Jack Morris spent 15 years on the Baseball Writers Association Hall of Fame ballot. He started with a small level of support, hanging around 20 percent of the vote his first four years. Then his climb to the 75 percent needed for election to Cooperstown kicked into gear -- and so did one of the most contentious debates in Hall of Fame history.
Morris got up to 66 percent in his 13th year. His election seemed a sure thing at that point as players usually get a big spike their final appearances on the ballot. In his 14th year, however, he climbed to just 67 percent. Then the crushing results of his final ballot: His percentage sunk to 61 percent. The analytic crowd rejoiced. The old-school group of writers -- the same writers who had never voted Morris higher than third in a Cy Young vote -- were bitter that the numbers crunchers were somehow missing a greater truth.
The Hall of Fame case for Alan Trammell, Morris’ longtime teammate with the Detroit Tigers never took off, even though by advanced metrics he had a much better case than Morris, ranking eighth all time among shortstops in WAR, just ahead of Barry Larkin, who sailed in on his third ballot. Trammell started at around 15 percent, but didn’t get to 20 percent until his ninth year on the ballot. His move came too late and with a ballot overcrowded with PED players, Trammell peaked at 40 percent his final year.
Well, Tigers fans, go book your hotel rooms in Cooperstown for the final weekend in July. Morris and Trammell will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 29. It’s a time to celebrate two memorable careers, the grit and toughness of Morris, the grace of Trammell. The 1980s are underrepresented in Cooperstown, so even though Morris is a weak Hall of Famer by the standards of those already elected, it’s also nice to see the Modern Baseball Committee actually elect a couple recent players instead of the managers, executive, former commissioners and 19th century catchers they’ve elected the past decade.
As tough as the writers have been, those various second-chance committees have been even tougher. The special committees who consider players the BBWAA passed on haven’t elected a living former player in 16 years. The only post-World War II player elected since Bill Mazeroski in 2001 was Ron Santo, and he had died the previous year, perhaps helping his case.
It’s not surprising that Morris and Trammell made it this time. Five of the six former players on the 16-person committee were American League contemporaries: George Brett, Robin Yount, Dave Winfield, Rod Carew and Dennis Eckersley. (Don Sutton was the other Hall of Fame player on the committee.) One of the executives was Paul Beeston, the president of the Blue Jays when they won two World Series with Morris on the staff. Our former ESPN colleague Jayson Stark was on the committee for the first time, and Jayson has always been a big Hall voter. It was a perfect storm to get Morris and Trammell elected.
That said, Morris’ case really does rely heavily on one game -- yes, Game 7 of the 1991 World Series remains one of the most memorable in baseball history and he deserves a certain amount of extra credit for that performance. There’s no doubt Morris was famous and he won four World Series rings (although wasn’t on the playoff roster for the Jays in 1993). The rest of his case simply falls short. For example, he finished in the top 10 in his league in ERA just five times -- no higher than fifth. He finished in the top 10 in WAR in his league just four times -- again, no higher than fifth. His 3.90 ERA will be the highest of any pitcher in the Hall of Fame and his career WAR of 43.8 ranks 61st out of 71 Hall of Fame hurlers (three of those below him were relievers). Yes, he won 254 games and the “most wins in the 1980s” stat probably helped as well. Mostly, though, I think he was helped by having some friendly faces in his favor.
Two big winners of his selection could be Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling, two strong candidates on the current BBWAA ballot. Look, the dumbest thing to do would be to start voting in everybody who had a higher career WAR than Morris, but Mussina and Schilling were so obviously better than Morris that I wonder if it helps their vote total this year (although many of the ballot may already have been turned in).
And before you point out that Mussina doesn’t have any World Series rings, I’ll point out he has a lower postseason ERA than Morris (3.42 to 3.80) in more innings. Schilling’s postseason history is essentially unrivaled.
For now, congrats to Morris and Trammell. The future will tell us if Morris’ selection opens the door for many others.