Jack Morris belongs in Cooperstown

If I had a baseball Hall of Fame ballot in the most recent election, the names on it would have been Greg Maddux, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Fred McGriff and Jack Morris. It is incredible – as in totally lacking in credibility – that anyone who thinks Tom Glavine is a Hall of Famer can think Jack Morris is not.

Initially, I thought that Glavine was another case of Don Sutton, a guy who was never the best pitcher on his team, let alone his league, who had the good fortune to play on good teams and stuck around long enough and to reach 300 wins. But a review of Glavine’s career, much of which took place when I was covering other teams or after I left US in 1995 and went cold turkey on baseball for years, reveals Glavine’s Hall of Fame credentials.

But Morris, like Glavine’s longtime Atlanta Braves teammate Maddux, was unquestionably the top pitcher of his time. He was the guy you could build a pitching staff around throughout that period, while lots of other flashier guys, from Dave Stieb to Dwight Gooden, came and went. Morris was the guy who’d take the ball for every start, not want to give it up, and set the tone for the rest of the staff. Morris’ winningest pitcher of the 1980s distinction is an artificial construct to be sure. More significantly, over a span of nine seasons, he was ace on three different World Series winners that wouldn’t have gotten there without him. In Game Seven of the 1991 World Series, Morris produced one of the greatest single game pitching performances of all time, a 10 inning shutout of Atlanta for a 1-0 win to give Minnesota the championship.

That performance stands in stark contrast to Glavine’s equally memorable (at least for New York Met fans) start on the last day of the 2007 season, when the Mets, having blown a seven game lead in 15 games, needed a win to assure at least a tie for the division title. Glavine faced nine batters, got one out, allowing five hits, two walks and hit the opposing pitcher, putting the Mets in a 7-0 hole en route to an 8-1 loss, cementing the worst late September collapse in baseball history.

Morris’ performance in that Game Seven is also an exemplary counterpoint to the scene I witnessed repeatedly in the Atlanta Braves clubhouse in the early 1990s after postseason losses. Starting pitchers, including Glavine and even Maddux, would be seated in front of their locker after hurling six-plus innings of a late inning loss, saying, “Well, I did my job.” Frank Robinson, another real Hall of Famer, said to me many times, “Don’t tell me about ERA or any of that other stuff. The job of the starting pitcher is to win the game.” When the chips were down, Morris did his job like a Hall of Famer.

The argument against Morris is that he has a 3.90 ERA, better than average for his time, but not spectacular. I respect and support the advanced analysis of baseball statistics known as sabermetrics, particularly since I’ve worked with its founding father Pete Palmer and been friends with him for more than two decades. Sabermetrics can help us better understand baseball, but elegantly derived numbers shouldn’t rewrite the game’s history. The Hall of Fame isn’t about statistics alone, it’s about the best players of their times. There’s no question that Morris, over his 14 year prime, was the pitcher every manager wanted anchoring his staff, and that you could not tell the story of baseball in his era without mentioning him. He belongs in Cooperstown.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

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