Hall of ?: Jack Morris, Stat Geeks, and the Future of Baseball

Rambling On is a seriously fun blog and podcast covering sports, music, culture, and more. Check us out on Twitter, Facebook, or at our website.

Originally published in January 12, 2013 as part of Rambling On’s original Sports Ramble series.

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This week the Baseball Writers Association of America announced that no player received enough votes for induction into the Hall of Fame in 2013. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Adding someone every year despite their merit would cheapen the specialness of the Hall. It’s a little less fun but some years it’s necessary.

The problem is that this year was not one of them.

Big Black Jack Morris in '91.

Big Black Jack Morris in ’91.

Jack Morris was the dominant pitcher of the 1980s. His prime lasted from 1979-1992, an incredible thirteen years. He baffled hitters, racking up a ton of wins, innings, and strike outs. Perhaps most importantly he lifted each team he was on to a new level and consistently came up big in important spots. He was an integral part of three World Series winning teams (’84 Tigers, ’91 Twins, ’92 Blue Jays) and gave the most impressive, dominant pitching performance of all-time in his 10 inning shutout of the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Any pitcher with credentials like his should be in the Hall of Fame.

Yet he got snubbed once again this year.

Some voters overlooked him because they were so worked up about steroid users being on the ballot that they ignored Morris’ case. It’s ironic because Morris’ hard work and dedication got him everything he had, while guys like Clemens and Bonds sought cheap, illegal, artificial shortcuts to improve their performance. As it is, this story distracted so many people that Morris got put on the backburner. Some writers even refused to even vote for anyone.

An overlooked reason for Morris’ continued failure to get inducted (this is his 14th year on the ballot) is that he played on three relatively small market teams. Had he won a World Series Game 7 in the dramatic fashion he did as a New York Yankee he would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Similarly, he wouldn’t have had any trouble getting votes if his ‘80s dominance was with the Red Sox.

The worst reason that Morris continues being overlooked is that many in the baseball community somehow don’t believe that he deserves induction. Despite the case being pretty simple, as I’ve already shown, there is a movement in baseball to place an unnecessary emphasis on statistics, especially new Sabermetrics. If specific statistics don’t show the exact worthiness of a player then they are seen as unworthy of any special praise, including induction into the Hall of Fame.

Haha.

Haha.

This is a sad trend. Baseball is special because there are so many unique intangibles that make the game interesting, that define it. Because of this statistics will never be able to tell the most important parts of the story.  They can give a picture of a player’s accomplishments but they cannot measure what a player means to a team and his teammates, the impact he has on his team and the league, his reputation, how fans view him, and so many other important things. Since it isn’t called the Hall of Statistics – it’s the Hall of Fame (think “famous”) – all these things require consideration in addition to on-the-field accomplishments.

Baseball fans can only bemoan Jack Morris’ exclusion from the Hall of Fame. Hopefully in the future those voting for the Hall of Fame will vote as a human being and not as a computer.

Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He is also a contributor for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik’s music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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