There can be some great debate about players who are on the fringe of a spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and one of the most frequently discussed players in recent years has been longtime MLB starter Jack Morris.
Long considered one of the top pitchers of the hall of very good, Morris finally gained entrance to Cooperstown immortality on Sunday when it was announced that both he and former teammate Alan Trammell had been selected by the Modern Era Committee for induction as part of the Hall of Fame Class of 2018.
The 16-member panel made the decision to send Morris and Trammell to New York next summer, passing over some other worthy candidates that included former executive Marvin Miller and players Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, and Luis Tiant. Simmons missed joining the two former Tigers stars by just one vote.
John and Tiant, like Morris, spent time in Cleveland during their playing careers.
By the time Morris joined the Indians organization in 1994, he was already a five-time All-Star, a three-time World Series winner, and a World Series Most Valuable Player. He joined the pro ranks in 1976 when he was a fifth round selection by Detroit in the June draft and just over a year later, he was on the mound for the Tigers. After working mostly in relief in 1978, he made the permanent move to the Detroit rotation in the final season of the ’70’s and he took off with a 17-7 season with a 3.28 ERA.
In 1981, he took the mound at Cleveland Municipal Stadium as the starting pitcher for the American League squad in the All-Star Game in his first selection. He led the Majors in the strike-shortened season with 14 wins and finished third in the Cy Young voting, the highest he would rank in his career. He set a new career-high with 20 wins in 1983 and was an All-Star again in 1984 and 1985. The Tigers were postseason bound in ’84 and he helped carry the club all the way to a title, going 3-0 in three postseason starts with a 1.80 ERA and two complete games. He set a career-high with 21 wins in 1986. His last All-Star nod with the Tigers came in 1987, but some of his best games were still to come.
He left Detroit following the 1990 season and relocated to Minnesota, returning the St. Paul native back home to the Twin Cities. He went 18-12 with a 3.43 ERA and was back on the All-Star team for the final time in his career. He gave arguably one of the best pitching performances in World Series history in the deciding seventh game of the Fall Classic against the Atlanta Braves, throwing a ten-inning complete game seven-hit shutout to cap a 4-0 record in five postseason starts while giving him a well-deserved World Series MVP trophy.
Free agency took him to Toronto for the 1992 season and he was again playoff bound for the Blue Jays. He struggled in four postseason starts, going 0-3, but he matched his career-high with an MLB-leading 21 wins to get the club to the playoffs. The Jays would defeat the Braves in six to give Morris a third ring.
Morris had his worst season in the Bigs in 1993 in a second season with Toronto, going 7-12 with a 6.19 ERA before again hitting the open market. The young and enticing Indians club scooped him up in February ahead of the 1994 season, pairing the veteran right-hander with their earlier offseason additions Dennis Martinez and Chris Nabholz and returning righties Charles Nagy and Mark Clark. Morris struggled to a 5.60 ERA, but earned a 10-6 record in the process because his offensive teammates provided him with 6.3 runs of support per start. But Morris, 39, appeared to have his focus elsewhere. Following the All-Star break, he frequently left the team in between starts to return to his 7,500 acre farm in Great Falls, Montana, to help with the wheat harvest because two of his best farmhands had quit (The Plain Dealer, August 9, 1994). With the issue causing problems in the clubhouse and Morris’ results suffering on the field, the team released him just days before the strike.
“It was a distraction to the ball club and everyone concerned,” Martinez was quoted in the August 12 ,1994, edition of The Plain Dealer regarding Morris’ situation. “I was hoping he’d be able to take care of things, but when he showed up there were concerns about what he’d done between starts. Sometimes when things come up, it seems like the end of the world.”
Tribe pitching coach Phil Regan believed that Morris’ conditioning was affected because he was not running or throwing in between starts while instead working on his farm.
Morris went to spring training with the Cincinnati Reds in 1995, but did not make the club. He was on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballots for 15 years, maxing out at 67.7% of the vote in 2013, his penultimate season of eligibility.
Trammell, who spent all 20 of his big league seasons in the Motor City, finished his career with a .285/.352/.415 slash. The longtime shortstop debuted at the age of 19 and played until he was 38. Like Morris, he was selected in the 1976 draft, but he went several rounds ahead of his teammate with the Tigers’ second round pick that year. He was a six-time All-Star, a four-time Gold Glove winner, a three-time Silver Slugger selection, and was named the World Series MVP of the 1984 championship round after hitting .450 with nine hits (one double, two homers, six RBI) in five games. His best season came in 1987, his fourth of six All-Star trips, when he hit a career-best .343 with 34 doubles, 28 homers, and 105 RBI and finished second in the AL MVP voting. The home run output was double his previous career-best at that point in the time and it marked the only time in his career that he exceeded 100 RBI.
He spent a full 15 years on the ballot, exhausting his final year of eligibility with the 2016 vote, when he capped out at a high vote percentage of 40.9%.
The Modern Era will meet again to vote on another potential class of candidates in 2019. The 16-person Modern Era Committee is made up of a mix of individuals with ties to the game of baseball, including Hall of Fame players George Brett, Rod Carew, Dennis Eckersley, Don Sutton, Dave Winfield, and Robin Yount, manager Bobby Cox, executives Sandy Alderson, Paul Beeston, Bob Castellini, Bill DeWitt, David Glass, and John Schuerholz, and historians Bob Elliott, Steve Hirdt and Jayson Stark.
Photo: 1994 Fleer Extra Bases #63