A Cooperstown case for Jack Morris

His critics are too focused on the high ERA (3.90) and WHIP (1.296) to consider other important statistical criteria. And no, I'm not just talking about wins or his 10-inning, 1-0 Game 7 shutout in the 1991 World Series.

In a great piece last month, Tom Verducci pointed out how Morris pitched eight or more innings in more American League games than any pitcher since the DH era began. He was as dependable as any starter of his era. And as driven. Sparky Anderson once told me that when he removed Morris from a game by reaching out for the baseball, Jack would bruise his hand angrily slamming the ball into his palm.

He also used to wear a t-shirt with an American flag on the front along with the words: "Try Burning THIS one!"

This defiant, confident attitude was important -- and not just in the games he pitched. It had a carry-over effect as well.

I covered the Twins in 1991 and saw first-hand how Morris' competitive fire bettered the performance of his fellow starters. Scott Erickson and Kevin Tapani were very good pitchers without Morris, but the highly competitive three-man rivalry he stirred among them raised all of their games just that much higher. It made the Twins Word Series champs with Morris a year after they finished in last place without him.

Further, those who insist that electing Morris will cheapen the Hall or lower its standards need not worry. To the contrary, writers have elevated the bar for starting pitchers in recent decades. Players in general from the 1970s and '80s are under-represented in the Hall -- and starting pitchers are grossly under-represented. Maddux and Glavine will change this next note, but as of right now, Bert Blyleven is the only starting pitcher in the Hall of Fame who was born after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.

We are overlooking virtually an entire era of starting pitchers. And Morris was one of the best of that era.

I love and value statistics. I respect and usually agree with the analysis of the many smart statistical experts. But while numbers don't lie, they don't always tell us absolutely everything. There is a reason managers, teammates and opponents valued Morris so highly. And it is a reason James recognized as well at the time.

To paraphrase the Voice in "Field of Dreams," Morris went the distance.

I just hope that one day, he goes all the way to Cooperstown.

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