Morris’ potential Hall of Fame career ended with Tribe
Vince Guerrieri | On 07, Jan 2014
This year marks Jack Morris’ penultimate shot at being elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
If he gets the call from the hall Wednesday, he probably will be best remembered as a Tiger. Morris began his career inauspiciously in Detroit, getting booed by fans at Tiger Stadium hungry to see Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. Morris spent 14 of his 17-year career in the Detroit, throwing his only no-hitter for the Tigers in 1984 on the way to a 19-11 finish in the regular season, augmented with three postseason wins as the Motor City Kitties led the American League East wire to wire on the way to their last World Series win to date.
But after winning another World Series with his hometown team, the Twins, in 1991, and back-to-back world titles with the Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993, Morris ended his career in Cleveland with an Indians team that was on the rise.
Morris was regarded as a clutch pitcher, going 7-1 in his first nine postseason starts, in 1984, 1987 (when the Tigers won the division but lost the American League Championship Series to the Twins) and 1991, when he outdueled John Smoltz, going the distance to win Game 7 of the World Series.
But after the 1992 regular season, where he went 21-6, leading the American League in wins, he went 0-1 in the postseason. In 1993, he went 7-12, and 0-2 in the postseason, including a shelling in Game 5 of the World Series. After the season, the Blue Jays bought out his contract for $1 million.
He felt he had something left in the tank and the Indians, looking for veteran leadership for a young club in a new ballpark, signed the active MLB wins leader for $350,000 with up to $2.25 million in incentives for innings pitched.
“Jack Morris is coming in with something to prove, and I think that our young pitchers are going to have to go hard to keep up with him,” said Indians general manager John Hart in Associated Press reports.
Or maybe the Indians just didn’t want to play against him. He owned the Tribe, with a 32-12 career record against them.
Morris was penciled in as the No. 2 starter for the Indians. When Dennis Martinez took the hill for the first opener at Jacobs Field, it broke Morris’ string of 14 consecutive opening day starts, a record, and second all-time behind Tom Seaver’s 16 opening day starts.
Morris won his first start for the Indians, but stumbled through April and May, losing his next four. He righted the ship before starting to demonstrate a certain disinterest in playing for the Indians. Morris owned a farm in Montana, and began commuting there between starts. In his last five starts for the Indians, which coincided with his commuting to Montana, Morris, never known for his ability to keep the score low, had his ERA balloon to 8.67. On Aug. 9, the Indians, in the thick of a division race, cut Morris and put rookie Chad Ogea in his place in the rotation. Morris ended up making an additional $50,000 for pitching 90 innings that year. Three days later, the season was shut down by the MLB players strike.
Morris made a brief comeback the next year in spring training with the Reds, but his career was done. He ended up with a 254-186 record – and a career that’s a great argument starter for Hall of Fame consideration.
The pros? He was one of the best of his era. His ability to start and win big games. His ability to eat innings. His competitiveness, which manifested itself even in his final season before he was otherwise diverted.
The cons? He gave up lots of runs. He didn’t win 300 games. He was never considered one of the best, never finishing higher than third for the Cy Young Award – another award given out by the BBWAA.
Morris’ Hall of Fame case might not have gotten stronger since his retirement, but his vote totals have. In his first year of eligibility, he got 22.2 percent. It’s steadily grown, and last year, he got 67.7 percent. To be elected to the Hall, a player must receive at least 75 percent of the vote. Overall, he’s received a total of 2,873 votes, the most by a player who hasn’t been inducted.