Morris' long-awaited Hall call could be near
Last year's dramatic vote increase a good sign for World Series hero
Jack Morris is a candidate on the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the 14th year. The Class of 2013 will be announced on Jan. 9. You can watch the announcement show live on an MLB Network simulcast on MLB.com starting at 2 p.m. ET.
Jack Morris has been through all this before -- 13 times, to be exact.
The right-hander, who won the World Series with Detroit, Minnesota and Toronto, and had 254 victories during his 18-year big league career, remembers all the anguish and the disappointment. So this year he says he may not be hanging next to the phone with anticipation 9 at the witching hour as he waits to learn whether his long personal nightmare will end.
And perhaps this time he'll be elected to the Hall of Fame.
"What do you want me to say about it? There's nothing to say," Morris recently told MLB.com. "I'll just do what I've done for 13 years, and I'll wait to see what happens. If it doesn't happen, the next day the sun will come up. I don't really have any plans at the moment. We're going to get together with my kids, who live in Michigan. I have a new granddaughter I want to see. I'm not overly concerned one way or the other."
Last year, Morris was a long shot as Reds shortstop Barry Larkin became the sole player elected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America to the Class of 2012. But this time around, he's certainly on the cusp. His vote total leapt to 66.7 percent from 53.5 percent in 2011. In terms of hard numbers, Morris' name turned up on 382 of the 573 ballots. Since any candidate needs 75 percent of the vote to be elected in the Hall, Morris (or anyone else) had to have 430 votes in the most recent balloting to get in.
He fell 48 short. The amount of ballots cast from year to year varies, but that's the relative amount of votes he needs to make up in his next-to-last of 15 years of eligibility on the BBWAA ballot this year.
"That was encouraging," Morris said about this year's 13.2 percent increase. "Records are meant to be broken. You never know. This is the process, and I believe it's meant to be. Whatever happens, happens. I'm not one to say they need to change the system, because the system has been in place forever. It's always going to be controversial. Anytime you have a subjective opinion or a vote, you're going to have people disagree. That's nothing unusual. That's America."
The good news is that Larkin had 62.1 percent of the vote in 2011 and soared right past the 430 mark to garner 86.4 percent. He made it, but in only his third year on the ballot.
It should also be noted that Gil Hodges is the only player since Hall of Fame voting began in 1936 to amass better than 60 percent of the vote from the BBWAA and ultimately fail to make the Hall.
Here are some more recent positive examples:
Morris' good friend, Bert Blyleven, was elected in his 14th year of eligibility in 2011 when he was inducted along with second baseman Roberto Alomar. Blyleven was finally named on 60 percent of the ballots in 2008. Jim Rice, elected in his 15th year of eligibility in 2009, didn't hit 60 percent until his 12th. Bruce Sutter, elected in '06 in his 13th year of eligibility, crossed the 60 percent threshold the year prior to his election.
"That's the beauty of the waiting process -- the fact that there is time," Morris said. "If it was one vote and you're gone, there would be a lot more guys in or a lot more out. I've always said this: 'The guys who are in, they deserve to be in.' There [also] may be a few guys who aren't in, who deserve to be in. There's never going to be a perfect system. You can't really change it to make it perfect."
Blyleven, with his 287-250 record and fifth on the all-time strikeouts list with 3,701, was the real squeaker. In 2010, he barely missed the cut, finishing with 74.2 percent of the vote, the narrowest margin in Hall of Fame voting history. The very next year when he made it in, the right-hander gained 5.5 percent and went in with 79.7 percent of the votes.
Like Morris, Blyleven wasn't sure why he it took him so long to make the grade.
"I'll just say the last name is Blyleven and it's 2011. The writers just decided, 'Hey, that would be a good year for him to go in,'" Blyleven quipped back then. "It's been frustrating over the years. I can tell you that the last week, my wife and I have been pretty nervous. It's been 14 years of praying and waiting. I'd like to thank the baseball writers for finally getting it right."
A player must maintain at least five percent of the vote each year for 15 years to remain on the BBWAA ballot. And like all later-look candidates, Morris has gained backers as new voters have cycled into the pool and veteran writers have reevaluated.
Like Rice, who was one of the American League's most prolific hitters during the 1980s, Morris was far and away the winningest pitcher in the AL of that decade. Nobody else was even close. Morris won 162 games from 1980-89. The runner-up was Blue Jays ace Dave Stieb with 140.
In addition, Morris was 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA in 13 postseason starts and 4-2 with a 2.96 ERA in seven World Series starts. He won twice against the Padres in 1984 when the Tigers prevailed in five games and lost twice to the Braves when the Blue Jays won the 1992 World Series in six games.
But Morris' signature performance of his career came for the Twins in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series against those same Braves at the Metrodome when he tossed 10 scoreless innings to outduel John Smoltz, winning the game, 1-0, to clinch the series. He gave up three runs over 23 innings in that Series and posted a 2.23 ERA for that entire postseason.
"I remember just about everything about it," Morris said about the epic game played on Oct. 27, 1991. "It was magic. You had two teams that nobody predicted would be there. Both teams had the same character. We had raw determination. We didn't want to lose. So it went to Game 7. Every game was exciting. It was the series that just exploded. Every game was better than the one before. When it got to the final game, it just turned out that nobody scored."
For that game alone, Morris arguably should earn his way into the Hall of Fame. And perhaps on Jan. 9 the phone will ring with good news when he least expects it.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.