Jack Morris is being asked to finish strong one more time.
The pitcher who embodied durability, dependability, and tenaciousness during his 18-year career, needs to complete what he started once again.
This time it’s the Hall of Fame voting process that Morris is going to have to complete, just as he completed more games than any other pitcher of his era. And like his pitching career, which saw Morris gut out victories despite not always having the most eye-popping stuff or most statistically satisfying numbers, Morris is plodding his way toward Hall of Fame election in similar fashion. One writer, one voter, one ballot at a time.
Earlier this month, Morris received 66.7% of the vote, leaving him within shouting distance of Hall of Fame election. If this were one of his starts, Morris would be in the eighth inning, clinging to a lead with about four outs to go. Whether he gets the next four outs of this effort, or falls short, remains to be seen. But Morris has reached a level that few other candidates have without eventually earning election. In the history of Hall of Fame voting, only one player – Gil Hodges – has ever received as much as 60% support and NOT been elected eventually.
For Morris, who seems to have mellowed to the process as years have passed, it would be a tremendous honor. “I have to thank the guys who jumped on board and voted for me and the guys who continue to vote for me and help this along,” Morris told reporters after the vote totals were announced. That’s a far cry from the days when the pitcher was less Jack and more jackass when it came to his relationship with writers.
If Morris does earn election it will mean a lot to him, but it’ll also serve to satisfy Tiger fans who have long had a chip on their shoulder when it comes to national recognition for their beloved players. Alan Trammell, whom most Tiger fans rank ahead of Ozzie Smith, only this year inched above the 30% mark in Hall voting. His double play partner, Lou Whitaker, despite being one of just three second basemen to accumulate at least 2,000 hits, 1,000 RBI, and 200 homers, was erased from the ballot after just once appearance. Lance Parrish, who won multiple Gold Gloves and hit about as many homers as Gary Carter, also spent just one year on the ballot. 1968 World Series hero Mickey Lolich, who struck out more batters than any other lefty in American League history and won over 200 games, has never received strong support for the Hall of Fame even though his name pops up on the veterans committee ballot from time to time. Detroit probably has more “near Hall of Famers” and “should they or should they not?” candidates than any other club. Every January brings another reminder to Tiger fans that their heroes were just not quite great enough.
But next year could be different. Morris needs about 45 voters to change their minds and vote for him. He has two more years to get there, since candidates have 15 chances and 2012 was Morris’s 13th year on the ballot. In 2013, Morris will be the leading vote-getter among returnees to the Hall of Fame ballot. Several superstars of the steroid era will be on the ballot for the first time: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, and Craig Biggio. Biggio seems to be a sure thing since he reached the 3,000 hit mark and was never suspected of using illegal drugs to help his performance. But Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa will almost certainly fall short of the 75% threshold due to their reputed use of steroids. Mike Piazza will also be on the ballot for the first time, but he’s likely to get mid-range support similar to that given to Jeff Bagwell in his first two years on the ballot: probably in the range of 40-60%. That leaves Morris in position to pick up votes from those writers who still need time to sort out the steroid era candidates.
Another interesting candidate will be on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2013 for the first time: Curt Schilling. On the surface Schilling possesses many of the same positive traits that Morris has. Schilling was a hard-throwing right-handed ace who led several teams to the post-season. But Schilling’s numbers (ERA, ERA+, WAR and other modern standards of measurement) are better than those of Morris. Will voters compare and contrast, and if so, will Morris take a step backward? In 2007, the last time a strong roster of candidates made their first appearance on the ballot, Morris took a five-point dip.
We won’t know how it shakes out until next January, but one thing is for sure: Morris is closer than he’s ever been and he has a chance, given the clouded reputations of the 2013 crop of new candidates, to jump the 8% or so he needs to be elected.
Just like when Morris was prowling the mound for Detroit, Tiger fans won’t care how he gets the “victory” that would be election to the Hall of Fame, they’ll just be satisfied with the “W”.