Certainly for a young man who was taken by the Detroit Tigers in the fifth round of the 1976 amateur draft after attending BYU, being considered for baseball’s Hall of Fame is an honor most can only dream about. Jack Morris was arguably Detroit’s greatest pitcher during the 1980’s and with Monday’s announcement of this year’s Hall of Fame inductees we will all find out if Morris has been chosen to be enshrined in baseball’s highest resting place in his 13th year on the ballot.
As a lifelong fan of Detroit teams who was a year old in 1987, his greatest year (in terms of WAR) as a Tiger, I certainly was introduced to his workhorse pitching style at a young age. But my father, who still wears his jerseys, will probably disown me if he hears that I question his HOF candidacy.
First off, he was the go-to guy for 3 separate World Series winning teams. The Tigers, Twins, and Blue Jays. Regardless or not if he pitched well, it’s a pretty significant stat.
He had 254 wins but only a career winning percentage of .577%. 12 seasons of 15+ wins, but needed three more peak years to all but guarantee enshrinement. His 175 complete games and 28 shutouts are impressive but could boast more of his workhorse nature than a Walter Johnson-like talent.
Jack Morris never once had an ERA under 3.00 in his career. The closest was 3.05 in 1981, followed by 3.27 in 1986. His 3.90 ERA in his career is RESPECTABLE, certainly not great. For those who do not want to hear the “sabermetrics” explanation, consider this: Every starting pitcher in the Hall of Fame had an ERA under 3.00 at least twice during their career.
His label of “greatest Tigers pitcher of the 1980’s” is certainly justifiable, but it’s not like he was Justin Verlander (who will probably be the greatest Tiger’s pitcher of all time before it’s all said and done). He never won a Cy Young Award (1981 and 1983 were his closest years with 3rd in the voting), obviously never came close to an MVP, and was simply a workhorse who was lucky enough (and well conditioned enough) to avoid injury and throw more than 17 innings in 13 of his 18 seasons.
In 1984, the Tigers won the World Series and Jack Morris was labeled the Ace that Detroit needed thanks to his 6th straight year of winning more than 14 games. Sure, his workhorse label was justified, but then consider this: Morris wasn’t even the best pitcher on his team that year. Of the five starting pitchers with at least 100 IP he was 3rd in ERA (3.60), had the most losses (11), had the 4th best SO/9 (5.5), and didn’t even lead the staff in WAR. His 2.3 was third to Willie Hernandez (4.8) and Dan Petry (3.2). My point is this: (Arguably) the Tigers would have most likely won the division, and probably even the World Series without him that year (look at that batting order). A worthy Hall of Famer has at least one ultimate period in his career in which he shone above all others. Even three separate World Series championships where he was the leader of the staff doesn’t indicate individual achievement.
And last, toss in his 3.3 walks per 9 innings, compared to only 5.8 strikeouts per 9, and we again are drawn to quantity (and ability to remain healthy) and not quality.
At a vote of 53.5% last year, Morris and his 39.3 career WAR received his highest vote since he appeared on the ballot in 2000. Whether or not he deserves to be is a debate that we all know will continue, but we will find out Monday if he needs to remain on the ballot for another two years.