This past Sunday another class was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. There was Barry Larkin – the superstar shortstop of the Cincinnati Reds – and also Ron Santo, legendary third baseman for the Chicago Cubs. The duo were enshrined (Santo posthumously) in the ceremony that takes place in Cooperstown annually in late July.
Will Tiger pitching great Jack Morris stand on the stage next year in that quaint village in upstate New York and accept the honor? Will 2013 be the lucky year for the 254-game winner?
Morris’ name has been on the Hall of Fame ballot 13 times and he’s gradually gained more support. In his first year of eligibility, back in 2000, he received 22.2% of the vote (75% is needed). In ’06 he finally broke the 40% mark, and last season he came in second behind Larkin with 66.7% of the vote – Morris was 48 votes shy of earning induction.
What does the 2013 ballot hold for Morris? It will be interesting.
The new names on the ’13 ballot are not only well-known, many of them are also stained with controversy. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Mike Piazza all have been linked to steroid use, either directly (as is the case with Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa) or via rumor. Also on the ballot the first time will be Curt Schilling, Kenny Lofton, and Craig Biggio. With so many big names on the ballot for the first time in 2013, what will become of Morris?
One possibility is that Morris will get lost in the shuffle. As the Baseball Writers spread their votes out to the new candidates (voters can select yp to 10, but most choose between 3-7), Morris might lose ground. Bonds and Clemens, with their very public trials over steroid use, are not going to get enough votes to make it. Piazza has only been rumored as a steroid user, but without any automatic numbers that voters seem to love (500 homers, for example), Piazza will likely have to wait just as Gary Carter did. Biggio, with more than 3,000 hits on his record and never a hint of controversy, should get enough support on his first ballot. But it’s unlikely writers who voted for Morris this year will not vote for him just because Biggio is on the ballot. Schilling is an interesting case – he will be compared to Morris, no doubt. Like Morris, Schilling didn’t win 300 games. Like Morris, Schilling’s best case for the HOF is his post-season resume and his durability and dominance over many seasons as a strikeout pitcher. Also like Jack, Schilling had a personality that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Morris was cranky and treated many sportswriters like dirt; Schilling was self-promoting and verbose. But there’s no question that both were pre-eminent hurlers of their times. Some voters may choose to hold back their votes for Morris with Schilling on the ballot if they feel that the latter is more deserving.
However, history shows us that Morris has a very good chance of being elected in 2013. In 2010, Bert Blyleven finished second in HOF voting, he was elected the next year in his 14th chance. Similarly, in 1997 Don Sutton was runner-up and was elected on the following year’s ballot, and in 1990 both Gaylord Perry and Fergie Jenkins finished second in voting before earning induction on their next try. It’s quite possible that the 382 voters who checked the box next to Morris’ name on this year’s ballot will do so again in 2013. If history holds, enough voters who didn’t select him before, will be convinced by the majority to do so.
Morris can’t win any more games or strike out any more batters. His career line is forever frozen. But the thing about Hall of Fame voters is that you never quite now exactly what they’re going to do. Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, two players who would normally be escorted into Cooperstown immediately based on their numbers, have not garnered enough support to crack even 40%. Bonds, Clemens, and possibly Piazza, will probably suffer similar fates. How those voting trends will impact Morris remain to be seen. But 2013 – Jack’s 14th season on the ballot – may be his best chance to earn induction. In his 15th and final chance in 2014, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine will be on the ballot, two starting pitchers against whom Morris suffers in comparison.