Jack Morris won more games in the 80s than anyone. So what?

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So much of the Hall of Fame support for Jack Morris is premised on the idea that he won more games in the 80s than anyone.  FanHouse’s John Hickey wrote about that just yesterday. There are many others who have and will as well.  Question: why does that matter?

Any single decade is an arbitrary measure. Sure, “the 1980s” is a decade. But so is “1995-2004.”  So is “1977-1986.”  Just because the nostalgia industry and the tyranny of the base-10 numbering system gives special significance to decades with catchy names doesn’t mean that those given ten-year periods are worth more than any other.  There are a great many pitchers whose careers overlapped Morris’ on either the front end or the back end who were better than him for their own ten-year chunks. To give credit to Morris for “the 1980s” is more a function of us being more comfortable with round numbers than his abilities as a pitcher.

But even if “the 80s” mattered, shouldn’t we also acknowledge that the 80s was probably the weakest decade for starting pitchers in the 20th century?  It was a brief bubble between two generations of elite starters, with the Seaver/Palmer/Carlton/Perry/Niekro/Ryan crown winding down and the Clemens/Maddux/Johnson crowd cranking up (or in Johnson’s case, about to).  Being the best starting pitcher of the 80s is like being the strongest football team in Alaska. The best vaudeville performer of the 21st century. The most skilled archer in an artillery division. The finest restaurant in all of  Saginaw, Michigan.

Someone has to hold that title, sure, but does it mean anything? Should it be honored?

Here are the winningest pitchers by decade.  Tell me: are any of their Hall of Fame cases premised on being the winningest pitcher of the decade? Or was their value more apparent?

1900s – Christy Mathewson
1910s – Walter Johnson
1920s – Burleigh Grimes
1930s – Lefty Grove
1940s – Hal Newhouser
1950s – Warren Spahn
1960s – Juan Marichal
1970s – Jim Palmer
1980s – Jack Morris
1990s – Greg Maddux
2000s – Andy Pettitte

Another question: was Morris better than any of them? Probably Burleigh Grimes, who is actually a hell of a lot like Morris but had the added benefit of being able to throw a legal spitball when his competition could not. An argument could be made regarding Newhouser, whose Hall of Fame case was greatly aided by pitching against 4-F rosters during World War II, though he was effective and successful after the war too. I’d say that Pettitte is better than Morris even if I don’t really think he’s a Hall of Famer either.

Over the course of 110 years, I’m pretty comfortable leaving a couple of the decade wins leaders out. There’s no rule that says they all have to be in.  And Morris is clearly at or near the bottom of that class.

Dodgers top Giants, clinch fifth straight NL West title

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The Dodgers are NL West champions for the fifth time in a row. They clinched with a 4-2 win over the Giants on Friday night, taking their first and only lead on a mammoth record-breaking home run from Cody Bellinger in the third inning.

Rich Hill turned in another quality start, going six innings with five hits, a run and nine strikeouts to keep the Giants at bay. He tacked on an RBI hit of his own, too, lashing a double to left field for his first extra-base hit since 2007.

The Giants, meanwhile, deployed Jeff Samardzija and his 4.42 ERA for 4 1/3 innings. Samardzija was on the hook for the Dodgers’ four-run spread in the third and took his 15th loss of the season. Pablo Sandoval came through with a solo home run in the ninth, but the rest of San Francisco’s offense wasn’t so lucky against Kenley Jansen, who struck out the side to clinch the game — and the division.

After Friday’s showstopper, the Dodgers are just two wins away from their first 100-win season since 1974. If they win the remaining eight games of the season, they’ll beat out the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers for the most wins in franchise history.

Watch: Cody Bellinger breaks NL rookie home run record

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Cody Bellinger helped the Dodgers to their first lead on Friday night, going deep for his 39th home run of the season and setting a new National League rookie home run record in the process. With two on and two out in the third inning, the Dodgers’ slugger launched a 2-1 pitch from the Giants’ Jeff Samardzija, skimming the right field fence to give the team a three-run cushion:

The three-run bomb was Bellinger’s sixth of the season. In what is undoubtedly a Rookie of the Year award-worthy campaign, he’s logged 21 solo shots, 11 two-run blasts and a single grand slam. His historic home run topped former NL rookie leaders Frank Robinson and Wally Berger, at 38 homers apiece.

The Dodgers need to stay on top of the Giants to clinch the NL West or, barring that, have the Marlins pull off a win over the Diamondbacks. They currently lead the Giants 4-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning. The Marlins, meanwhile, are staying just ahead of the D-backs with a 9-7 lead in the top of the sixth.