Many stat-heads insist Jack Morris doesn't have the statistical chops for the Hall of Fame, contending that the managers, players and writers who highly regarded him during his career were just plain wrong.
Are the stats guys right? And the managers who named Morris their opening day starter for 14 seasons, the All-Star Game starter three times and the World Series Game 1 starter another three times wrong? Well, here's what Bill James wrote about Morris in his 1987 Baseball Abstract:
"Morris may not be the best pitcher in the majors, but he's got to be the most consistent. Last year I talked about Morris doing something every year to solidify his credentials as a potential Hall of Famer. Last year he did a couple of major things to solidify his credentials, winning 20 games for the second time and striking out 200 batters for the second time. He's probably three or four good years away from the Hall of Fame now. Morris and Fernando (Valenzuela) have got to be the best anchors for a starting rotation in baseball today."
In other words, the father of modern baseball statisticians -- a man whose opinions I greatly respect -- considered Morris close to Hall of Fame level when the pitcher still had eight seasons remaining in his career. And Morris indeed followed up with at least three good seasons in which he finished in the Top 10 in Cy Young voting (including two Top 5 finishes).
Does this mean he is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer? No. Years later, James didn't rank Morris among his top 100 pitchers of all time. So he's definitely borderline. But borderline doesn't mean you don't belong in Cooperstown. It means you either just make the cut or just miss it. Morris should make it. I fear he won't though, at least not via the BBWAA.
This is Morris' 15th and final year on the writers' ballot. He has been gaining rather steadily over the years -- he received 67 percent of the vote last year, just 42 votes shy of election. But he faces considerable obstacles in his final chance.
First, 300-game winners Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are on the ballot for the initial time. That should not affect Morris' candidacy, but it will, since Maddux and Glavine likely will both be voted in and many BBWAA members are satisfied with electing only a few players -- or none -- each year.
Second, the 10-player voting limit is becoming an even more frustrating dilemma with even more worthy candidates on the ballot. There are at least a dozen eligible players who were better than Morris -- including Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina and the PED-suspected Roger Clemens -- which means some writers who consider Jack worthy of the Hall could wind up leaving him off their ballots because there simply isn't enough room. (I know of at least one voter who did so.)
I think both those obstacles will keep Morris from election this week, which is too bad. I completely understand why some people think Morris wasn't good enough for the Hall and I respect their votes. But I voted for him because this was his last chance and he belongs in.
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.