Jack Morris Tigers

This is the year Hall of Fame ballot reality catches up with Jack Morris


I, like many, believe four players will get elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame today: Greg Maddux will be elected almost unanimously (I suspect at least four people will not vote for him), Tom Glavine will be in the mid-to-high 90s in percentage, Frank Thomas will go in comfortably and Craig Biggio will just barely slip in.

Mike Piazza will fall short, I think, but end up in that on-deck circle spot that Biggio had last year. Jeff Bagwell may lose a little bit of ground, which is weird but perhaps the consequence of an overloaded ballot. Tim Raines, I hope, will continue his slow but steady march toward election.

And … of course I have a couple of final thoughts about Jack Morris. I don’t believe Morris will be elected. I actually think he will lost a little support in his final year, which almost never happens. Morris’ voting pattern has continuously baffled me, which is part of the reason I’ve written so much about him, but I think I’ve figured something out.

You know the story, presumably, of Luis Tiant. His career numbers are remarkably similar to that of his Hall of fame contemporary Catfish Hunter — I actually think Tiant was a better pitcher — and when he came on the ballot in 1988 it was just after Hunter was elected. Tiant received 31% of the vote. That was a terrific first ballot showing and, by BBWAA history, almost guaranteed that he would be elected to the Hall of Fame at some point.

But that percentage was an illusion. Tiant had entered the last ballot for a decade that did not have a compelling starting pitching candidate on there. The best candidate was Jim Bunning, but he was already in his 12th year on the ballot and just wasn’t exciting the electorate. After that, you had Mickey Lolich and Don Larsen and Wilbur Wood — Tiant was the exciting new face of the Hall of Fame ballot and so a good chunk of voters picked him. Many more probably thought they would get to Tiant eventually. But it wasn’t meant to go that way.

The next year, Gaylord Perry and Fergie Jenkins came on the ballot. Suddenly, Tiant was the third or fourth best pitcher on the ballot. His support plummeted all the way down to 10.5%. The next year, Perry, Jenkins and Bunning were all STILL on the ballot. Tiant’s support went down again. Then Jim Palmer came on. Tiant’s support went down YET AGAIN. The next year, it was Rollie Fingers. Then Tom Seaver. Then Phil Niekro. Then Steve Carlton and Don Sutton. It was an avalanche of great pitchers and 300-game winners and Tiant was swept away as were other terrific pitchers like Jim Kaat and Ron Guidry and Tommy John.

Tiant never even got 20% of the vote after his first year.

So, that story is familiar. But the Morris story, I now think, is PRECISELY THE OPPOSITE of the Tiant story. While Tiant came on the ballot at precisely the wrong time, Morris came on at precisely the right time. The last starting pitcher to be elected by the BBWAA was Bert Blyleven in 2011. Before that, it was — are you ready for this — Nolan Ryan in 1999. That’s an 11-year gap without a single starting pitcher getting elected (not counting Dennis Eckersley who went in more for his relief work, I think, than his starting pitching).

Well, guess who was on all 11 of those ballots. Yep. Jack Morris. Morris came on the ballot in 2000 — just as Nolan Ryan ended an era. Morris received 22% of the vote — quite a bit less than Tiant his first year. His support went down in Year 2. He seemed on a similar voting track to Lew Burdette and Johnny Vander Meer and even Mickey Lolich — that is, it seemed his support would never really go any higher.

But from that point on, look who were the best people added to the ballot each year.

2001: Dave Stewart
2002: Frank Viola
2003: Fernando Valenzuela
2004: Dennis Martinez and Dave Stieb and Jimmy Key
2005: Black Jack McDowell (or Jim Abbott for overcoming odds)
2006: Orel Hershiser
2007: Bret Saberhagen
2008: Chuck Finley
2009: David Cone
2010: Kevin Appier
2011: Kevin Brown

You could argue persuasively that some of these pitchers were better than Morris, but the point is that none of them interested the BBWAA in the least. Only Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser even made a second ballot. That meant that for a dozen years, Morris (and Blyleven) more or less had the ballot to themselves. And they both built up momentum — Blyleven through his impeccable stats and a concerted effort by some people on the Interned, Morris through his Game 7 heroics and a “you had to be there” charisma.

Morris went from 26% in his fifth year, to 41% in his seventh year, to 52% in his 11th year to 66.7% in his 13th year.

But last year, for the first time, a couple of more interesting Hall of Fame candidates than Morris appeared on the ballot — Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling. Neither one was able to garner much momentum for themselves for different reasons, but they slowed the Morris train. This year, with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina joining, I think Morris’ support will go down even though it’s his 15th year on the ballot and there is much sentiment for him.

As I’ve said before, the best thing that can happen to Morris is for him to get off this BBWAA ballot and be a candidate for the Veteran’s Committee. Maybe someday soon we’ll see a Veteran’s ballot with Morris, Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell on it.

Playoff Reset: The AL Wild Card Game

Wild Card

Each day throughout the playoffs we’re going to be doing what we’ll call a reset. Not always a preview, not always a recap, but a generalized summary of where we stand at the moment and what we have to look forward tonight.

Today, of course, is Day One of the playoffs so we can really only look ahead, so let’s look ahead to what’s on tap in tonight’s one and only game.

The Game: Houston Astros vs. New York Yankees, American League Wild Card Game
The Time: 8:08 PM Eastern. Or thereabouts.
The Place: Yankee Stadium, New York
The Channel: ESPN
The Starters: Dallas Keuchel vs. Masahiro Tanaka

The Upshot:

  • Dallas Keuchel is the Astros’ ace and may very well win the Cy Young Award, but he’s (a) pitching on three-days’ rest; and (b) not in Minute Maid Park, where he is clearly superior compared to how he does on the road. At the same time, (a) the Yankees haven’t figured him out this year, going scoreless against him in 16 innings and striking out 21 times, including a poor performance against him in the Bronx a month or so ago; and (b) lefty sinkerballer types are basically the platonic ideal of a pitcher you want to throw against the Yankees to drive them crazy. While, historically, pitchers going on short rest in the playoffs fare poorly — in the past 20 years they are 18-37 — sinkerballers and extreme groundball pitchers fare much better than most. It ain’t a perfect setup for him, but you gotta like Keuchel here.
  • Meanwhile, Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka has made one career start vs. the Astros: this year, back on June 27. He got beat up, allowing six runs in five innings, receiving no decision. Those disclaimers about past performance not being indicative of future results you see in financial services commercials should apply to this and all other past matchup stats you see in the postseason, however. One random start here or there — or two in Keuchel’s case — doesn’t tell us a ton. This is baseball and tomorrow is always another day. At least if you don’t lose the Wild Card Game. More of a concern for Tanaka: rust. He has pitched only once since tweaking his hamstring against the Mets on September 18 and it wasn’t a good outing. At least he’s rested?
  • Both teams are dependent on the longball but both teams have struggled at times on offense down the stretch, with the Yankees’ bats being particular quiet in the season’s last month or so. Someone needs to wake up A-Rod. And Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Chase Headley and Brian McCann for that matter too. Of course, all of that firepower may not matter. The playoffs often see offenses go quiet and pitching come to the fore. Both teams have decent bullpens — the Yankees’ far, far more than decent — and given Tanaka’s rust and Keuchel’s short rest, this one is very likely to come down to multiple innings of hard-throwing relief. That favors the Yankees if they can keep it close.
  • Both teams are basically stumbling into the postseason, with the Yankees having lost six of their last seven games. They’re also under .500 since the end of July. The Astros swooned themselves in the second half, going 11-16 in September before rebounding in the season’s last week. Good thing momentum generally isn’t a thing in the playoffs — remember those 2000 Yankees losing 15 of 18 before the playoffs started and then won the World Series! — because neither team here has much of it.

This is the Astros’ first playoff game in a decade. While the Yankees haven’t been in the postseason since 2012, there is a lot of playoff experience here, making this an interesting study in contrasts from a storyline perspective. At least if you’re into storylines. Personally I’m not. I’m more into baseball games and in this baseball game, I think Keuchel is a tough draw for the Yankees, even on short rest, and that for New York to advance they’re gonna have to be a team they haven’t been for weeks and maybe months: one that lays off junk down low and hits the ball hard.


Mike Scioscia will return as Angels manager in 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 21:  Manager Mike Scioscia #14 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the dugout during batting practice before a game against the Minnesota Twins at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on July 21, 2015 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

It was assumed already, but Mike Scioscia made it official during Monday’s press conference for new general manager Billy Eppler that he will return as Angels manager in 2016.

Scioscia, the longest-tenured manager in the majors, has been at the helm with the Angels since 2000. There was a clause in his contract which allowed him to opt out after the 2015 season, but he has decided to stay put. He still has three years and $15 million on his contract, which runs through 2018.

Jerry Dipoto resigned as Angels general manager in July amid tension with Scioscia, so there were naturally questions today about what to expect with first-time GM Eppler in the fold. According to David Adler of MLB.com, Scioscia isn’t concerned.

“I think we’re going to mesh very well,” Scioscia said. “If we adjust, or maybe he adjusts to some of the things, there’s going to be collaboration that’s going to make us better.”

Eppler is the fourth general manager during Scioscia’s tenure with the team.

After winning the AL West last season, the Angels finished 85-77 this season and narrowly missed the playoffs. The team hasn’t won a postseason game since 2009.