Jack Morris on Hall of Fame: 'I think my record speaks for itself'

One of the longest-running debates around the Baseball Hall of Fame could get another jolt in the next week or two.

The Modern Baseball Committee, which meets every two years and considers players, managers, umpires and executives who made their greatest contribution to the game between 1970 and 1987, is expected to release its latest ballot for Cooperstown on Nov. 4.

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Several notable players will be eligible on the veterans’ ballot for the first time, including Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker and one of the more controversial candidates in recent years, Jack Morris.

Morris went 254-186, won the most games in the 1980s and had an all-time great outing in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, but fell just short of Cooperstown in his 15 years on the writers’ ballot. Several things hurt his case, including a 3.90 ERA, underwhelming sabermetric stats and, perhaps, some backlash. At some point, his Hall candidacy became about more than him, attracting a heated battle between different schools of baseball thought.

It might have left Morris jaded. The 62-year-old, who played from 1977 through 1994, hesitated during a phone interview this week when asked whether he considered himself a Hall of Famer.

“I don’t know what that means anymore, quite honestly,” Morris told Sporting News. “The older I get, the less significant it is for me, mainly because I think the whole point of being elected to that is for your era, for your time, when you’re young enough to appreciate it all. The older you get, the less you can care about it all, awards and all that kind of stuff. Frosting on the cake is probably bad for you in a lot of ways. You get fat.”

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But he still has no doubt about his ability.

“I just look and I compare myself to the guys that I played with,” Morris said. “I could play with any of them. I think my record speaks for itself. I’ve been hurt a little bit by a high earned run average, and I just start laughing because when you pitch the same amount of innings that I did and face guys four and five times a game … it’s like, ‘I don’t care if I give up two runs here, as long as I win the game. We go home, we’re winners.’”

He continued: “I don’t think writers can comprehend that. I don’t think they care about that, but they have something they can point a finger at. ‘Hey, look at his ERA. It’s not good enough.’”

Morris is in luck about at least one thing, though: Writers will likely make up just 25 percent of the Modern Baseball Committee, which is set to review his Hall of Fame case at the winter meetings in December. Unlike his years on the writers’ ballot, some of Morris’s greatest champions, former players, will have equal say this time.

Cooperstown chances: 75 percent

Why: Morris’ Hall of Fame candidacy has long seemed more a matter of when than if, though it remains no sure thing.

For one thing, the Modern Baseball Committee might have a packed slate of candidates. Ballots for the Era Commitees, which the Hall of Fame insituted after the 2010 election in place of its usual Veterans Committee system, typically feature 10 or 12 candidates.

If the Hall of Fame sticks with its practice of reserving half the spots on the ballot for managers, umpires and executives, that leaves five or six spots for Morris and a number of other well-known players.

Aside from Morris, Trammell, Whitaker and Smith, other eligible players include: Vida Blue, Dave Concepcion, Darrell Evans, Dwight Evans, Steve Garvey, Bobby Grich, Keith Hernandez, Tommy John, Thurman Munson, Dale Murphy, Graig Nettles, Al Oliver, Dave Parker, Dan Quisenberry, Ted Simmons, Dave Stieb and Luis Tiant.

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More than likely, the majority of these men aren’t going to make the ballot and will have to wait two years to even be considered again. It’s an inefficient system, which seems to be what the Hall of Fame wants with veteran candidates. After all, just three dead players — Joe Gordon, Ron Santo and Deacon White — and no living ones have gotten in Cooperstown through the veterans’ system in the past 15 years.

Morris has no problem, though, with a spotlight shining on two former Tigers teammates who have strong chances to at least make the ballot.

Asked whether he thought Alan Trammell was a Hall of Famer, Morris said, “I base it all on, ‘If X, Y and Z are Hall of Famers, then A, B and C should be, too.’ Therefore, yeah, Trammell’s a Hall of Famer in my book. He would be anyway, just for me because of what he meant to me. Same with Lou. They’re both guys that made my career significantly better.”

Another favorite Hall of Fame candidate for Morris, Jim Kaat, may or may not make the ballot this year given the years his career spanned, 1959-1983.

“I don’t know if there’s a writer that grew up in the … digital world of all the numbers (who) understands what it takes to be on a major league team for 26 straight years,” Morris said. “He’s got Gold Gloves. I mean, the guy was fabulous. He’s a Hall of Famer in my mind.”

He added: “To me, he’s a Hall of Famer as a player and a Hall of Famer as an announcer.”

Morris might have the best chance of any player on the ballot, largely because of the support he has from former players. Kaat’s among his supporters. So is a high-profile teammate. When asked about Morris’s candidacy during an interview in early 2016, Trammell thanked me for asking him. Then he gave a plug for Morris.

MORE: Alan Trammell on Hall of Fame: ‘The numbers are there’

Will this be enough to get Morris in this year? It remains to be seen, though it would be unusual if he falls too drastically short of the 75 percent of the vote he needs from the 16-member committee.

His 3.90 ERA could remain a roadblock with voters. Detractors point out that even when adjusting for his ballpark and the era in which he played, Morris was only about 5 percent better than an average pitcher for run allowance. Morris and his supporters say he pitched to the score.

While analyst Joe Sheehan seemingly debunked this concept in a 2003 Baseball Prospectus study, players such as Kaat and Morris have spoken to it. Asked how pitching to the score might work, Morris broke it down.

“You ever had an outfielder yelling at you ‘cause you’re nibbling, throwing the balls around the outside part of the plate, making the game last four hours like today’s game?” Morris said. “We had players that would yell at you, ‘Throw the ball over.’ So you tend to want to throw the ball over.”

Morris continued: “When you have four runs to work with, you give up a solo home run, you give up two hits and a run, you still win the game. You give up one more run but you still win the game. Everybody’s happy because it was a three-hour game instead of a four-hour game.”

MORE: Dave Stieb on HOF: ‘I surely did not deserve to be just wiped off the map’

Whatever happens this year with his Hall of Fame candidacy, Morris has his memories and accolades, such as Game 7 of the 1991 World Series when he was with the Twins. Morris recalled a calmness that came over him after teammate Kirby Puckett homered to win Game 6.

“It was something I had never felt before, and I knew we were going to win,” Morris said. “I knew that we were going to have a good day.”

He slept well that night. When he got to the ballpark, scheduled to pitch against future Hall of Famer John Smoltz, Morris got a standing ovation walking to the bullpen, “something that had never happened in my career.

“As the game went on, I was able to reflect upon it. … It was real time. I looked up at the crowd and I saw myself sitting up there. I saw my neighbors, my friends. It was my community. I wasn’t about to let ‘em down.”

Morris famously won a 10-inning, 1-0 shutout. He still ribs Smoltz, a fellow baseball announcer, about it.

“I tease him to this day — if he was any good, he would have played for 16 innings with me and we would have been in the record books,” Morris said.

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