tigers. This compares to Ford’s career 2.75 and career best 2.01 ERA, Hunter’s of 3.26 and 2.49 and Drysdale’s of 2.95 and 2.15, with the three averaging 15 big league seasons apiece. Examining WHIP yields similar results, Morris’s career WHIP being 1.29, Ford’s 1.21, Hunter’s 1.13 and Drysdale’s 1.14.
Looking at some other useful metrics we see Morris’s career WAR over 18 seasons standing at 39.3, while Ford’s was 55.3 over 16 seasons, Hunter’s was 32.5 over 15 seasons and Drysdale’s was 65.7 over 14 major league seasons. Clearly it is difficult to compare pitchers through different ages of baseball but if Bodley is going to compare Morris to Ford, Hunter and Drysdale, so can I! (Incidentally many of the neutralized statistics favor Ford, Hunter and Drysdale). Ford, Hunter and Drysdale each hold a Cy Young to their name, an honor Morris did not achieve in his 18 year career.
Bodley also discusses Morris’s postseason record as a legitimate reason for enshrinement stating that ‘Morris was the Game 1 Starter for 3 World Series champions – Tigers (1984), Twins (1991) and Blue Jays (1992). Morris was certainly a post-season warrior logging a post-season WHIP 0f 0.883 for the ‘84 Tigers as well as 23 innings of work in 3 starts for the ’91 Twins, including his career defining, iconic 10 inning defeat of John Smoltz in game 7 of the ’91 world series. Morris certainly upped his game for the big occasion as in the ’91 ALCS he only logged a 4.05 ERA and a WHIP of 1.35 in 2 starts against the Blue Jays. If indeed we are examining performance over a career then we also have to look at Morris’s postseason performance with the ’92 Jays. Despite their World Series win he walked 15 in 23 innings of work and gave up 19 earned runs in the same span. Despite this blight on his World Series record Morris’s transformation on he biggest stage of all was remarkable, logging 51.2 innings of work in 7 World Series starts as well as 3 complete games.
Incidentally, harkening back to Bodley’s original comparison, Morris’s World Series statistics stack up like this against Ford, Hunter and Drysdale. Ford logged 146 World Series innings (pause for face of awe) with an ERA of 2.71 and a WHIP of 1.13, his iconic performances being over the 1960 and 1961 World Series, in which he won 4 games and did not give up an earned run in 32 straight innings! Hunter logged a .625 win % in 9 World Series starts including 2 dominant performances over the 1973 New York Mets. Finally Drysdale achieved 3 complete games in his 6 World Series starts the first being as a 22 years old for the 1956 Dodgers, he finished his career with a 3-3 World Series record, a 2.95 ERA and WHIP of 1.21.
Only time will tell if Morris can get over the hump in the next 2 years. It is undeniable that he saved his absolute best for the World Series, turning out stunning performance after stunning performance including one of the defining moments in Minnesota Twins baseball history. Whether Morris receives the call or not his game 7 performance for the ’91 Twins will remain an immortal and timeless moment in baseball history. Sadly for Morris, the rest of his excellent career could never quite match his post-season transcendence.