Jack Morris gave up on expecting a call from the Hall of Fame quite a few years ago. Perhaps he made up his mind too soon.
Judging by recent results, the voting membership of the Baseball Writers' Association of America hasn't quite given up on him, yet.
As Morris comes into his 12th year on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, he has more momentum than ever in his favor. It's not just about his own numbers, with more than half of last year's ballots marking his name for the first time ever. It's also about his contemporaries, Bert Blyleven and Andre Dawson, who have found far more support recently than before.
Voters elected Dawson last year, and they fell just shy of adding Blyleven, as well. Jim Rice was inducted in his final year of eligibility two years ago. Morris isn't quite there, yet. He has four more tries to get in, including this year. He almost surely won't get in this time, but it's a critical year for him to gain more votes and keep the momentum going.
But as he has long since accepted, it's not really up to him.
"I've come to the realization that if I don't make it, then I don't make it," Morris said a few years ago. "The only thing that changes in my life is that I'd get a lot more money, and when I walked by, people would say, 'There goes a Hall of Famer.'"
Morris' resume was built on winning, and it began with a 1984 Tigers club that some regard among the best single-season clubs in recent memory. Yet, the only member of that club in the Hall of Fame is the manager, the late Sparky Anderson. Morris and Alan Trammell are the only two players from that team still on the ballot. But with Trammell's numbers having never gained traction, Morris is the one with a realistic chance of getting in -- at least on the writers' ballot.
While the '84 Tigers raced out to a 35-5 start, Morris went 9-1 in that stretch, including a no-hitter against the White Sox on national television. His lone loss in the bunch was a complete-game five-hitter in a 1-0 defeat. He threw five consecutive starts of nine innings at one point in that stretch, not including the no-hitter, and ended up with eight complete games plus one other nine-inning performance out of his first 14 starts. Ironically, it was the only season from 1980-91 in which he didn't reach double digits in complete games.
Anderson once called Morris the greatest pitcher he ever managed.
While that team had great players, from Morris and Trammell, to Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish and others, they've always been judged as part of a team. What sets Morris apart, and what makes his case so intriguing, is that he went on to win elsewhere -- again and again. He won World Series in three different cities and two different countries, and he won more regular-season games than anyone else in the '80s.
"Jack has had that wonderful, wonderful postseason success," former pitcher Frank Tanana once said. "His postseason heroics are pretty well-documented. You can say that if Jack Morris hadn't done that, he probably wouldn't be close. But because he's had those postseason hurrahs, he's receiving a lot of votes."
The other statistics are the ones that have split voters so deeply, including a career 3.90 ERA. He had five seasons in which he ranked among the top 10 in the American League in ERA, but never finished better than fifth. On the other hand, he finished among the AL's top 10 in most earned runs allowed nine times, topping the league in '90.
His final couple of seasons in Toronto and Cleveland were not kind at all to his stat lines. Some of the more specialized statistics that have come up since his retirement haven't been particularly kind, either.
Morris has no apologies for the way he pitched. When he had a lead, Morris the pitcher was a lot like Morris the person: He was more direct than deceptive.
"If I had a three-run lead, I was throwing fastballs down the middle, trying to get the inning over," Morris said. "If I threw a fastball down the middle and they hit it out, they hit it out."
Morris had a reputation for being gruff with reporters -- not necessarily difficult, but not outgoing, either. Some have wondered if that impacted his candidacy, but many have disputed it. Yet in his post-playing years living in Minnesota and watching the Twins nearly every day, Morris has become a sort of baseball statesman, a wonderful source of insight on today's players, as well as yesterday's greats.
Some have theorized that the influx of new voters, many of whom grew up watching Morris rack up wins, has helped Morris' cause. With no exact numbers for where Morris' votes come from, it's difficult to determine.
Morris went to bat, unsolicited, for Blyleven's candidacy. The irony in that, though, is that Blyleven's strength is about numbers other than his win totals.
On the other hand, Morris isn't going to say a lot for himself. But he probably shouldn't have to.