What We Talk About When We Talk About Jack Morris

I’d like to make this introduction as short as possible, because I haven’t even started and I’m already bored. Jack Morris received 66.7% support on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, up from 54% last year. This is a positive sign that he may make the Hall of Fame in one of his last two years of eligibility. Jack Morris does not belong in the Hall of Fame. He simply does not. This is not meant to be an argument on his credentials or lack thereof, because the internet has already done a great job of handling all that for us. I love it when that happens, when the internet does all of the hard work and you can just steal from it. Let’s lay out a few basic facts about Jack Morris and his Hall of Fame resume. That way, we can get a nice foundation set for the second part of this post and move on.

Jack Morris Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement: 56.9

Jack Morris Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement: 39.3

The extent to which either of those numbers represents a compelling Hall of Fame case: Not so much

Jack Morris career ERA+: 105

The figure of ERA+ that represents exactly league average: 100

Where an ERA+ of 105 ranks Jack Morris all-time: Tied for 479th

A modern pitcher with an ERA+ of 105: A.J. Burnett

Another one: Jeremy Guthrie

Well Jack Morris must have been pitching to the score, then: You might think that, but no

That ought to do it for the “Jack Morris was a good pitcher but not a great one” portion of this post. After coming to terms with these facts, many will began to talk about a certain game 7 in the 1991 World Series, and then probably mention that Jack Morris had the most pitcher wins in the decade that was the 1980’s. To that I say: It sure was a great World Series performance, and oh, arbitrary round numbers used to skew perception in favor of a meaningless measure of pitcher ability. How quaint.

What seems to me the most interesting part of the Jack Morris Hall of Fame campaign aren’t the reasons why writers shouldn’t vote for him. Those are so abundant and simple and plain. Boring. What’s more interesting are why writers are voting for him, and what I believe those reasons represent. Let’s take our favorite Scott Boras public relations strategist Jon Heyman and his reasoning under advisement. From his Hall of Fame column:

This guy is one who’s much better if you were around to witness it. The back of his baseball card just doesn’t do him any justice.

And while we over at CBS Sports already, how about Heyman’s colleague, Scott Miller:

How competitive was he? I love the story Craig told me for a column last year: Sometimes, manager Sparky Anderson would order him out to the mound to talk with Morris to calm him down when things weren’t going well. On occasion, knowing how fiery Morris was, Craig would reach the mound and simply have a conversation with shortstop Alan Trammell instead as Morris glared. Then he would head back to the dugout and assure Sparky that all was well. Great story, great — yes, great — pitcher.

Now, these gentleman really are great sports for publishing their ballots online and supporting their positions. Many voters toil away in anonymity and don’t ever engage in the discourse or allow themselves to be outwardly mocked my thousands of strangers for their choices. It’s weak to leave Jeff Bagwell off your ballot and never explain why—it takes a lot more courage to put your opinion out there for judgement in the court of public opinion. Having said that, I can’t help but notice what this type of reasoning implies. When I read what these men have to say about Jack Morris, I don’t see a lot of compelling evidence used in support of their position. In fact, I actually see a lack of evidence flipped and used as a positive. Neat trick. Jon Heyman wants you to know that Jack Morris was a great pitcher. He doubts you were there to see it in person. He understands you may take 30 seconds on Morris’ Baseball-Reference page and come away a bit skeptical. But no matter, because Jon Heyman was there. He saw it. He brushed up against that immeasurable and intangible greatness, and he’s here to enlighten you on the poetics of baseball. Scott Miller doesn’t have any fancy statistics or favorable player comparisons to throw around, he has an amusing and illuminating anecdote to share. Never mind the pedestrian ERA, this guy was a competitor, dare I say gamer. See, you might not have known that about Jack Morris, what with your head in WAR graphs all day—there’s no value over replacement heart, but Miller was there, and he has used his exclusive access to speak to real baseball men and hear what they had to say about Jack Morris.

From both of these writers, and many others who rely on the mystical in order to support Jack Morris, I can’t help but notice how invaluable they themselves are to the process by which Morris gains his proper due. In a sea of dissent and misinformation, these men bore witness to history and know where the true value in baseball lies. I never watched Jack Morris pitch. I probably wouldn’t recognize him if we passed in the street. But Jon Heyman and Scott Miller were there, and with that, they hold a certain strange power over me and people like me. You can’t argue about what you don’t understand, and according to these men, we don’t understand. True grit has to matter, because Jack Morris showed it to them. The unseeable has to exist, because they saw it. If not, then these writers suddenly have markedly less to offer their audience. The world is full of smart-asses with spreadsheets who can string a few sentences together. If we all came together and decided the intangible to be false, or at the very least overstated, then what happens to those who are so fond of telling us about it?


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2 thoughts on “What We Talk About When We Talk About Jack Morris

  1. Pete Sorice says:

    You forgot “ACE of three world series winners”….except it was they who mis-remembered. Observe:

    ’84 Tigers ace was Dan Petry not Morris.
    ’91 Twins ace was Kevin Tapani not Morris.
    ’92 Jays ace was Juan Guzman (1) & Jimmy Key (1A).

    Jack Morris was a super-duper pitcher I would take him as my #2 starter all day long. But even old-school stats have him behind Tommy John, Jim Kaat and Jamie Moyer in career wins. Also, TJ was money in WS (21 K/7 BB, 2.67 ERA) and he didn’t sniff Cooperstown.

    Sorry for hijacking your post. You do awesome work!

    • Kyle says:

      Not at all, thanks for the additional insights, Pete! It’s always so interesting when even traditional stats don’t back up some of these claims, and yet some writers/supporters will just keep moving the goal posts until they can latch onto something, anything.


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