Let's start the New Year with a story.
During the five seasons that Roger Craig was Jack Morris' pitching coach in Detroit in the first half of the 1980s, there were occasions when Morris would pitch himself into trouble, something wouldn't look right and manager Sparky Anderson would turn to Craig in the dugout and issue a direct order.
"Go on out there and talk to him," Sparky would tell Craig. "Calm him down."
|Jack Morris 'wanted the ball. He wanted the ball in the World Series,' says pitching coach Roger Craig. (US Presswire)|
Then Craig would U-turn, head back to the dugout, assure Sparky that everything was great with Morris, and the game would resume.
Craig told me that story last summer.
Trammell, chuckling at the memory, confirmed it later in the summer.
More than two decades later, they both still marvel at Morris' intensity. And I bring it up now because a copy of the Hall of Fame ballot I mailed last week is sitting on the desk here to my right. There are checks next to six names. And as always, one of them is Morris.
I talked to Craig again the other day about Morris because I like to go beyond a simple statistical review when casting my annual Hall vote. And I find it not only instructive to talk to men who closely worked side by side with a particular candidate, but, in this case, I find it telling that a man who did not always get along with the volcanic Morris (who did?) thinks there is no question he belongs in Cooperstown.
"Of all the pitchers I've been around -- Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Jim Bunning, Don Newcombe -- he's as good a big-game pitcher as I've seen," Craig said. "He wanted the ball. He wanted the ball in the World Series.
"He was a little more competitive than some of those pitchers. They're all great. But he was a horse."
The more I think about it over the years -- and this is the 12th time I've voted for him -- the more I think that Morris not only is a Hall of Famer, but he should be a slam-dunk choice. He's not, of course. The 52.3 percent of the vote he received last year is his high-water mark. A candidate needs 75 percent of the vote for election.
Three of the four pitchers Craig named -- all but Newcombe -- are Hall of Famers. Morris compiled more wins (254) than Bunning (224), Drysdale (209) and Koufax (165) in an era in which, because of more bullpen use, wins were becoming increasingly more difficult to obtain. Yes, I know Sandy's career ended prematurely because of an arthritic elbow, and I know my friends in the Sabermetric community point to Morris' unseemly 3.90 ERA while arguing that wins are vastly overrated.
Far more often than not, these folks have a point. They convinced me a couple of years ago that Tim Raines' career .385 on-base percentage combined with the fact that he ranks 50th all-time in runs scored separated him from the mere mortals. So I check the box next to Raines' name each year.
As I do with Bert Blyleven, whose 88 WAR (wins above replacement player, a new-aged stat that measures a player's value to his team) far out-distances Morris' 39. Some think you can vote for one -- Blyleven -- but not the other when discussing Blyleven and Morris. I vote both.
Because, among other things, the fact that Morris was the ace of the staff for three World Series champions (1984 Tigers, 1991 Twins and 1992 Blue Jays) and pitched one of the greatest games in World Series history (the Game 7 10-inning, complete-game, 1-0 win over Atlanta in '91) should factor heavily into his resume as well.
"There's guys in there I'd put Jack Morris, Bert Blyleven and Tommy John in ahead of," Craig says. "I don't want to name names. ..."
I will, right now.
My 2011 Hall of Fame ballot:
Roberto Alomar: His near-miss in his first year of eligibility last winter was, by far, the single-most shocking Hall of Fame voting development I've seen in the nearly quarter-century I've been writing baseball. A 12-time All-Star and a 10-time Gold Glove winner, Alomar was the best defensive second baseman I've ever seen. And yes, defense too often is overlooked in Hall voting. He hit for power, for average, he scored runs, he produced them ... what's not to like? It's inexplicable that Alomar didn't make it last year. The only two reasons I can think of are the stunningly swift decline with the Mets at the end of his career, and perhaps the spitting incident with umpire John Hirschbeck. People should get over the former -- Alomar had enough longevity for Cooperstown -- and the latter, bad as it was, was one transgression in a 17-year career.
Bert Blyleven: Until Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson passed him a few years ago, Blyleven ranked third on baseball's all-time strikeouts list (3,701). Think about that for a minute. Third! Did that sink in, or do you need more time to think? So he finished with 287 career wins, missing the magic 300. While he has dropped all the way down to fifth all time now that Clemens and Johnson have passed him, Blyleven also ranks ninth all-time in shutouts (60). Thirteen more wins, and the guy would have been inducted way back with Bob Feller, or whomever Blyleven's contemporaries were (that's a joke, for those of you who become humor-challenged come Hall election time. I know who his contemporaries were). Instead, he's sweating it out in his 14th year on the ballot. If there's any justice in the baseball world, Blyleven will get in this time.
Barry Larkin: If you're like me, it's real easy to genuflect at the hallowed names of the greats who came before us ... while sometimes underrating some of the true greats who are playing in front of us today. Larkin falls into that latter category for too many people. But this guy was a 12-time All-Star -- that's a heck of a lot of highlight reels -- and his career on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) was .815. What does that number mean? The NL average for a shortstop during Larkin's career was .678. The only two shortstops throughout the past 30 years whose OPS was that much higher than everyone else at his position? Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra.
Jack Morris: A couple of things I did not mention above: Morris won more games -- and completed more games -- than any other pitcher in the entire 1980s decade. Sure, wins can be overrated ... unless you're standing out there on the mound, regularly pitching deep into games, racking up the W's. Ask a guy's manager and teammates how valuable that is. Morris was dominant in his era and deserves induction.
Tim Raines: As I wrote last year, I normally like my Hall of Famers to specialize in categories other than walks. But when a guy reaches base more times during his career than Hall of Famer and eight-time batting champion Tony Gwynn ... well, that's staggering. And using that as a launching pad toward home plate -- Raines ranks 50th all-time in runs scored -- well, that's all-timer status. And all-timers belong in Cooperstown, right?
Alan Trammell: Just because he was overshadowed by Cal Ripken and Robin Yount -- two Hall of Famers -- during much of his career shouldn't diminish Trammell's place in history. Yet to look at his depressingly low vote totals -- just 22.4 percent last year -- you'd think he was Tom Veryzer. Ozzie Smith was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and deservingly so. But Trammell's offensive numbers crush Smith's across the board. And though Ozzie was as flashy with the glove, he simply wasn't that much better than Trammell. If you were a manager in, say, 1983, good chance you would have taken Trammell over Smith if given the choice because Trammell could do more.