Jack Morris Blue Jays

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.

Joe Blanton signs with the Nationals

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 07:  Joe Blanton #55 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the sixth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium on June 7, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post reports that the Nationals have signed Joe Blanton to a one-year contract.

Surprised it took this long given that Blanton was excellent out of the pen for the Dodgers last year, posting a 2.48 ERA and 80/26 K/BB ratio over 80 innings. But even if it’s a late signing, it’s not a terrible one: Blanton will receive a $4 million salary and will have the chance to make an additional $1 million in performance bonuses. UPDATE: The salary structure is kind of odd. Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post reports that Blanton will get only $1 million in 2017, plus some incentives, and will have $1 million deferred to 2018 and $2 million deferred to 2019.

And he got two weeks off work. Bonus!

Baseball doesn’t need gimmicks to draw in young fans. It just needs to be baseball.

MESA, AZ - MARCH 6: Chicago Cubs ball and bat bags are seen prior to the game between the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds on March 6, 2015 at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona. The Reds defeated the Cubs 5-2. (Photo by Rich Pilling/Getty Images)
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MESA, AZ — I didn’t set out to ask Robin Mitchell about pace of play, rules changes, how to best execute an intentional walk or how to turn kids into baseball fans. I was interviewing her about other stuff. She brought those topics up on her own.

“I heard them saying that they were not going to throw four pitches for intentional walks anymore,” Mitchell said. “I’d prefer that they throw the pitches because anything can happen. There can be wild pitches. And that’s the exciting part of baseball. That you don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t think we need to speed the game along.”

For most baseball fans such sentiments are tied up with a devotion to baseball purism, tradition or their distaste for change. But such is not the case for Mitchell. While the lifelong Chicago resident went to Cubs games as a child, baseball has not been a lifelong obsession. Rather, it’s something she has become reacquainted with via her two baseball-obsessed boys, Jake, 11, and Bennett, 9.

Mitchell and her boys live on the north side of Chicago and, over the past two years, her sons have developed a huge affinity for the Cubs, almost by osmosis. It was certainly a good time for it, as the Cubs have become winners, and Mitchell allows that since Jake and Bennett didn’t “have to suffer through some of the more challenging times,” their attraction to the game became easier. It’s clear to her, however, that they are not going to be fair weather fans.

“They love baseball,” she said, implying that it’s not just homerism for the current World Series champions at work. They love the sport itself and began to play it too. It’s not easy for Mitchell to say whether their playing led to their fandom or vice-versa. It all sort of happened at once, with each reinforcing the other.

I asked her what about baseball, specifically, appeals to them. What, at a time when Rob Manfred and everyone connected to the game is worried about the sport’s seeming inability to attract and hold on to young fans, keeps Mitchell’s sons engaged.

For them, it seems to be all about accessibility and engagement. Being in Chicago and living close to a park is important, as is having all of the games available on TV. Also important to them: appealing young stars.

“It helps that the Cubs have some really nice players who seem like really nice guys,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes we see them in the neighborhood even. Ben Zobrist. Anthony Rizzo. David Ross. Whenever we’ve seen them out or at an event they’re always kind and polite and give the boys encouraging words.”

But isn’t baseball . . . boring? And slow? Don’t kids like video games and kinetic action? Doesn’t a 19th century pastime with a sometimes turgid pace turn off 21st century kids?

“No, are you kidding?!” Mitchell said. “We don’t leave the game before it’s over. That’s what we do. It doesn’t matter what the score is. We love the pace of baseball. In the world of electronics, with everything moving really fast and being gimmicky, there’s something I think that my boys and I find appealing about baseball. I can share it with them and we all just slow down.”

As we talked, Jake and Bennett ran around a field just outside the Cubs clubhouse, playing catch and practicing rundowns with a couple of other boys they just met. Mitchell and I spoke for nearly a half hour. They played the whole time and looked like they wouldn’t stop unless or until their mother dragged them away.

We have spent a lot of time lately talking about how to fix baseball. I don’t know that anyone has made a compelling case that, despite the challenges the game faces, it is actually broken. Robin Mitchell doesn’t think it is. Neither do Jake and Bennett. While Rob Manfred and Joe Torre propose increasingly unorthodox methods for speeding things up, some pretty basic and longstanding factors are continuing to attract young fans:

  • The availability of games almost every day;
  • An exciting and successful local team;
  • The charisma of baseball’s biggest stars;
  • The ability for kids to play the game themselves and to emulate those stars on a little league field; and
  • The chance for parents to share their love of baseball with their children.

These are the factors which have always made up baseball’s appeal. Perhaps Major League Baseball should concentrate on ensuring that those factors, which are proven to draw in fans, persist and flourish. Perhaps they should concentrate less on chasing hypothetical fans via gimmicks aimed at fixing problems which are far-from-established.