Lou Whitaker does not endorse former teammate Jack Morris for the Hall of Fame

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Former Tiger Jack Morris is up for election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his 15th and final year. Morris has made a surge in popularity among voters in the Baseball Writers Association of America, and as a result, has become a proxy in the ongoing debates between fans of traditional baseball statistics and fans of Sabermetrics.

Lou Whitaker, who played second base behind Morris on the Tigers from 1977 to 1990 (and is not a known Saberist), doesn’t think the right-hander is Hall of Fame-worthy, at least not ahead of himself and shortstop Alan Trammell, per Tony Paul of The Detroit News.

“Jack Morris was no better than Alan Trammell-Lou Whitaker,” Whitaker said during the interview, audio of which was posted on DetroitSportsRag.com and confirmed by MLB Network Radio co-host Jim Bowden. “If we didn’t make the plays, and we didn’t come up with the big hits, Jack Morris wouldn’t be where he was, or where he is.”

[…]

“If Jack deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, Alan Trammell deserves to be in the Hall of Fame,” said Whitaker […]

Whitaker received only 2.9 percent of the vote in 2001, knocking him off the ballot for good after just one year. Trammell is in his 13th year on the ballot, but has never exceeded 36.8 percent. Morris got 67.7 percent last year, just shy of the 75 percent threshold.

According to Baseball Reference, Whitaker’s career 74.8 WAR would be the fifth-highest among Hall of Fame second basemen (min. 75% games at 2B), behind Eddie Collins, Joe Morgan, Nap Lajoie, and Charlie Gehringer.

Trammell’s 70.3 career WAR would tie for the sixth-most among Hall of Fame shortstops (min. 75% games at SS), behind Honus Wagner, Cal Ripken Jr., Ozzie Smith, Luke Appling, and Arky Vaughan, and tied with Barry Larkin.

Morris, at 43.8 career WAR, would rank 37th among 46 Hall of Fame starting pitchers (min.75% games started). The only pitchers he would best that did not pitch in the Dead Ball Era are Lefty Gomez, Bob Lemon, and Catfish Hunter.

Whitaker has a point.

Jack Morris should not be in the Hall of Fame

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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Long time Tigers pitcher Jack Morris was on the Hall of Fame ballot for 15 years but never quite got the necessary 75 percent support to earn enshrinement. That changed on Sunday when he got 12 of 16 votes on the Modern Era ballot. Jack Morris is officially a Hall of Famer.

He shouldn’t be. Statistically, Morris falls well short of Cooperstown standards. His career regular season ERA of 3.90 is now the highest of any pitcher in the Hall of Fame. Morris has a career adjusted ERA — that is, ERA adjusted for league and park factors and set such that 100 is average — of 105, which matches him with more modern pitchers like Andy Benes (105), A.J. Burnett (104), Jamie Moyer (103), and is marginally better than a contemporary in Mike Flanagan (100).

Morris struck out 2,478 batters and walked 1,390 batters in 3,824 career innings. That’s fewer than six strikeouts per nine innings and more than three walks. Of course, the game was different back in the late 70’s and 80’s, as pitchers were more willing to pitch to contact. But even for the time in which he pitched, his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.78 was 214th best out of 612 pitchers, not even in the top one-third of the league.

But, his supporters say, Morris was clutch in the playoffs. And that much is true… if all you remember about Morris is his 10-inning performance against the Braves in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. He shut the Braves out over all 10 frames, giving up just seven hits and two walks with eight strikeouts, helping the Twins win the championship. Certainly a memorable performance. However, Morris had a career 3.80 ERA in 13 postseason starts, marginally better than his unimpressive regular season ERA of 3.90.

It was in spite of Morris, not because of, that the Blue Jays won the World Series in 1992. During four postseason appearances that year, Morris yielded 19 runs in 23 innings. He did not participate in the 1993 postseason but nonetheless got a championship ring in 1993.

Statistically, we have established that Morris does not come close to meriting enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. If you are not convinced, however, perhaps the way Morris treated Jennifer Frey will do the job. Dave McKenna published a fantastic piece about Frey at Deadspin several months after she passed away. He included a photograph of a blurb in the Detroit Free Press on July 19, 1990, which read:

Free Press reporter rebuffed by Morris

The following exchange took place Wednesday night between Free Press sports writer Jennifer Frey, an intern from Harvard, and Tigers pitcher Jack Morris.

Frey, trying to get a comment from Morris about the collusion ruling, approached Morris in the Tigers’ clubhouse before Wednesday’s game against Chicago and said: “Mr. Morris …”

Morris turned and said: “I don’t talk to people when I’m naked, especially women, unless they’re on top of me or I’m on top of them.”

Morris’ response was heard by several reporters and a number of teammates.

Frey said Morris was wearing long underwear at the time — the same thing he was wearing when he discussed his recent one-hitter at length with Frey and other reporters.

Frey said several of Morris’ teammates later told her not to pay attention to what Morris said.

By Gene Guidi

Neal Shine, the publisher of the Free Press, wrote a letter to then-president of the Tigers Bo Schembechler. Neither Schembechler nor anyone else with the Tigers disputed the above account. No one apologized. In fact, Schembechler wrote back to Shine, saying, “your intern watched men from 20 to 65 years of age undress and dress for more than half an hour without asking questions.” He continued, “Your sports editor’s lack of common sense in sending a female college intern in a men’s clubhouse caused the problem. I really wouldn’t doubt that the whole thing was a scam orchestrated by you people to create a story.”

After Frey moved on from the Detroit Free Press, working for the Philadelphia Daily News in 1991. Covering the Twins/Blue Jays ALCS, Frey told her friends that Kirby Puckett had to keep Morris from physically attacking her. One of her friends, Chuck Culpepper, said, “She told me when she ran into Morris, he said, ‘You’re a bitch!’ And she said, ‘You’re an asshole!’ One of those was true — and she wasn’t a bitch.”

Hall of Fame voters have often cited the “character clause” in refusing to vote for players who were caught or suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs. The “character clause” has also been cited for Curt Schilling, who expressed adulation for a t-shirt that read, “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.” They should extend the use of the “character clause” to cover candidates who have treated people disrespectfully, including in a hateful way the way Morris did.

When it comes to “tarnishing the game” with steroids or expressing hatred of (some) journalists, Hall of Fame voters are very eager to cite the character clause. When it comes to a pitcher who was, by most accounts, a knuckle-dragger, voters seem unwilling to hold him accountable. No matter which way you look at it, statistically or otherwise, Morris should not be in the Hall of Fame.