I have yet to vote for Jack Morris in his 13 years on the Hall of Fame ballot. But now that he is so close to election, I will reconsider him — strongly reconsider him.
Morris fell just 48 votes short of getting elected to the Hall this year. I was one of those 48 votes. And yes, the thought immediately crossed my mind:
What if Morris continues to bear down on the 75 percent minimum in his final two years on the ballot, and I turn out to be the one who keeps him out?
I expressed that sentiment on MLB Network after the votes were revealed on Monday, and some on Twitter responded — not unreasonably — by questioning the courage of my convictions.
Allow me to explain.
I believe that Morris falls short of Cooperstown; otherwise, I already would have voted for him. But I also remain torn on his candidacy, mindful of the strong cases that others have made for his inclusion in the Hall.
Rarely are these black-and-white decisions. More often than not, they come down to shades of gray. And besides, it’s not as if I’m sitting on the jury of someone who is on trial for committing a capital crime. Much less is at stake, and remember, the worst Hall of Famer is still pretty darned good.
I try to stay flexible, revisiting my ballot each year. I also try to avoid thinking that I have every answer. The beauty of this sport, as I’ve said time and again, is that you learn something every day.
Yet here’s the question fans and players often ask, a question that is undeniably fair, even if it makes voters like myself uncomfortable:
What the heck will change in Morris’ candidacy from this year to next?
The answer, of course, is nothing.
Yet, we see it all the time: Certain candidates build momentum during their 15-year period of eligibility with the writers. Bert Blyleven was perhaps the best example, rising from a low of 14 percent in 1999 to 80 percent when he was elected last year.
Morris this year was named on 382 of 573 ballots, or 67 percent. Gil Hodges is the only player ever to exceed 50 percent and fail to be elected later.
Talk all you want about convictions. The reality is, if you’ve got a ballot in your hand, the responsibility weighs heavier as the significance of a “no” vote becomes greater.
The curious thing about Morris is that his candidacy is almost the opposite of Blyleven’s. While Blyleven’s election reflected the growing influence of advanced statistical analysis on voters, Morris’ election would be just the opposite, a triumph of perception over performance.
The perception, fueled in large part by Morris’ spectacular 10-inning triumph in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, is that Morris was a warrior-ace, a competitor whose value transcended his flabby 3.90 career ERA.
No pitcher in the Hall had an ERA that high.
Go to ERA-plus — a statistic that adjusts for league and ballpark, allowing comparisons of players in different eras — and Morris looks even worse.
The average ERA-plus is set at 100. Morris’ career mark of 105 ties him for 479th all-time, according to baseball-reference.com.
A.J. Burnett, Jeremy Guthrie, Scott Kazmir and Tim Wakefield are the current pitchers at 105. In fairness, Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter also is in that group — but Hunter was a dubious selection, to say the least.
The argument that Morris pitched to the score? Don’t go there. No pitcher wants to allow runs. Jack Morris, warrior-ace, certainly did not, though his principal concern was winning, as opposed to say, WHIP.
My concern with electing Morris is that it would diminish the Hall’s standards, creating openings for undeserving pitchers with similar numbers. True, Morris is distinguished by his 14 Opening Day starts and 11 seasons of pitching 230 or more innings. But was he a dominant ace? Not according to the numbers.
OK, that’s my argument, and I’m comfortable with it. But I do see the other side. I covered Game 7 in ’91. I recall a number of other Morris classics. My perception of his stature within the sport pretty much mirrors the perceptions of all those who vote for him.
He is so close now. He has only two more chances with the writers. The urgency to his candidacy will sway some voters who have been ambivalent all along.
I don’t know how I will vote in December. I’m certainly not an advocate of mob rule. But I’m bothered by the idea that my vote could deprive Morris when so many others view him as deserving.
Oh, I’ve got courage in my convictions. But that courage wavers when you’ve got a ballot in your hand and the legacy of a great player is at stake.