Tonight in Jack Morris hyperbole

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Over the years, staunchly traditionalist baseball writers have had to stretch further and further to make their Hall of Fame case for Jack Morris. At first, all they felt was necessary was pointing to his career 254 wins, which would tie him 13th all-time (out of 56) with Red Faber for the most wins by a Hall of Fame starter. But when that point got swatted away, they turned to the fact that Jack Morris had the most wins in the 1980’s with 162, beating out Dave Stieb’s 140. But that got swatted away just as easily, simply for its arbitrary starting and ending points.

Then the hyperbole strain started chugging. The terms “workhorse” and “ace” became adjectives for Morris. His ten-inning shutout of the Braves in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series with the Twins became much louder than his seven-run bombing in 4.2 innings during Game 5 of the 1992 World Series against the same Braves, this time with the Blue Jays. From there, it’s gone out of control.

Bill Madden has the latest pie-in-the-sky superlative in the New York Daily News:

His detractors have pointed out he didn’t win any hardware and his 3.90 ERA would be the highest of any starter in the HOF. But this was a guy you had to see to appreciate. For years, Morris’ Detroit Tigers were in the AL East with the Yankees and, counting his many postseasons, I got to see him 30-40 times and never once was he not the best pitcher on the mound that day.

Never once? Over his 18-year career, Morris never finished higher than third in AL Cy Young voting. That means that, unless Madden happened to attend some odd match-ups — like Morris against Len Barker in 1983 — then it’s pretty likely Morris was the inferior pitcher in at least half of those games.

An average game score for a pitcher is 50. Morris started 527 games in his career. He posted a game score of 49 or worse in 199 of those starts. That’s 38 percent below-average starts, or about two out of every five. An additional 106 (20%) fell in the 50-59 range, average to slightly above-average. With total random selection, you were seeing a mediocre or worse Morris in three out of every five starts on average.

To put that in perspective, Barry Zito has made 419 starts over his career. He posted a game score of 49 or worse in 179 of those starts (43%). An additional 73 starts (17%) fall in the 50-59 game score range. In other words, the distribution of starts by Morris and Zito are nearly identical. Morris retired with an adjusted ERA of 105, right where Zito is at right now. But no one views Zito as a future Hall of Famer.

So not only is “never once was [Morris] not the best pitcher on the mound that day” very inaccurate, the inverse is likely true, that Morris was, more often than not, the inferior pitcher on the mound on any particular day.

Morris, Trammell, humbled and emotional at being elected to the Hall of Fame

Associated Press
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla — Jack Morris and Alan Trammell met the press 18 hours after learning that they were elected to the Hall of Fame. Trammell was still humbled. Morris was still emotional, breaking up numerous times as he answered reporters questions. When Morris did manage to compose himself, he said a couple of pretty interesting things. Even some funny things.

“I want all the writers to know, I’m not mad at any of you,” Morris said, addressing the baseball writers, who for 15 years failed to vote him into the Hall of Fame. Morris, who at some points over his time on the ballot was, in fact, quite cranky about not being elected, struck a more conciliatory tone this morning, admitting that he did not fully understand the baseball analytics upon which many voters relied in judging him more negatively than he was judged during his playing career. There was a suggestion in his tone that, perhaps, the voters had a point about his relative place in the game and that he understood that now a bit better than he might’ve a few years ago. Not that he’s too hung up on it. “Now that I’m in, I don’t have to worry about any of it,” Morris added.

Trammell never came particularly close to election when he was on the writer’s ballot while Morris only fell a couple of votes short. One could be excused, however, if one thought that he’d thought more about what he’d say on the occasion of his election than Morris did.  “To be part of a dream team, you can’t envision that. As a young boy, all I wanted was to become a major league baseball player,” Trammell said. “And now to be a Hall of Famer . . . it’s indescribable.” For Morris part, he said that he had a lot of practice over the years in responding to reporters asking him about not being elected and that he was prepared to do so again this week. He seemed genuinely surprised that he made it as evidenced by his emotional, off-the-cuff responses to questions.

Both players were asked about their longtime manager Sparky Anderson and both talked warmly about him while acknowledging his often tough love.

Morris said Sparky made him a ballplayer. Trammell said that he and the other young Tigers players who broke into pro ball in the mid-to-late 70s thought they knew what they were doing but that “Sparky showed me I didn’t know squat.” He said that he could field well when he was young but that his hitting lagged. Trammell would, of course, turn into an excellent offensive shortstop, and that a lot of that was due to Anderson’s motivation. “He batted me ninth and I didn’t want to bat ninth . . . he told me when I hit it looked like I was swinging a wet newspaper.” Morris said that he thought of Anderson as “a father and older brother in one.” He said Sparky would make him angry but that he’d never be the pitcher he was if it wasn’t for him.

Trammell, as expected, was asked about his longtime double play mate Lou Whitaker, who was also on the Veterans’ Committee Ballot but who did not gain induction despite a Hall-worthy resume.

“We’re linked together, as we should be,” Trammell said. He said that it has long been his dream to be inducted at the same time as Whitaker. “The dream didn’t happen that we’d go in together this year, but I’m hoping that someday it does happen.” Trammell said. “I’m entitled to my opinion and my dreams.”

Finally, both Morris and Whitaker were asked about Marvin Miller, the groundbreaking and history-making union chief who, once again, was denied election.

Trammell said he’s thankful for Miller and hopes the young players recognize what he did. He says he’d be shocked if Miller is not inducted one day. Morris echoed those comments. “There’s a whole generation of players who have no idea who he was or what he did . . . I’ll always be a strong supporter of him.”

Each player then left the stage and began to be swarmed by reporters in small group sessions. It’s just the beginning of a seven-month whirlwind between now and July 29, when each will be inducted to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.