I’m a big Hall of Fame type, so I love that six players will officially get enshrined into Cooperstown this weekend. Even better, it’s six relatively recent stars who many of us enjoyed watching through the years: Jack Morris is the oldest of the six and began his major league career in 1977, pitching through the 1994 season. Believe me, this is a much more enjoyable Hall of Fame class than, say, 2013, when the inductees were an umpire who died in 1935, an owner who helped keep the color barrier intact and a catcher who played so long ago his SABR bio begins, “He caught baseball fever after the Civil War.”
Still, maybe you are younger than me and didn’t see these guys play, or at least missed some of their prime seasons. Let’s review why each player who will be inducted this weekend is now called a Hall of Famer.
Morris is the most controversial Hall of Famer since Jim Rice or maybe Phil Rizzuto … or maybe ever. In contrast to Bert Blyleven, who became the pro-stathead cause célèbre and eventually got elected in his 14th year of eligibility, Morris was a lightning rod for the statheads who argued against his case, pointing to his 3.90 career ERA and 44.0 career WAR.
Morris’ ERA is the highest of any Hall of Fame pitcher, his adjusted ERA is better than only Catfish Hunter and Rube Marquard, and his WAR is the lowest for any non-reliever since Hunter was elected in 1987. Every other starting pitcher elected since 1980 has a career WAR of at least 60.0 except for Hunter, Morris and Addie Joss (and he died two days after his 31st birthday from tubercular meningitis).
So why did Morris get elected? Maybe the root of the argument spins around this idea, something I’ve come around on as a plausible Hall of Fame discussion point: Can you tell the story of the player’s era without that player being a prominent part of that story? A recent example is David Ortiz. If you’re going strictly by career value, Ortiz’s Hall of Fame case is murky, with just 55.3 WAR. But he obviously towered over the game; you can’t tell the story of 2004 to 2016 without Ortiz as a central figure. You could make a similar argument for Yadier Molina, a player whose Hall of Fame case is better than his numbers.
That’s kind of the Morris argument. He pitched one of the most famous games in baseball history. He won two games in the 1984 World Series for the Tigers, one of the best and most famous teams of the ’80s. He was a workhorse in a decade in which many of the other top pitchers didn’t stay healthy enough to cement their Hall of Fame cases. You can’t really tell the story of the 1980s and 1991 without Morris as a main character.
Now, the question is whether he actually accomplished enough for that other stuff to matter. The BBWAA said no; the Modern Era Committee said yes.