Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Jack Morris - Belongs In Cooperstown

I have been a life long fan of the Game of Baseball; from the moment my Father first took me and my brother to see the Detroit Tigers in 1962. That very first moment we walked into Tiger Stadium and I took in the sights, the sound, the smell, the feel … and oh that bright green grass, the golden brown dirt infield, the clean white bases and chalk line … my senses became more alive then they had even been during my previous eight years on earth. I was hooked!

So it goes without saying, while watching ESPN's "Mike & Mike in the Morning" this morning, that my ears perked up when they announced the official 2009 ballot for the Hall of Fame.

It’s been 20 years since the Baseball Writers' Association of America has elected a left fielder into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The 2009 ballot that was released Monday features some prominent left fielders who may very well end that drought. For Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice, there is a case of the first and the last. Henderson is among 10 newcomers to the Hall of Fame ballot. Rice, one of the 13 holdovers from the 2008 ballot, is getting his final opportunity for election by the writers.

There is no question that Henderson, not only deserves but, will be inducted into Cooperstown in 2009. But for one Hall of Fame hopeful, the annual debates begin again.

Jack Morris spent fourteen of his eighteen seasons with the Detroit Tigers. However, he was still able to pick up three World Championship rings on three different teams: the Tigers in 1984, the Twins in 1991, and the Blue Jays in 1992. And despite an illustrious career, that included Morris becoming the winningest pitcher in the Major Leagues during the decade of the 1980’s, plus throwing a no-hitter, 5 All Star appearances, and being named a World Series MVP, he has been unsuccessful in gaining enough votes to win Baseball’s highest honor.

To this life long fan of the game ... it’s a no brainer! The numbers speak for themselves:

The Numbers:
254 Wins (40th All-time); 3.90 ERA; 2478 Strikeouts (31st All-time); 3824 Innings (49th All-time); 527 starts (35th All-time); 175 Complete Games; 28 Shutouts; 1 No Hitter.

The Awards:
World Series MVP; 5 All-Star Appearances; Received MVP votes in 5 seasons; Received Cy Young votes in 7 seasons.

Top Ten Finishes:
Wins - 12 Times (Led league in ‘81 & ‘92); ERA - Five Times; Strikeouts - 8 Times (Led league ‘83); Innings - 9 Times (Led league in ‘83); Starts - 11 Times (Led league in ‘90 & ‘91); Complete Games - 10 Times (Led league in ‘90); Shutouts - 8 Times (Led league in ‘86); Winning Percentage - 5 Times.

All these great statistics aside … for me, it comes down to one memorable night in 1991 at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minnesota … in what many consider to be, the greatest post season performance of the modern era. It was Sunday, October 27, 1991, Game 7 of the World Series. Jack Morris of the Minnesota Twins vs. John Smoltz of the Atlanta Braves.

The pitching duel lived up to the hype, with neither team scoring through the first seven innings. But in the top of the eighth inning, the Braves mounted a challenge. With veteran speedster Lonnie Smith on first base and 1991 National League Batting MVP Terry Pendleton at the plate, Braves skipper Bobby Cox called for the hit-and-run. Pendleton drove the ball into the gap for a double. Smith hesitated while rounding second base, however, and ended up on third instead of scoring.

Morris then settled down and worked out of the jam, getting the final two outs as Atlanta first baseman Sid Bream grounded into a double play, stranding Smith on third in what turned out to be a huge missed opportunity by Atlanta.

Smoltz was removed from the game in the bottom of the eighth inning after scattering just six hits and striking out four, and more importantly, keeping the score knotted at 0-0.

Morris soldiered on as the game remained scoreless through the ninth. As the game entered the top of the tenth inning (which was the third game of the Series to reach extra innings), Jack Morris returned to the mound and set the Braves down in order. The 18-game winner had now thrown, unbelievably, 10 innings without giving up a run. But he'd thrown 126 pitches on just three days rest. The odds of him continuing for an 11th frame were mighty slim.

He wouldn't need to. In the bottom half of the tenth inning, Twins' left fielder Dan Gladden doubled off Atlanta reliever Alejandro Pena to lead off the inning. American League Rookie of the Year Chuck Knoblauch then bunted Gladden over to third. Bobby Cox then moved the outfielders in, hoping that they could field a short fly ball and throw out Gladden if he tried to tag up. But pinch-hitter Gene Larkin launched a shot over the drawn-in outfield. Gladden jogged home and jumped on the plate as he was stormed by his teammates.

The game and the Series were over. The Twins had won the World Championship and Jack Morris had completed his second win of the series, with a 10 Inning shutout. A masterpiece of Herculean proportions.

That’s the stuff that legends are made of. Although it is merely one reason that Morris belongs in the Hall of Fame, as documented above, the career speaks for itself.

Gone are the days of 300 win careers. With five-man rotations, pitchers just won’t start enough games to reach that plateau anymore. If the voters can’t look past Morris not reaching that mark, maybe they need to realize that starting pitching, in the future, will go the way of the dinosaur in terms of the Hall of Fame. There has to be more to it than just a magic (300) number. If someone is a top five pitcher for over a ten year period, with a history of big games in the postseason, and the winningest pitcher in the 1980s, with unmatched durability ... if he just happened to be from an east coast team (i.e.: Yankees or Red Sox), the Chicago White Sox, Cubs, or the L.A. Dodger, he would most certainly had already been enshrined.

Jack Morris is a Hall of Famer in my book.

The official box score for Game 7 of the 1991 World Series:


2009 Hall of Fame Candidates:

1 comment:

Andy said...

Today's article gives me hope that Spring (baseball) fever is just around the corner......we still have to dredge through yet another MI winter but spring training is closer than we think.......GO TIGERS!!!! Almost makes the day feel a little warmer.