Jack Morris's election to the Baseball Hall of Fame by a sixteen member committee picked, at least in part, to ensure Morris’s election, is better understood as a reaction to the intense campaign by a new generation of baseball fans and writers for Bert Blyleven earlier this century than a true recognition that Morris is one of the greatest players ever. There were numerous players, including several pitchers, such as Tommy John and Luis Tiant, who were on the same ballot as Morris this year and who were passed over so the Hall of Fame could make a point. That is how life, and the Hall of Fame, sometimes goes. Kvetching about it is not going to change that. Morris was a very good pitcher for a long time who pitched one spectacular game. There are certainly worse pitchers than Morris in the Hall of Fame, but there are also many better pitchers who remain on the outside looking in.
For Yankee fans, Morris’s election should bring to mind another pitcher who was a rough contemporary of Morris who had a very different, but comparably impressive, career and who never got more than 10 percent of the Hall of Fame vote in the nine years of eligibility. Ron Guidry is probably not a Hall of Famer, but if Jack Morris is, then Guidry is one of several pitchers who should get a longer look.
Guidry is not somebody like Blyleven or Rick Reuschel who because they toiled for bad teams and never won major awards were overlooked in their careers, and who, therefore, look better in retrospect. Guidry was a genuine superstar who had a short career. However, when looked at as a whole body of work, his career compares quite favorably to Morris. For the more quantitatively inclined, Guidry accumulated slightly more WAR 48.1 to 44.1. Guidry also scores a 43.1 to Morris’s 38.4 on the JAWS system which seeks to combine peak and career value. additionally, Guidry had a much higher ERA+, 119 to 105, as well as a lower ERA, WHIP and FIP. Guidry had a much higher peak as Morris never had a season that was anywhere near Guidry's 1978 when he went 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA and was the best player on a team that staged one of the greatest midseason comebacks in baseball history. However, Morris had 84 more wins and roughly 1,500 more innings pitched.
The argument that Morris should be in the Hall of Fame rests on those 84 wins and 1,500 innings pitched. Interestingly, many of Morris’s supporters claim that Morris knew how to win and pitched to the score, whatever that means. However, his winning percentage is substantially lower than Guidry’s, .577-.651. One way to think about Morris’s career is that he was essentially the same pitcher as Guidry, but stuck around longer thus driving up his counting numbers while driving down his rate numbers. However, that is not really the case. During the last six years of his career, Morris was 77-68 with an ERA of 4.58 and an ERA+ of 91. During those years he had 6.6 WAR. If we look at his career from 1977-1988 and exclude the decline phase of his career from 1989-1994, the rate numbers still don’t match up to Guidry’s. Morris .600 winning percentage, ERA+ of 113 and 37.3 WAR from 1977-1988 are very good, but not as good as Guidry’s career numbers. Guidry’s numbers also include the decline phase of his career when he battled injuries in the late 1980s. Even if Morris’s strong 1991 season is included in the prime years, Morris’s best 12 or 13 years are simply not comparable to Guidry’s career.
Much of Morris’s Hall of Fame support was due to the complete game 10 inning shutout he pitched in game seven of the 1991 World Series. That was one of the best clutch pitching performances in baseball history, but if clutch performance is taken into consideration, then Guidry’s 5-2 with a 3.02 ERA in the post-season, which compares favorably to Morris’s 7-4 3.80, should be part of the equation as well. In the World Seriesm Morris was very good going 4-2 with a 2.96 ERA in seven starts. Guidry was better going 3-1 with a 1.69 ERA against teams with stronger offenses.
Ron Guidry was a great pitcher, but the arguments against putting him in the Hall of Fame are clear. He had a short career and was only an impact player from 1977-1985. Other than 1978, he was never the best pitcher in the American League. He has much fewer wins that most Hall of Fame starting pitchers. On balance, I would not place Guidry on the top of my list of players who have been overlooked by Cooperstown, but the problem with selecting somebody who is so clearly under qualified as Jack Morris is that it makes it easy to make arguments for people like Guidry, and yes Tommy John, Rich Reuschel and Luis Tiant as well. Morris’s election was more of a statement by the Hall of Fame than a true recognition of greatness, but it was a very strange statement.
Photo: cc/ Willie Zhang