In a recent article, Tyler Kepner gradually builds a convincing argument against Jack Morris’ Hall of Fame candidacy, but then reverses course because of the outcome of one World Series game.
It’s hard to criticize Kepner’s position because he acknowledges most of the key points made against Morris. In other words, he seems to understand why such a “large segment of fans and bloggers” vehemently oppose his candidacy. However, despite conceding most of the negative conclusions regarding Morris’ Hall of Fame worthiness (as well as the contention that Bert Blyleven was a better pitcher), Kepner still manages to conclude with the same head-banging argument advanced by less astute members of the BBWAA.
It is often written that without his 10-inning shutout for the Twins in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, Morris would not get nearly as much support. But he did pitch that game. That’s the whole point. Moments of greatness matter a lot, even though, as tiny slices of time, they rarely say much about the breadth of a player’s career.” – Tyler Kepner, The New York Times, January 3, 2011
To his credit, Kepner does not fall into the trap of allowing one World Series game to define Morris as “clutch”, which is what makes his argument so inexplicable. He doesn’t buy into the Morris myth, but still deems him worthy of the Hall of Fame because of “one moment”. He even concedes that Morris’ historic moment was aided in large part by Lonnie Smith’s baserunning blunder in the eighth inning of the 1991 World Series’ final game, but yet somehow glosses over the implication (i.e., had Smith been a batter baserunner, Morris wouldn’t be a Hall of Famer).
Kepner seems to believe that Morris’ historic moment in the 1991 World Series magically converts his career from very good to Hall of Fame caliber. If that’s the case, there really is no way to refute such a position, especially when the person advancing it not only acknowledges, but concedes the points against it. One game or accomplishment doesn’t make a Hall of Famer, however. That’s why the museum has a Great Moments Room.
It’s a feel thing with Morris, and that’s not always wrong. Emotions mean a lot. We watch the game because we care about it and we want to see who wins the World Series. And if you cared about baseball in Morris’s era, you probably wanted him on the mound when it mattered. – Tyler Kepner, The New York Times, January 3, 2011
In his conclusion, Kepner returns to one of the myths that he actually does a good job dispelling. But, Jack Morris was not “one of the pitchers you wanted on the mound when it mattered most” anymore than Jim Rice was “one of the most feared hitters in the game”. There is no way to support such a position, either with statistics or even references to contemporary accounts. Rather, Morris was involved in a significant moment that too many eligible voters have allowed to cloud their better judgment.
Although the Hall of Fame voting process is in need of an overhaul, the BBWAA hasn’t exactly done a terrible job. After all, thanks in large part to the high threshold needed for election, the body has avoided making the mistake of enshrining Morris. So, it’s not really the end of the world that a large segment of the voting population has a blind spot when it comes to certain candidates. What is very disappointing, however, is that Kepner, one of the brighter BBWAA members (who, incidentally, as an employee of the New York Times is prohibited from voting for the Hall of Fame), would be a victim.