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Fun Cards: “Baseball Immortals” Jack Morris

Morris

Joining his Tigers teammate on the stage in Cooperstown this year will be pitcher Jack Morris, one of the best pitchers of the 1980s. While some believe his election lowers the bar for pitchers, I believe you have to judge them among their contemporaries. There were few starters sharper than Morris in the 1980s, and he was always considered to be a future Hall of Famer by those who saw him play. The Veterans Committee agreed, and Morris and Trammell are the first living inductees by the Veterans Committee since Bill Mazeroski in 2001.

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Congratulations, Alan Trammell and Jack Morris!

The Veterans Committee voted today on the Hall of Fame “Modern Era” ballot. Several worthy candidates were included on the ballot, and ultimately two players were selected to join the elite in Cooperstown next summer.

Trammell

Alan Trammell manned the shortstop position for the World Champion 1984 Tigers, and was named MVP of the Series that year. Overshadowed throughout his career by Cal Ripken, Trammell was named to six All-Star teams and won four Gold Glove Awards. In 1987, Trammell racked up more offensive WAR than anyone else in the American League, and narrowly lost the MVP race to Toronto’s George Bell. In fifteen years on the BBWAA ballot, Trammell’s best showing came in 2016 with 40.9%. Fortunately, the Veterans Committee recognized his worth and decided he belonged among the legends.

Morris

Another star of the 1984 Tigers, Jack Morris had a reputation as a big game pitcher for Detroit and Minnesota. While his career totals are somewhat lacking, his postseason prowess put him over the top. He collected 254 regular season wins and struck out 2478 batters in eighteen seasons.

Trammell and Morris will join those who receive 75% support from the BBWAA ballot, to be announced next month.

Too big for a binder: Donruss All-Stars

I love the oddball sets of the 1980s, from the 33-card boxed sets you could find at Kmart, Toys R Us, and just about everywhere else, to the cards you had to cut out from Kraft Macaroni & Cheese boxes. But these cards absolutely drove me insane: the big Donruss All-Star cards from 1983 through 1987. Sure, there were plenty of great players included in these issues, but they were too big for a binder and difficult to store. I still haven’t figured out exactly what to do with them.

The 1983 version was horizontal, such as this Reggie Jackson:

Mr October 1983 Donruss

Donruss flipped the card right-side-up in 1984 and kept them that way the rest of the run, as this 1985 Don Mattingly shows:

Donnie Baseball 1985 Donruss

But they were still too big at 3.5×5. There were also the “pop-up” cards featuring the starters from the game, such as this 1986 Jack Morris:

Morris Donruss All Star

In 1988, Donruss finally wised up and shrunk the cards back down to regular size and they fit nicely into standard baseball card pages.

Change the Hall of Fame voting rules?

Morris for the Hall of FameThe teaser on ESPN‘s site reads, “When there’s no ballot room for players like Jack Morris, it’s time for the HOF to change the rules.” Since I’m not an Insider subscriber, I can’t read the rest of the article, but the inference is that Buster Olney supports Morris’ induction. I don’t argue on that point; Morris was one of the most dominant pitchers of his era, despite his ERA. In fact, two of his Tigers teammates should also have plaques in Cooperstown (Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker), but for whatever reason at least 25.1% of voters disagree on all three counts.

Olney’s insistence that the rules should be changed for players who could not get 75% of the voters to check their name in fifteen years is not new; many have been calling for an updated system for years. However, just because one writer (or 67.7% of the writers) think a guy should be in, that is no reason to change the rules.

Let me repeat: I think Morris should be a Hall of Famer, but I’m not stomping my feet and demanding the Hall of Fame change its rules based on my opinion. There is a reason for the 75% threshold. It is difficult to reach that degree of support, and it should be difficult to gain entrance into the most exclusive Hall in all of sports.

So I clicked on the “read more,” and ESPN delivers another tease before they make you pay for the full article. Olney lists sixteen players he would “definitely vote for” (including steroid poster boys Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens) and three others to “consider within the shifting landscape of who is already in the Hall of Fame” (Edgar Martinez, Lee Smith, and Trammell).

Do I agree with some of Olney’s choices? Of course. Holdovers Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Morris are on both of our lists. Newcomers that we agree on include Tom Glavine, Jeff Kent, Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina, and Frank Thomas. But there are others that I see as poor choices, mostly because of the steroid connection. I’m not completely sold on Curt Schilling yet, but I don’t necessarily think his inclusion would hurt the integrity of the Hall.

Again, I’m not an Insider subscriber, so I don’t know what new rules Olney suggests (if any). But I doubt he believes those new rules should deal with the voters. His new rules probably want to either extend the life of a player on a ballot, or lower the percentage needed to be called one of baseball’s immortals, or—and this is the most likely suggestion—increase the number of players a writer can vote for. Any of those suggestions is misguided.

Extending the life of a player on the ballot really does little for guys like Morris. This is his fifteenth year on the ballot; he is getting more press because of that and will receive more votes than if he had another five years.
Hodges for the Hall of Fame
Lowering the percentage needed for induction does not really lower the integrity of the Hall itself, but it is unnecessary. Guess how many non-Hall of Famers (current nominees excluded) would have been included if the threshold was lowered to 65%: zero. Gil Hodges has the most support at 63.4%, and that came in his last year on the ballot in 1983. Everyone who has received at least 65% of the vote has eventually gotten into the Hall of Fame. In fact, Hodges is the only player to ever receive 60% and still be on the outside. That may change after this vote, but there is still the Veterans Committee to consider in a few years.

Increasing the number of players a writer can vote for is a non-issue most years. There are several newcomers this year that will eventually be inducted, even if they are passed over initially. Most writers do not vote for ten players most years; this year might be an exception, but exceptions to the rule do not necessitate changes to the rule.

The rules are fine, Mr. Olney. Jack Morris is not considered a Hall of Famer by at least 25.1%, as much as you and I would like him to be.

Where is the support?

Yesterday I wrote about Jim Rice, Dale Murphy, and Dave Concepcion’s exclusion from the Hall of Fame. There are a number of other players on the ballot who are considered borderline candidates for the Hall. Some of them have been gaining support over the years, while others have not.

Andre Dawson, on the ballot since 2002, has risen from 45.3% to 65.9% this year. The Hawk became nationally known while playing for the Cubs in the late 1980s after spending the first part of his career in Montreal. He had a monster year in 1987, hitting 49 home runs and winning the MVP while playing for the last-place Cubs. He finished his 21-year career with 438 round-trippers, a more than respectable number for the pre-steroid era. (I’m really starting to hate that phrase.)

Bert Blyleven first appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1998, receiving a paltry 17.5% of the vote. Blyleven has gained a great deal of support, finishing with 61.9% in 2008. The case for Blyleven is two-fold: he won a lot of games and struck out a lot of batters. In the modern era, the only eligible player for the Hall with more wins is Tommy John. Blyleven is also fifth on the all-time strikeouts list, with more K’s than Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry, Phil Niekro, Fergie Jenkins, and Bob Gibson (all HOFers). The case against him is his poor winning percentage. While he won 287 games, he lost 250.

Lately, relief pitchers have been getting a serious look by the voters. Goose Gossage was elected this year, Dennis Eckersley was inducted in 2004, and Rollie Fingers in 1992. Lee Smith is still trying to get his due. Despite being the all-time saves leader for retired relievers (Trevor Hoffman passed him in 2006 to become the record holder), Smith has gained very little support among Hall voters. In 2003, his first year on the ballot, Smith received 42.3% of the vote. This year, 43.3% voted for him. Evidently there are some who thought he was Hall-worthy five years ago, but they have been unable to convince their peers of that opinion.

Next on the list is Jack Morris, the most dominant pitcher of the 1980s. The former Tiger ace’s support has increased over the years, from 22.2% in 2000 (his first year of eligibility) to 42.9% on the most recent tally. Morris was a five-time All-Star, starting the game three times for the American League. Five times he finished in the top five voting for the Cy Young Award.

What about Tommy John? On the ballot since 1995, he has never received more than 30% of the vote, but has only once received less than 20%. He has one more win than Blyleven, but his strikeout totals are far less (47th on the all-time list). He received serious consideration for the Cy Young award in 1977 and 1978 with the Dodgers, and 1979 and 1980 with the Yankees.

One to watch in future elections is Tim Raines. He received 24.3% this year, his first year on the ballot. Raines spent the first decade of his career in Montreal, making it that much more amazing that he was as popular as he was. He was an All-Star every year from 1981 through 1987, starting in left field in 1982 and 1983. He was known for his speed on the basepaths, leading the National League in stolen bases from 1981 to 1984 and five times finishing in the top four. Raines is fifth on the all-time stolen bases list behind future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson and current HOFers Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton, and Ty Cobb.

Harold Baines, never considered a viable candidate for the Hall, barely received enough votes to stay on the ballot another year. Ten other players will not appear on the ballot next year, failing to garner 5% of the vote: Rod Beck (1994 NL Rolaids Reliever of the Year), Travis Fryman (five-time All-Star), Robb Nen (15th on all-time saves list), Shawon Dunston (#1 overall pick in the 1982 draft, one of my personal favorites, and a great autograph signer through the mail), Chuck Finley (23rd on all-time strikeouts list), David Justice (1990 NL Rookie of the Year), Chuck Knoblauch (1991 AL Rookie of the Year), Todd Stottlemyre (2000 Branch Rickey and Lou Gehrig Memorial Awards winner), Brady Anderson (smacked 50 homers in 1996, but never got 25 in any other season), and Jose Rijo (1990 World Series MVP; never won more than 15 games in a season). Only Anderson and Rijo failed to get any votes at all.

There’s no justice in baseball

The results of the super secret Hall of Fame balloting done by the Baseball Writers Association of America were released today. A player must receive at least 75% of the votes to be inducted into the Hall. Once again, Jim Rice fell short. Needing 408 votes, Rice only received 392. Sixteen people kept him from reaching Cooperstown. Sixteen writers with chips on their shoulders, who didn’t like Rice as a person because he was a difficult interview, who didn’t pay any attention to his accomplishments on the field. There can be no other excuse.

In sixteen seasons, Jim Rice hit 382 home runs. He led the American league in homers three times and finished second another. He started in four All-Star games, showing that fans didn’t care about his poor attitude toward the press. He was awarded the Most Valuable Player award in 1978; five other times he finished in the top five. He was one of the most feared sluggers of his era. Jim Rice’s statistics speak for themselves.

As terrible as his exclusion from the Hall of Fame is, there are others who have not gained the support that Rice has over the years. In his first year of eligibility, Rice did not even receive 30% of the vote. This year, his fourteenth on the ballot, the surly outfielder missed election by less than 3%. But there are others whose vote tallies are so far down the list it is doubtful they will ever receive enough support to enter that Hall of Fame, even though they are deserving. I speak of Dave Concepcion and Dale Murphy. Each received less than 90 votes, hovering around the 15% mark.

Concepcion’s offensive statistics alone are far from impressive, but his defensive savvy and clutch performance made him invaluable to the Big Red Machine of the 1970s–a team that included such huge superstars as Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, and Tony Perez (all Hall of Famers, except for Rose, who should be…but that’s for another blogpost). A nine-time All-Star and five-time starter before Ozzie Smith became the fan favorite, Concepcion won the Gold Glove award five times and finished in the top 15 for Most Valuable Player voting thrice.

Dale Murphy’s exclusion from the Hall of Fame defies all reason. Look at his stats. Murphy played in the era when 400 career home runs (he finished just two shy) was a near-lock for a Hall of Famer, and his other statistics further support his case. He was the back-to-back MVP in 1982 and 1983. Seven times he went to the All-Star game; five times he started. From 1982 through 1987, Murphy was either the leader or second in home runs for the National League except 1986, when he finished fourth. There was no outfielder more dominant in the senior circuit during the 1980s.

A case could be made for several other players–Don Mattingly, Andre Dawson, Jack Morris–but in this blogger’s humble opinion, Rice, Concepcion, and Murphy are the most egregious of the omissions.

Note: While watching the local Cincinnati news tonight, I learned that this was Concepcion’s last chance with the BBWAA. Perhaps the Veteran’s Committee will see fit to right this wrong.

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