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Dominance of Era Should Put Jack Morris, Bert Blyleven in Hall of Fame

Dec 21, 2010 – 12:00 PM
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John Hickey

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Over four days this week, MLB FanHouse's Hall of Fame voters will break down the particulars of select players up for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011. The results of the balloting will be made public on Jan. 5.

Believe it or not, there are some late-December traditions that have nothing to do with Christmas.

For me, one of them is sitting down the last week of the year, mulling over the current crop of Hall of Fame wannabes and arguing with myself over who should make it and who shouldn't.

While there can be agonizing over some names, some of the arguments are pretty short, I must tell you. And two of those involve two pitchers on the current ballot, Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris.

Both pitched at roughly the same time, Blyleven for 22 seasons (1970-1992) and Morris for 18 seasons (1977-1994). Both spent much of their careers with yo-yo teams -- teams that would rise to the top on occasion but were equally capable of falling to also-ran status.

And both get a Cooperstown thumbs-up from me.

Neither is going to get into the Hall of Fame based on their Cy Young history for the simple reason that neither ever won a Cy Young or finished as runner-up, although both did finish third a couple of times in the annual balloting for the best pitcher in the American and National Leagues.

But there is more to being in the Hall of Fame than being the dominant pitcher in a league for a year -- just ask Mike Flanagan, Pete Vukovich, LaMarr Hoyt, John Denny, Rick Sutcliffe and Dwight Gooden, contemporaries of Blyleven and Morris who brought home Cy Young Awards and who won't ever be in the Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame, as I see it, is about dominance not in one year, but in many years. And for me, Blyleven and Morris fit the bill.

Let's take them one at a time.

There are some special statistical categories for pitchers that eclipse most others -- wins, shutouts and strikeouts. The only statistic that compares with those three is earned run average, but for the moment, let's leave ERA out of this.

Blyleven, who contemporaries said (and still say) threw the best curveball of his generation, ranks 17th in wins, eighth in shutouts and fifth in strikeouts for all pitchers in the game since 1900.

There are only eight pitchers who rank in baseball's top 20 in all three categories, and there is only one, Nolan Ryan, who ranks ahead of Blyleven in each of the rankings.

Let's face it: the guy had game, lots of game. True, he didn't pitch for many winning teams, but in the five postseason series of which he was a part, he was 5-1 with a 2.87 ERA. And he came home with two World Series rings, one with the 1979 "We Are Family" Pirates and the 1987 Twins.

True, Blyleven's career ERA doesn't rank in the top 20 from 1900 on, but 3.31 while pitching mostly in the American League after the rise of the designated hitter is not shabby.

As for Morris, he of the killer splitter, others have suggested he would be in the Hall of Fame if he would have been nicer to writers. Huh? Unless I missed it, that's not written anywhere on the qualifications for Cooperstown. If it was, two of baseball's more uncooperative interviews -- Steve Carlton and Eddie Murray -- wouldn't have sailed through the voting as easily as they did.

No, Morris' problem with the voters is that some of them believe his career numbers (254 wins, a 3.90 ERA and 2,478 strikeouts) to be marginal in terms of joining the Hall.

I don't buy it, and I don't buy it for one reason -- the 1980s. From start to finish, Morris was the dominant pitcher in that decade. Pitching solely for the Tigers, who finished first twice, second twice and were also-rans the rest of the time, Morris won more games than any pitcher in the decade, and it wasn't close.

He won at least 20 games twice, 19 games once (when the Tigers won the World Series in 1984, he went 3-0 in the postseason) and generally was the toughest pitcher in baseball to beat. Overall, he had 162 wins in the space of those 10 years. No one else had more than 140 (Dave Stieb) wins.

For me, that kind of dominance is exactly what the Hall of Fame is all about. There are pitchers in the Hall of Fame with better overall numbers than the 254 career wins put up by Morris but without that kind of dominance (see Don Sutton).

Anyway, the average pitcher in the Hall of Fame right now has 251 wins. And while that average has been brought down in recent years with the addition of saves-heavy, wins-light relief pitchers, 251 wins is still a hefty total.

Among those currently residing in Cooperstown with fewer than Morris' 254 victories are, in no particular order, Bob Gibson, Carl Hubbell, Juan Marichal, Whitey Ford, Catfish Hunter, Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax and Dizzy Dean. I'm not sure I know any fellow Hall of Fame voters who would disqualify that group from Cooperstown based on their win total.

The members of that group were, in their prime, dominant pitchers.

Morris, in his prime, displayed the same dominance. He went 4-0 in the 1991 postseason for the Twins, in winning one of his four World Series rings. That was half of the postseason wins Minnesota needed to bring home the title, and his 10-inning, 1-0 win over John Smoltz and the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 that year stands as a living tutorial on the art of pitching.

Like Blyleven, the man has earned his spot in Cooperstown.
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