Three Former Indians Among Ten Men on 2018 Modern Baseball Era Ballot
Bob Toth | On 06, Nov 2017
Three former Cleveland Indians pitchers have been selected as part of the ten-man Modern Baseball Era ballot, the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced on Monday.
Tommy John, Jack Morris, and Luis Tiant all spent time in an Indians uniform during their lengthy professional careers and are among nine former players and one longtime executive included in the Modern Baseball Era ballot this season. While each of the players failed to make it into the Hall of Fame through selection by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America following their playing careers, they will all get a second chance at a place among the baseball immortals when the Modern Baseball Era Committee’s 16-member panel casts its votes on December 10 at the Baseball Winter Meetings in Orlando, Florida.
Also up for review are players Steve Garvey, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, and Alan Trammell, as well as the late Marvin Miller, head of the Major League Baseball Players Association for 17 years from 1966 to 1982.
The Modern Baseball Era Committee will look over the cases for each of the ten men and cast ballots in December. Candidates who receive votes on 75 percent or more of the ballots cast by the committee will gain entrance to Cooperstown as part of the Class of 2018. This year’s induction ceremony from New York is scheduled for July 29, 2018.
This is the first time that a Modern Baseball Era ballot has been held. This December’s vote covers those persons whose primary contributions to the game came between the years of 1970 and 1987. A systematic change by the Hall in the summer of 2016 changed the frequency with which committees will review each era, with the Early Baseball Committee (1871-1949) voting once every ten years, the Golden Days Era (1950-1969) voting every five years, and the Modern Baseball Era and Today’s Game (1988-present) Eras alternating years not already occupied by an Early Baseball or Golden Days Era vote.
Each of the three Indians players have unique cases to be made for selection as part of the Class of 2018.
John’s baseball legacy carries on today because of the elbow surgery that bears his name, but his playing career spanned 26 big league seasons and began in Cleveland.
John signed with the Indians in 1961 and spent parts of three seasons in the minors before getting his first taste of the Majors as a 20-year-old in 1963. He made three starts and three relief appearances that season, going 0-2 with a 2.21 ERA in 20 1/3 innings. The following season was split between the Tribe’s Portland affiliate and Cleveland. He made 14 starts for the Indians and 29 total appearances, but went 2-9 with a 3.91 ERA. That winter, he was part of an eight-player, three-team trade with the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Athletics. He was sent to Chicago with Tommie Agee and John Romano, while the Indians would receive Cam Carreon from the White Sox and, more notably, Rocky Colavito back from the Athletics.
John blossomed into a strong big league starter for the Pale Hose, later making the 1968 All-Star team while totaling double-digit win totals in six of his seven seasons in Chicago. He was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers ahead of the 1972 season and pitched three seasons there before undergoing surgery to replace a torn ligament in his elbow in 1975. He recovered and returned to form quickly, winning 20 games for the first time in 1977 and making another All-Star trip in 1978 before he signed with the New York Yankees as a free agent. He was an All-Star for the final two times in his career in 1979 and 1980 with the Yankees, winning 21 and 22 games respectively in those years. He also spent time with the California Angels (1982-1985) and Oakland Athletics (1985) before returning to the Bronx from 1986 to 1989.
The 46-year-old John was released just days after his final big league start on May 25, 1989. He ended his career with a 288-231 record with a 3.34 ERA in 760 games, including 700 starts. He spent the maximum 15 years on the BBWAA ballot, receiving a high mark of 31.7% of the vote in his final year of eligibility in 2009.
Tiant, a teammate of John’s at Portland and in Cleveland in 1964, also started his big league career with the Indians after signing as a free agent following a couple of seasons pitching in the Mexican League. Tiant gave the Indians several weapons in the rotation over a portion of the ‘60’s, including the veteran Gary Bell, fellow fresh face in the league Sonny Siebert, and the young fireballer Sam McDowell. Tiant would put up big strikeout numbers in 1967 (219) and 1968 (264), making the All-Star team in the latter season while going 21-9 with a league-best 1.60 ERA and nine shutouts.
Appearing on top of the world, or at least the mound, Tiant’s next season went drastically awry as his control became an issue. He went 9-20 for the Tribe, losing a league-high number of games while allowing the most homers (37) and walks (129) in the Majors that season. The Indians dealt the 29-year-old to Minnesota after the season in a six-player swap.
He spent one year with the Twins, missing two months in the middle of the season, but showed some signs of improving upon his disastrous 1969 season. He was cut by the Twins prior to the start of the 1971 season and signed with the Atlanta Braves, pitching a month in the minors for them before he was released again and ventured to his third team of the season, the Boston Red Sox, where he was again a teammate of Siebert. Tiant went just 1-7 with a 4.85 ERA in 21 games to close out the 1971 campaign, but turned his career around the next season, going 15-6 in 43 games (including 19 starts) with a 1.91 ERA, the top mark in MLB. He won 20 games in 1973 and 22 in 1974 when he was an All-Star for the second time and finished fourth in the Cy Young voting. He made his only trip to the World Series in 1975 as the Red Sox fell in seven games to the Big Red Machine, but Boston won all three games that he started. He won 21 games in his third All-Star trip in 1976. He spent his eight best big league seasons in Boston before pitching for the New York Yankees for two seasons in 1979 and 1980 (where he was reunited with John), for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1981, and the California Angels in 1982.
He retired from a 19-year MLB career with a 229-172 lifetime win-loss record and a 3.30 ERA. He was up for induction to the Hall for the first time in 1988, receiving votes on 30.9% of the ballots, but he never exceeded that amount again in the 14 years to follow. His last year on the ballot, when he achieved 18.0% of the vote in 2002, marked the highest percentage that he had received since his first year of eligibility.
Unlike John and Tiant, Morris’s big league career effectively ended in Cleveland.
Morris has been one of the more hotly debated Hall candidates in recent memory. He spent 15 years on the ballot from 2000 to 2014, topping out at 67.7% in his penultimate season of eligibility.
His career began in 1977 with the Detroit Tigers with a handful of outings. After working largely in relief in 1978, he moved into the rotation and never looked back in Motown. He remained a fixture at Tiger Stadium through the 1990 season, making four trips to the Midsummer’s Classic while twice finishing third in the AL Cy Young voting. He won 20 games in 1983 and 21 in 1986. He helped the Tigers win the World Series in 1984 by going 3-0 in three playoff starts with a pair of complete games tossed against the San Diego Padres in the Fall Classic.
He went home to St. Paul, Minnesota, for the 1991 season with the Twins, making another All-Star team while going 18-12. His biggest performance that season, his only in the Twin Cities, came in Game 7 of the World Series when he fired a ten-inning complete game shutout over the Atlanta Braves to give the Twins the title and Morris the World Series MVP award. He was 4-0 in five starts that postseason.
He moved along to Toronto for the 1992 and 1993 seasons, both big years in Blue Jays history. He led baseball with 21 wins in his first season with the Jays, helping guide the club to its first championship, but fell back to 7-12 the following year and did not appear in the postseason as Toronto won its second straight title.
Morris was signed as a free agent by the Indians in the offseason, giving the club a pair of playoff-tested veterans (joining Dennis Martinez) on an otherwise unproven staff for the 1994 season. Despite a 5.60 ERA, he went 10-6 in 23 starts before his release just days before the strike cut short the season. He attempted to win a roster spot with the Cincinnati Reds the following year in camp, but failed to do so, calling it a career. With 18 years of work at the big league level, Morris was 254-186 with a 3.90 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP over 549 games (527 starts).
Results from the Modern Era Baseball Committee’s vote on the ten eligible candidates will be announced live on MLB Network on Sunday, December 10, 2017, at 6:00 PM ET.
Photo: The Sporting News Collection