Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jack Morris is going to be a Hall of Famer, and that's OK.

By Bill

I've been about as critical of Jack Morris -- or, more accurately, of his Hall of Fame case -- as anyone traversing this here information superhighway ever has been. I'm not ashamed. One post in particular was probably one of my two or three favorites among all the baseball things I've ever written, comparing Bert Blyleven to Morris + Mariano Rivera.

But that's enough, now. More than enough. By now, every single person in a position to care -- and that includes every single BBWAA voter, or close enough to it -- has heard all the arguments. They know he wasn't really the best pitcher of the 1980s, that his career stats don't stand out in any meaningful way from those of Frank Tanana or Dennis Martinez, that his ERA was only a touch better than average, and would be the highest of any pitcher in the Hall. They even know -- or have heard, at least, if they won't allow themselves to be convinced -- that he didn't actually "pitch to the score." There's nothing new under the Jack Morris world's intense angry red mustachioed sun.

Oh, there might be new ways to say things to keep it interesting and worth saying -- I'd humbly suggest that the post above might have qualified, and this one last week, by BPro's Jonathan Bernhardt, certainly did -- and every now and then you might just need to lash out against something that's obviously, objectively wrong and happens to be about Morris ... but just spitting out stats and comps and telling people he's not qualified, whether on Twitter or your blog or anywhere else, doesn't cut it anymore. It's browbeating, and it's counterproductive at this point.

Here's the thing: he's going in. There's absolutely nothing you, or I, or all of us together can do about that. And that's okay.

Well, it's not quite a sure thing he's going in. Chris Jaffe, who is normally very good at these things, doesn't think it's likely. Rany Jazayerli credited David Schoenfield (can't find the original source) with the observation that after picking up 68% of the vote in 1998, Tony Perez fell to 61% in '99, with the debuts of George Brett, Robin Yount, Nolan Ryan and Carlton Fisk on the ballot.

I'm not buying any of that, though. For one thing, 1999 was Perez's eighth year on the ballot; he made it in (for some reason) on his ninth try, with six to spare, when there were no other compelling candidates aside from the holdover Fisk on the 2000 ballot. This is Morris' second-to-last try, by contrast, and definitely his last realistic shot. 

For a second thing: it's getting to be a cliche by now, but it's absolutely true that 2013 is going to be completely unlike any ballot that has come before. Jaffe's reasoning is that "Morris probably won’t move up enough because it is such a strong batch of new guys." I don't think so. There are certainly a lot of should-be slam dunks coming in, but the only new guy who figures to finish particularly strong in the voting is Craig Biggio, and he's far from a first-ballot lock. By and large, the guys interested in voting for Morris aren't the same ones who might be tempted to bump Morris off because they're voting for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and Biggio, and/or some combination of deserving first-timers or holdovers like Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Curt Schilling, Kenny Lofton, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Edgar Martinez. If anything, the vast majority of them will bump any of those guys off (even Bonds or Clemens, maybe especially Bonds or Clemens) in favor of the presumptively "clean" Morris, who won't have the fourteen shots left most of these guys will (assuming they get 5% of the vote, which I think will be a problem for Lofton and possibly Palmeiro). 

Rather, the real 1999-like year, in terms of players the voters are actually likely to want to enshrine, is the following year, 2014: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas are all pretty close to first-ballot shoo-ins. You might as well think of 2013 as Morris' last year on the ballot, because he's not going in with those dudes. 

So, that's why I think Morris goes in next year. As amazing as the talent on the 2013 ballot is, it's not going to pull many votes off of Morris, thanks to the "PE"D questions and because it'll be viewed as his last realistic shot. It's 2013 or nothing...and for 75%-plus of the voters, it's going to be 2013. He's going in. Might as well get used to it. 

And that's fine. I haven't come to terms with it the same way TCM did last year, where he determined that it's justified because Morris gets extra credit for Game 7 and that that somehow, nebulously, makes him kind of deserving. It's not that okay. I remain confident that voting for Morris is a silly decision and impossible to coherently defend, unless you're in an alternate-universe 2000 where nobody else is going to vote for him and you want to toss him a pity vote (his doppelganger Tanana got 0 votes in his one year, after all). 

But I'm okay with his going in, itself. It's the wrong decision, but 67% have already made that decision, and realistically, it's very likely that between the announcement of the results and now, at least another 8% already have made the same decision for next year. There's no point in discussing it any further. 

And, really: what's it to you (or me)? Morris gets in, and the BBWAA puts an undeserving player in the Hall. It's not the first time, it's unlikely to be the last, and he's far from the least deserving they've ever enshrined. What else happens? As I said, it's not a decision between Morris and somebody else for most of these voters, especially not between Morris and a deserving steroid-era guy like Bagwell or a controversial-for-some-reason candidate like Raines. He's not keeping someone else out, not at this point. All that happens is that one guy, who doesn't quite meet the standard, gets in. There are no other real-world consequences.

I like what Dave Cameron said about this a bit over a week ago
To me, an inclusive hall is a better hall, and one I’d be more interested in visiting. I won’t begrudge someone who holds a small hall perspective, but I would ask them to perhaps consider to what end they’re in favor of exclusivity. What is the benefit of fewer people remembering how great Tim Raines really was?
Slightly different issue, since Raines does meet almost any standard you might put out there, but in a similar vein, what's the harm of putting Morris in? He'll get a plaque hanging in the same gallery of others which, yes, mostly represent much greater players, but some of which represent Freddie Lindstrom, and Jesse Haines, and Herb Pennock. And that's all. You can go to the Hall and walk right past him. It's no skin off your...whatever analogigal place on you an irritant might take skin off of. The world keeps turning.

At this point, if you're inclined to rant and rave about the Hall of Fame and the voting therefor (and lord knows I am), it just seems to me your time is better spent arguing for guys who really do belong and risk being unfairly forgotten -- your Trammells and Raineses and Edgars and Bagwells -- than against a guy like Morris who doesn't.


David said...

Bill -

You are truly one of the most reasonable, coherent, and pleasant baseball writers to read on the entire planet. Perfectly put.

Raines said...

Great post, Bill.

Regarding the last paragraph, I absolutely agree.

Jason Wojciechowski said...

I agree with 99% of this, but if you've learned anything about me in the last few months, you've surely learned that I'm a quibbler.

I wonder, in your second paragraph, whether the old-ass BBWAA voters, esp. the ones who don't cover baseball anymore, actually have heard the arguments. There is some percentage of them who I think call their grandkids when their AOL won't connect, and given that a lot of the "Morris wasn't that great" stuff happens on the internet, that would be important.

This is all speculation, though, and in any case doesn't undermine the larger point, because even if some large set of voters has not yet heard the arguments, saying them again isn't going to change that. They'll still be wondering why their modem makes those weird noises while we're happily/angrily typing away our newest "Jack Morris is just like Bob Welch" (or whatever) post. (I like Bob Welch.)

Adam Darowski said...

Bill, great post.

I decided when I saw Morris' jump not to focus the next year on keeping Morris out, but rather to help deserving players get in.

I was a big Jack Morris fan. I don't think he deserves the Hall of Fame, but I'm not too worried if he gets in. He's Jim Rice. He's Catfish Hunter. Those guys got in.

To me, the biggest problem is still the deserving players being kept out.

The Common Man said...

True Jason, but if those voters haven't heard the argument by now, what are the chances they both read and are persuaded by them by next year?

Bill said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. You're right, Jason. There are probably voters out there who have no idea any of this is going on, and that group is probably a lot bigger than I'd like to think. But, yeah, as TCM said, it's not as though we're suddenly going to get through to them this year when we haven't been able to for the last ten or thirteen,so it's the same basic effect.

kaufmak said...


Great post. I'm more of a big hall guy from a historical perspective. Like many people in the Hall, they may or may not be the best, but by being there it sheds light on the era in which they played. Their inclusion makes me want to learn more about when they played, why they were considered so good, especially after their career. I wouldn't vote for Morris, but I wouldn't pass up a chance to go the Hall if he is there.

Brandon said...

Bill, I'm not seeing it. Your major argument seems to be that it's more reasonable to worry about wrongful exclusions than wrongful inclusions. To me, they're the exact same thing.

To say that a player is a Hall of Fame-caliber player is to accept two premises:

1) The Hall of Fame standard is __________.

2) Player meets or exceeds that standard.

With some players, the first part of the argument is unnecessary: if there's going to be a baseball Hall of Fame, Babe Ruth had darn well better be in it, even if you're a micro-Hall guy. But outside of those inner-circle guys, there's a need to articulate a standard. The way that standard is articulated is just as much (if not more) about the exclusions as the inclusions. We say that being a little better than average for a long time is not good enough by rejecting guys like Jack Morris.

I agree that in the cosmic sense we'd better learn to live with Jack Morris in the Hall of Fame, but his case is just as important to the larger HOF debate than any other.

Bill said...


I think that's the difference between TCM's point in the post linked above and my point here. I'm not at all saying Morris is "a Hall of Famer" in that kind of theoretical sense. It's entirely a pragmatic argument: he's going in, his going in won't change anything, and it's just not worth continuing to harp on.

As I said above, if you've got something new to say about Morris, and it advances "the larger HOF debate," that's great, go on ahead. But the "Morris isn't even as good as Non-Hall Candidate X because of the following stats" stuff has really outlived its usefulness.

Brandon said...

Fair enough, Bill. I know you're not arguing for Morris. All I'd say about that is that very little of what the saber-blogger community has to say will change anything in the HOF debate, Morris or not. Honestly, Morris is sort of the ultimate proof of how little impact the saber-bloggers have on the HOF process. So I don't think any of the various HOF debates are more or less "important" in the sense of actually impacting who gets in or not: the only thing that will change that is death and other forms of natural attrition in the old guard of the BBWAA. If what you're saying is just that you're tired of the Morris thing, that makes a lot more sense to me.

Bill said...

Really? I think it's having a huge impact, overall. So I guess I'd categorically disagree with all of that.

But, I'm saying two things here: (1) yes, I'm sick of hearing the same stats over and over about Morris, but also, (2) the BBWAA and other influential voices who are at all likely to hear what we have to say have already heard it all re: Morris, and have largely decided to tune us out, so in this one isolated instance, we really are just preaching to the choir. Which does make the Morris issue considerably less "important" than the others.

And, no, to your larger point from your first comment, I guess do think who gets in is a much less important question than who stays out. Morris or no, it's still an extremely exclusive institution, with a loose but identifiable set of standards that have more or less stayed in place since about 1947. The mistakes who slip through the gates don't shift the standard. Jim Rice isn't going to open the door for Roy White or Fred Lynn or Ken Singleton, Freddy Lindstrom certainly didn't open the door any wider for third basemen, Morris getting in won't suddenly usher in Tanana and Martinez and Stieb, etc., etc. We know this by now.

So I'm not nearly as worried about their letting a few stray undeserving candidates slip in as I am about keeping the clearly deserving ones like Raines and Bagwell out.

nategearhart said...

Hey Bill,
Love this piece. I absolutely agree, and have felt for a while, that we should be spending our time arguing for the induction of deserving players rather than arguing that some guys don't belong. I think it's because it's kind of a shame to me that we keep ragging on the career of who was, after all, a very very good (and way cool) pitcher, even if we're right. I just feel bad about it.
BUT when/if he is inducted, I hope to God they don't put that "pitched to the score" crap on his plaque. THAT would piss me off.