DETROIT — Jack Morris remains on the outside looking in.
Morris, who won 198 games in 14 seasons with the Detroit Tigers and pitched for four World Series winners, failed to cross the 75-percent threshold required for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In totals released Wednesday afternoon, he got only 67.7 percent of the vote — just a percentage point ahead of last year’s total.
Bert Blyleven, elected in 2011, remains the only starting pitcher voted in since Nolan Ryan in 1999. Since then, 21 of 22 of those elected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America have been position players or relievers.
Morris wasn’t the only Hall-eligible player disappointed with Wednesday’s results. No players were elected. In
his first year of eligibility, Craig Biggio had the highest percentage
of votes, with 68.2. In his 12th year on the ballot, former Tigers
shortstop Alan Trammell received 33.6 percent — down from 36.8 percent
Several MLB Network panelists, after the voting was
revealed, speculated that Morris and Trammell were among those failing
to make sizable advances because the ballot was stocked with
controversial first-ballot players such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens
and Sammy Sosa, each linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
“Other than Jack Morris, I’m not surprised,” MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds said of how the vote panned out.
Morris has one year remaining on the ballot, and next year 300-game winners Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine will be eligible for the first time.
During his 14 years on the Hall of Fame ballot, voters have spent a great deal of time analyzing Morris’ career statistics.
Was his 3.90 ERA — higher than any Hall of Famer — too high?
What weight should be given to him being the pitcher with the most victories (162) in the 1980s?
Were his 254 career victories enough?
What is the significance of 14 consecutive Opening Day starts for the Tigers, Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays?
How much do you factor in his postseason success — the zenith being the 1-0, 10-inning shutout for the Twins against John Smoltz and the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series?
Numbers always will be an important factor in Hall of Fame voting, but they shouldn’t be the lone factor. The fear a player warranted and the respect he gained also should be considered. Those things make sabermetricians wary because many of them haven’t seen all of the players they attempt to rate with formulas and calculators.
But I saw Jack Morris in his prime, and for 15 years his teammates took the field with complete confidence that they would win.
“Jack Morris is pitching today,” they told themselves. He worked quick, pitched smart, had great stuff, never backed off and got results.
Nobody wanted to face Morris, and everybody wanted to play with him.
The game ball belonged to Morris on the days he pitched. One day, Tigers manager Sparky Anderson came to get that ball from his young pitcher. Morris fumed and slammed the ball into Sparky’s hand. That never happened again because Sparky probably threatened to kick him in the shins if he ever showed him up again.
Morris, however, came to love Sparky. I called many Tigers on that November morning in 2010 when Sparky died, and the only one who lost it was Morris. He praised the man who “taught me how to play the game and appreciate the uniform,” got choked up and came back seconds later with a weakened voice.
He could fume and blow up — Detroit News columnist Jerry Green called him “Mount Morris” as a reference to the Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption in Washington in 1980. But that was simply part of wearing his emotions on his sleeve. Morris cared deeply about everything.
Morris threw the split-fingered fastball he perfected with Roger Craig, one of the best pitching coaches of that or any era. That was his signature pitch, and Craig helped make Morris great. Morris also loved Craig, but even they went at it over what Morris deemed undue criticism. They eventually patched up their differences and today glow when talking about one another.
Morris, now 57, also has feuded with current Tigers ace Justin Verlander. Morris believed Verlander was pitching hurt when he struggled in 2008. And a few years later, when approaching a record held by Morris, I asked Verlander about him. Verlander shot back: “You mean the Jack Morris who thought I was hurt?”
In 2011, Morris said that Verlander needed to fall out of love with the strikeout to cut his pitch counts and get deeper into games, and Verlander’s blood boiled again.
When he spotted Morris — who broadcasts games for the Twins — on the field before a game, Verlander shot a zinger at him. Morris came over and engaged in good-natured banter with Verlander — both of them smiling. They went off and talked, and began to bond.
“All along, I have only been interested in making Justin better,” Morris said.
Morris worked hard to find the mental and physical edges. There was a time when he used to submerge his right arm in a bucket of wet rice and exercise it, saying it improved strength. He credited his length strength to hitting the 70-meter ski-jump hills in high school with his brother, Tom.
Morris also should credit that for some of his fearlessness. Do you know of anybody with the guts to take a shot at ski jumping?
He was raised a Mormon in St. Paul, Minn., and attended Brigham Young University more for the baseball program and the great outdoors available near its Provo, Utah, campus than for religion.
Three days after the 1984 World Series, Morris went elk hunting in Great Falls, Mont. He loves to hunt and fish, and lives on a lake near the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Big cities make him sweat in a way hitters never did.
Morris threw one no-hitter. It came on April 7, 1984, at Comiskey Park in Chicago against the White Sox. Morris leaped into the arms of catcher Lance Parrish after accomplishing the feat, which provided a wonderful photo op — the incredible hulk catcher cradling his giddy ace.
Morris was off to a 6-0 start, and the Tigers would start that championship season with a 35-5 run.
The magic of that season — when Morris won Game 1 and Game 5 of the Series with complete games against the San Diego Padres — is what most endeared Morris to Tigers fans.
He would sometimes tick them off, too. Some didn’t like the fact that he wore black fur coats and could be short with people.
Then he left Detroit after the 1990 season to sign as a free agent with the Twins, and the fans put all their love on hold.
When Morris returned to Tiger Stadium to pitch for the first time against the Tigers, he gave up seven runs in the first inning of an 8-3 loss to Dan Petry, who for years pitched right behind Morris in the rotation. The fans gave him a standing ovation — in essence, a standing Bronx Cheer — as he walked off the mound following that disastrous inning.
“What should I have done?” Morris asked us after the game. “I could’ve pulled an Albert Belle and thrown a baseball at them. But I can’t do that.
“I think most fans got what they wanted to see. I made somebody feel good, and the world is a good place because of me.”
Morris has a wicked smile and a wild look in his eyes when his emotions heighten. He could rub folks the wrong way and didn’t suffer fools well. I believe the way he blew off some writers has cost him Hall of Fame votes. He’s been a pitcher on the fence, and sometimes feelings enter into difficult decisions.
He also could help you when you least expected it. The Detroit Free Press sent me to Oakland to cover his first start for the Twins. Deadlines were such that I wouldn’t be able to get any postgame quotes from him into my story.
So I approached Morris before that game with a request: Could he grant me a few minutes? Pitchers are usually off-limits to reporters before the games they pitch, but I took a chance.
Surprisingly, Morris agreed and asked me to follow him to the dugout to talk.
“My role with the Twins is no different than it was with the Tigers,” Morris said. “It’s all about taking the ball and winning.”