Having just gone through an election cycle, I received dozens of telephone calls urging me to vote for candidates for governor, state senate, state assembly, county freeholder, borough council, sheriff. No one called asking me not to vote for someone.
However, the day before Election Day, someone sent me an e-mail asking me, almost pleading with me, not to vote for someone – Jack Morris.
“Please reconsider & do NOT elect Jack Morris, the anti-Blyleven, to the Hall! Just one more year.”
The writer referred to Morris’ being in his 15th and last year of eligibility on the writers’ ballot. If he doesn’t make it this year, he will be eligible in the expansion era voting after a five-year wait, meaning he will be eligible again in 2020.
The e-mailer, however, was concerned only with the present. He dreaded the thought of having to see Morris elected next month and watch his induction next July.
I assume he wrote to me because I have been one of Morris’ biggest proponents since I retired from The New York Times in 2008 and resumed voting for the Hall of Fame. The Times does not allow its employees to vote for any kind of awards in any area.
The e-mailer did not intimidate me.
“Jack Morris,” I replied, “will be on my ballot in capital letters.”
“Did you ever see him pitch, or do you base your view on numbers?” I asked. “A number did not pitch a shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Morris did.”
The e-mailer said he had seen him pitch, and he saw that game. “So?” he added. “Don Larsen’s not in the HOF.”
Is that the best the anti-Morris forces can do? Don Larsen pitched a perfect game in the 1956 World Series, and he’s not in the Hall of Fame?
Let’s see. Morris had a career record 254-186, Larsen 81-91. Morris pitched 175 complete games and 3,824 innings, Larsen 44 and 1,548. Morris struck out 2,478, Larsen 847.
My e-mailer seems to have a twin (unless it’s the same misguided person). I was directed to an anti-Morris web site on which the blogger uses the same flawed Larsen analogy but also adds another silly example:
“Bill Wambsganss converted an unassisted triple play. Neither one is in the HOF or ever will be.”
That’s because they don’t merit Hall consideration for their single, isolated feats. When we Morris believers vote for him, we are considering an entire career, in which his brilliant World Series performance was only a highlight.
The statistic the anti-Morris gang seems to holds against him most fervently is his 3.90 earned run average. If he were to be elected, they say accusingly, his e.r.a. would be the highest of any pitcher in the Hall. But someone has to have the highest e.r.a. Right now it’s Red Ruffing and his 3.80.
That web site I mentioned goes well beyond e.r.a., though, bringing up WAR and WAA and WHIP and all sorts of other meaningless initials. That’s why I appreciated another e-mail I received, this from one of my favorite readers.
Referring to the Society for American Baseball Research, the organization that deservedly or not is blamed for spawning the new-age statistics that have infiltrated the game, he writes:
“I would like to make one point involving SABR. I have been a SABR member since the mid-80s. In a way, SABR is two organizations. One is the historical SABR (my SABR) and the other is the statistical SABR, that you and I have little or no use for.
“I joined to have access to the research materials and the knowledge base of the membership. I have no use for the fantasy world statistics like WAR. I am mystified anyone takes them seriously.
“I attended the SABR Convention in Philadelphia this past July. I went to numerous presentations during my stay, and not one involved any SABRmetrics.
“Rather, they were about things like the Miami Marlins minor league team in the 50s and their attempt to set a one game attendance record, Bill Veeck and his lesser known promotions, a talk by a fellow whose family lived across the street from Shibe Park and rented out roof space for fans, The Black Sox court proceedings and patriotic themes on WWII scorecards, the Federal League and attempts to sign Major Leaguers on their return from a barnstorming tour, pictorial history and ballpark architecture.
“I was able to totally avoid any discussion of the new forms of creative statistics, for the three days I was there.
“Perhaps you could specify the SABR Stat Heads or something similar so as not to malign those interested in baseball history.”
I’d be happy to do that, but the matter is further complicated by an e-mail from Tom Tango, whom I have identified as the most decent and civil critic of my disparaging view of new-age statistics.
In response to my e-mail to him, Tango wrote, “I’m not a member of SABR, but from what I understand, the VAST majority are fans of history, and a tiny sliver are there for the stats. I think what Bill James did, in honoring SABR with the term sabermetrics, turned out in retrospect to have been a confusing situation.”
Whether or not they are members of SABR, the anti-Morris mob needs help. Expending as much mental passion and physical effort as they have in trying to block Morris’ road to the Hall of Fame indicates the need for them to get a life.
It’s one thing to use new-age statistics to persuade ignorant voters to vote for a candidate, as happened with Bert Blyleven three years ago; it’s another to do what these alleged fans are doing now. I don’t recall a candidate’s being the target of non-voters trying to induce voters not to put an X next to the candidate’s name.
Personally, I can’t wait to get my ballot so I can mark it for Morris.
MADDUX, GLAVINE AND MORRIS?
Approaching the final vote of his 15 years of eligibility on the writers’ ballot, Jack Morris said last week, “I am not holding my breath. I can’t control it; I try to distance myself from it.”
Morris made a significant stride in the voting two years ago when he leaped from 53.5 percent of the vote to 66.7. Players who get onto the 60-percent plateau are usually on their way into the Hall.
However, last year Morris gained only three votes to 67.7 percent, and I don’t think that was enough for him to attain the required 75 percent this time around, especially with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine on the ballot for the first time.
Having a negative campaign waged against him may not hurt him, but the loss of just a few votes that he otherwise might have had could. Morris, 58 years old, had not heard of the existence of an anti-Morris web site.
“Sabermetrics says: do NOT vote Jack Morris in the Hall.”
“How about that?” Morris said in a telephone interview last week. “The sabermetricians have to justify their cause. I’m their leading candidate.”
Just as sabermetricians are not fans of Morris, who was the No. 1 winning pitcher in the 1980s, he is not a fan of theirs.
“They’ve already taken over the game,” he said. “Ninety percent of the general managers are in it. That’s why the game is messed up.”
Morris, whose career preceded the statistical age, referred to the way adherence to statistical analysis has grown in the game. But he sees flaws in the practice.
“They say that numbers are a good way to evaluate,” he said, “but they can’t predict. SABR can only tell what players have done. They can’t predict what a player might do.”
“They’ve never played,” he added, “but they can go to the owners and produce charts and graphs, and the owners don’t know any better.”
Statistical analysts hold Morris in lower esteem then we old-fashioned thinkers because of his high earned run average (3.90) and WHIP rating (basically, baserunners per inning, his being 1.30).
Morris rejects the e.r.a./WHIP criticism by explaining what was important to the people he played for.
“Innings pitched, complete games and games started,” he said. “They wanted me to suck up innings. If you look at that in any era, the guys on top would lead the league in e.r.a. I never had any incentive for quality starts or WHIP or WAR. All these formulas didn’t exist. I’ve always told these guys you should be allowed to vote only for the guys who had new fangled stats. Being judged in a different era, I don’t understand why that is.”
Morris makes a valid point. The stats geeks judge him on statistics that didn’t exist when he pitched. In another example, the new-age guys discount Morris’ 254 wins, saying wins are the least meaningful statistic for pitchers.
Yes, fellow dinosaurs, that’s what they say these days, even though when Morris pitched, wins were still meaningful
Speaking of his time and the matter of wins, Morris said, “You gotta ask, what is important to get to the World Series?” The answer was wins.
I will throw out a couple more thoughts. Taking what Morris’ employers told him they wanted, games started and innings pitched, how does Morris compare with the 69 pitchers in the Hall of Fame? His 527 starts and 3,824 innings are both above the average.
And what might Morris have done if the general manager or his manager have said they wanted him to have a lower earned run average?
“I probably would have led the league,” he said.