Inducting Jack Morris would lower the bar for the Hall of Fame

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I’ve covered this territory before, and I realize I’m mostly preaching to the choir here. Still, it needs to be written again: Jack Morris did not have a Hall of Fame career.

The funny thing is that the writers once knew this. When Morris debuted on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2000, he received 22 percent of the vote. His support dipped to 20 percent in 2001, and he only reached 30 percent on his sixth try in 2005. Now he’s all of the way up to 66.7 percent, still for no good reason that I can see.

Morris’ backers say he was the best pitcher of the 1980s and that he pitched one of the greatest games of all-time to clinch the 1991 World Series for the Twins. I take no issue with the latter statement; Morris’ stellar duel with the Braves’ John Smoltz in which he went the distance for a 1-0, 10-inning victory was a true masterpiece and should never be forgotten. And it won’t be.

The rest of the case for Morris is weak.

Morris is only a candidate for “best pitcher of the 1980s” because it just so happens that no elite starters showed up during that 1975-1980 timeframe and had their peak years during the 1980s. No one would ever think of Morris as the top pitcher of the 1970s or 1990s had his 1980s happened in another decade.

Also, one can put together a pretty good argument that Dave Stieb was actually the best pitcher of the 1980s. Morris topped Stieb in wins 162-140, but it was closer in winning percentage (.577 to .562), even though Morris played for superior teams. Morris had a 3.66 ERA and a 109 ERA+ for the decade, while Stieb came in at 3.32 and 126.

Even if you still want to give Morris “best pitcher of the 1980s” honors, he certainly wasn’t the best pitcher of the first half of the decade (Steve Carlton, 88-47, 2.91 ERA; Morris 86-62, 3.66 ERA) or anywhere near the best pitcher of the second half of the decade (Roger Clemens 86-41, 2.92 ERA; Morris 76-57, 3.67 ERA).

And Morris wasn’t the best pitcher in any season of the decade. Not only did he never win a Cy Young Award, but he never even finished second.

It’s the Cy Young balloting that is particularly telling, in my opinion. Some of those who argue for Morris like to tell us that we weren’t there, that we didn’t see Morris when he was winning all of those big games.

Well, look at the people that were there. Morris pitched for 18 seasons, all of them in a 14-team American League. During that time, there were 504 ballots cast for the Cy Young Award. Morris received a first-place vote on five of those ballots. One percent. He got two first-place votes in 1983, when he finished third in the balloting behind the immortal LaMarr Hoyt and a reliever in Dan Quisenberry. He got the other three in 1991, when he finished fourth behind Clemens, Scott Erickson and Jim Abbott.

And while I wasn’t covering baseball in those years, I was there, at least for the latter half of Morris’ career. I think everyone respected Morris. I don’t think anyone was afraid of him. No opposing fan ever went to the ballpark and said “we’ve got no shot today, Morris is starting.” Morris was a workhorse, a battler. There’s no evidence to support the pitching to the score argument, but Morris worked deep into games and usually gave his team a chance to win. And his team did more often than not (it helped that those Tigers had two guys who really should be in the Hall of Fame in Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker).

Of course, having to be the game’s best pitcher shouldn’t be the standard for the Hall of Fame. Bert Blyleven and Don Sutton were never the best in their leagues. Tom Glavine and Curt Schilling weren’t either, yet both of them should be enshrined.

Morris, though, still doesn’t compare. His 3.90 ERA would be the worst in Cooperstown. Even in seemingly weak fields, his best AL ERA finish was fifth place. He led the league in wins twice; once in the strike-shortened 1981 season with 14 and later in 1992 when he went 21-6 with a 4.04 ERA. He led the league in innings and strikeouts once apiece. His win total of 254 is pretty good, but it’s still behind that of 41 other starters in history and it’s really the strong point of his case. Also, it should be noted that the AL was the weaker of the two leagues during Morris’ career. He was facing easier competition than his NL counterparts.

Jack Morris was a very good pitcher, one of the last to average 250 innings and 10 complete games per season in his prime. He turned in one of the greatest postseason starts in history. That’s how he should be remembered. He just doesn’t come all that close to meeting the current standards for Hall of Fame enshrinement, and voting him in would be a mistake.

What in the heck is Derek Jeter doing with the Marlins?

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Last night we linked the Miami Herald story about the Marlins firing special assistants Jeff Conine, Andre Dawson, Tony Perez and Jack McKeon. Let’s talk about that a little bit.

The firings themselves are eyebrow-raising inasmuch as “special assistants” like that are rarely key front office personnel. Former players, Hall of Famers and former managers like those guys are really ambassadors for the team and, particularly in the case of Jeff Conine, who is known as “Mr. Marlin,” why would new ownership want to kick its ambassadors to the curb? It’s not like you can just hire a bunch of new franchise legends for he role. Who ya gonna call? Dan Uggla?

Sure, I can see an argument for changing their responsibilities. If they actually had say in baseball operations, I can see new ownership wanting to relieve them of those duties. It’s also possible that Jeff Loria paid them too much money for guys who are only team ambassadors. So, sure, if the job is too cushy by the standards of the gig, I could see Jeter cutting their pay or their duties to make it conform to what other clubs do with their former stars. Maybe that makes them want to quit. If so, that’s OK I suppose.

Beyond that, however, it’s hard to see why you would NOT want guys like Conine, Dawson, Perez and McKeon to represent your club in the community and in the service of impressing prospective season ticket holders. The franchise’s first star player, a Hall of Famer who ended his career with the club, another Hall of Famer who is from Cuba (which is kind of a big deal in a place like Miami) and the manager who brought the club its last World Series championship are exactly who you want to represent your team. Especially when nearly everything else about your team has, for so very long, alienated the very public you want supporting it.

But let’s say, for the moment, that there was a good reason to fire those guys. Let’s say they’re all flaming jackwagons who have secretly poisoned the franchise from within. Let’s say that, despite his grandfatherly charm, Jack McKeon is a ruthless Machiavellian. Let’s say that Conine, Dawson and Perez beat up copy boys in the stairwells and microwave leftover fish in the break room every day. Even if that’s the case, how does this happen?

And here’s the twist: Jeter asked Marlins president David Samson to fire those four Marlins luminaries for him, because Jeter didn’t want to do it.

Even more strange, Jeter made the request after telling Samson what he already knew: that Samson would not be returning as team president.

It seems that Samson did carry out the firings. Unless some handsome severance package was being held hostage over it, I’m not sure how Samson doesn’t tell Jeter, “Hey Captain RE2PECT, know what? Up yours, you do it yourself.” Of course, one can only project one’s own sensibility on a guy like David Samson so much, so let’s cut him a bit of slack here. We don’t know how the conversation went. Maybe Samson was happy to tell those guys to hit the bricks.

But really, how doesn’t Jeter man-up and handle this himself? It’s not because he’s not yet officially the owner, because if he has the power to fire Samson, he has the power to fire Conine and his friends. Maybe there is more to this than the Herald story lets on, but as it stands now, it comes off as cowardice on Jeter’s part. It’s a really bad look.

I’ll be curious to see how this plays in the baseball establishment over the next couple of days. Everyone — particularly the press — loves Derek Jeter an credits him with a class, smoothness and media savvy matched by few others. This, though, was either (a) a failure of class and an act of disrespect to baseball luminaries; or (b) a complete bungling of public relations, serving to make what was, in reality, a reasonable move appear classless. It has to be one or the other.

Derek Jeter has been a teflon star for more than two decades, but two of the few things the media loves more than Derek Jeter are (a) old Baseball Men like McKeon, Dawson, Perez and Conine; and (b) “classiness.” It’ll be interesting to see if, for the first time in his professional life, the media gets its knives out for Derek Jeter for seeming content to dispense with both.

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.