I get it. Jack Morris's career ERA was 3.90, higher than the career ERAs of Mike Witt, Mike Boddicker, and Tom Candiotti. And if you use ERA+, Morris looks a little better (105 ERA+), but he doesn't fare as well as … Mike Witt, Mike Boddicker, and Tom Candiotti. Trying to build a statistical case for Morris is like trying to start a car by putting a gas nozzle in the ignition. That has some of the basic ideas involved, but the execution is all wrong.
If I had a vote, Morris wouldn't even get in to the Hall of Really Neat Players Named Jack. But here's something I stopped doing a long time ago: I stopped gritting my teeth every time another writer made a belabored case for Morris. I stopped trying to convince people of the error of their ways, hoping to save their mortal baseball-loving souls. I took the sandwich board off my shoulders and recycled the pamphlets I was handing out.
Supporters for Jack Morris usually don't appeal too much to the statistical argument, other than the bloated win-loss record. They appeal to his status as the Pitcher of the '80s, or his performance in Game 7, or his tenacity, or that gleam in his eye that made you feel like you were going to be alright, or the smell of his aftershave as he cradled the rest of the team in his arms, or … whatever they feel like appealing to. Different writers will pick and choose different things, but they can all be whittled down to the same thing: Jack Morris should be in the Hall of Fame because of his je ne sais quoi.
To which I respond: Sounds good.
And I mean that. There's no snark behind that whatsoever. If, to you, Morris just feels like a Hall of Famer, I absolutely don't have a problem with that because 75% of the voters would also have to feel the same way, so there isn't a chance that one dingbat will futz the whole thing up.
Using Morris' won-loss record to demonstrate that he was empirically better than, say, Frank Tanana, Jim Kaat, or Vida Blue? Can't get behind that. Mentioning that he started 14 straight Opening Day starts, as if I should give him credit for starting on Opening Day after going 6-14 with a 4.86 ERA the season before? Not so much.
But if you have a gut feeling that Morris transcended the game in some capacity that isn't easy to define in a number -- something that you just can't explain to someone who is wrapped up in the stats-minded -- and you're just compelled to vote for him, go for it. Because in order for him to get in the Hall, 75% of the voters would have to feel like that. And if over 400 of the voters saw the je ne sais quoi that I never saw, I'll learn to accept that it's my problem, not theirs.
Here's how I would define the purpose of the Hall of Fame: It's a museum that tells the story of baseball. And makes wheelbarrows of money. But mostly the first part. And with each player inducted, that's another chapter that reads "Pay special attention to this player. He was important. He was synonymous with baseball when he played."
My Jack Morris would have been Kirby Puckett. Statistically, he wasn't much better than Brian Giles, but Puckett was a reason I loved baseball growing up. He made the game better. He was a chapter in the story of baseball that I'd want to pass on, and highlight in a museum dedicated to highlighting great players.
But I also would have graciously acknowledged that if 75% of the voters didn't feel that way, I was seeing something that others didn't. Fair enough. That's how I felt about Kevin Brown, who was one of the scariest (and best) pitchers I've ever watched, but one who never came close to enshrinement. And if 75% of the voters think Jack Morris had the Kirby je ne sais quoi that Kevin Brown lacked -- that he's someone who defined baseball while he was active, and who should be remembered as a significant part of baseball history -- that's just swell. They can have this one.
This is more "wisdom of crowds" rather than "appeal to authority", in case you were wondering. And I still reserve the right to complain about year-end awards and horrible picks from the Veteran's Committee.
I doubt that Morris will get that 75%, though. At least not this year. He's inching closer and closer, but there are too many voters who didn't notice the magic that the others saw, and they're looking at the stats, just as confused as the rest of us. And if he makes it, I'll be a little sad that everyone else was paying attention to Jack Morris instead of watching Alan Trammell do some of the best shortstopping that the game had ever seen, but we'll all survive.
Now let's all turn our wrathful attention to the horrible man-children who aren't voting for Jeff Bagwell because they've used their advanced degrees from Hollywood Upstairs Medical College to determine that steroids were the reason he was good.