He is not at the top of my Hall of Fame list, but pitcher Jack Morris has an outside chance of being named on enough Baseball Writers Association of America ballots in order to make it to Cooperstown when voting closes for the 2012 class Saturday. I don’t think there would be loud screams from proponents of other candidates against it, nor would it be the most surprising result of all time, either.
Big Game Jack is remembered that way for his step-up-to-the-mound performances in the playoffs and World Series and that is a good reputation to have. A five-time All-Star who was on four World Series champions, Morris compiled a record of 254-186 in the majors between 1977 and 1994. He struck out 2,478 batters, but one thing that could hold him back is a career 3.90 earned run average. That’s a tad high for a Hall of Famer.
Where Jack traveled, however, success followed. He was notably a leader on the Detroit Tigers’ 1984 World Series championship team, won it all again with the Minnesota Twins, and added two more titles with the Toronto Blue Jays. If nothing else, Mr. Morris should have a very distinguished collection of jewelry.
Morris pitched a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox in 1984 and in that season of Tigers dominance he won a playoff game against the Kansas City Royals and two games in the World Series against the San Diego Padres. Morris was the winningest pitcher of the 1980s with 162 victories, but never won a Cy Young Award. He reached 20 victories in a year three times, with 20 in 1983, 21 in 1986 and 21 in 1992, yet in no season did Morris post an ERA under 3.00. A workhorse with 3,824 innings pitched in his 18 years, in Morris’ 549 appearances he relieved in just 10, all in one year.
Even as he shifted teams, Morris was the opening-day pitcher for 14 straight years for somebody. He also had 175 complete games, certainly a dying art today. One of Morris’ primary pitching weapons was the split-finger fastball, something batters came to fear. But while he was mastering it and catchers were adapting to it, Morris threw wild pitches as if they were a regular part of an at-bat, heaving 208 of them in all.
Morris was named MVP of the 1991 World Series, but his signature moment in post-season play was recorded the year before. While throwing for the Twins in 1991 Morris won 18 games and then started three times in the Series. In the decisive Game 7 against the Atlanta Braves, Morris pitched a 10-inning shutout. Minnesota won the game 1-0 and the championship.
That was the finest of Jack Morris on display. He was king of the hill at that moment. Morris flirted with greatness often in his career, but was not consistently great. He has been on the Hall of Fame ballot since 2000 and for years his support ran in the 20-to-30 percent range. All of a sudden, beginning in 2006, backing for Morris jumped. In last year’s vote Morris received approval from 53.5 percent of the voters with 75 percent needed for acceptance.
It is because of that surge in Morris’ popularity that I say he may wake up as a Hall of Famer one day. But I don’t think the right-hander demonstrated the consistent greatness needed to be classified as an immortal. This was a guy with a very solid career highlighted by moments of greatness, not greatness on a sustained level.
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