'Hello, Cooperstown!' Jack Morris takes his place in Hall of Fame
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y.—Jack Morris cried on Sunday afternoon, July 29. Just like he thought he would.
After belting out a rousing "Hello, Cooperstown!" to open his speech, his eyes started to well up with tears late in his speech, the dam bursting at about the 11:45 mark when he started talking about his family.
While he quickly composed himself, it was a strange sight, especially considering the big, bad Morris made a career out of being the gruffest competitor on the field, the very definition of the idea that there's no crying in baseball.
It was emotional for the 63-year-old St. Paul native because he never thought he'd be in this position. After baseball writers opted not to vote him into the National Baseball Hall of Fame during his 15 years on the ballot, Morris had come to peace with the fact that he might never make it into the exclusive club.
And then, six months ago, Little Jack Morris from St. Paul got the call telling him he had been voted in by the Modern Era Committee.
"I was literally shocked because I had been prepared, like I had been for so long before, to go through it again, and not get in," Morris said. "I was in a good place. And I think it was good for me to be in a good place. It made it more special."
Morris entered the Hall of Fame alongside former teammate Alan Trammel, also voted in by the Modern Era Committee, and Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman and Jim Thome.
"I think the one thing that makes it special for us is the fact that we're older," Morris said. "We can put it in perspective in a way that a lot of the younger guys can't. It's just different. We appreciate it because we've been through a little bit more of an ordeal to get here."
Morris has made the most of Hall of Fame Weekend.
Whether it was playing a round on Leatherstocking Golf Course with his three sons—Austin, Erik and Miles—or making appearances at the countless parties around town, Morris has been like a kid in a candy store making up for lost time.
"I was joking with my wife that I've never hugged so many grown men in my entire life," Morris said. "It's been so much fun."
"I think everybody should feel something like this at some point in their life. It is genuinely a great group of guys that love each other. They are welcoming this group of guys just like they're part of the family. That's what makes it so cool."
Old school vs. new school
One of the more polarizing Hall of Fame inductees of the modern era, Morris is a perfect representation of the longstanding debate between old school vs. new school.
He won more games than anyone in the 1980s, yet carries a 3.90 career earned-run average, highest of any pitcher at Cooperstown. He won four World Series with three franchises, yet only contributed 44 wins above replace over 18 full seasons, which ties him for 416th all time with current Chicago Cubs utility player Ben Zobrist.
"I was the guy that got caught up in that debate of old school vs. new school, the debate of eye test vs. analytics," Morris said. "Maybe more so than anybody ever will again. It is what it is."
Morris claims he isn't mad at the writers for not voting him in during his 15 years on the ballot. He credits his wife, Jennifer, with not letting him hold on to that resentment.
"She kept reminding me that it was out of my control," Morris said. "I came to peace with it. After that, quite honestly, I didn't worry about it. I didn't care. I believed in my heart of hearts, that if I made it to the Hall of Fame, it was going to be on the ballot from my peers. That's the way it worked out."
It's clear that Morris, and his performance on baseball's biggest stage, resonated most amongst his peers. He always seemed to rise to the occasion when it mattered most, and his masterful 10-inning shutout for the Twins in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series will go down as one of the greatest postseason performances ever.
"I think the guys that voted me in know what I'm about," Morris said. "They knew I was a competitor. They knew I took the ball. They knew I pitched through pain. They knew I wanted to finish the games."
Morris also referenced going a 4-for-4 in the World Series, winning once with Detroit Tigers (1984), once with the Twins (1991), and twice with the Toronto Blue Jays (1992, 1993).
"As players, when we all look at it, the postseason is what we play the game for," Morris said. "Everybody wants to play in a World Series. Everybody wants to win a World Series. And every team I played on that was in a World Series, won the World Series. I've got to believe in a couple of them I had a little something to do with it."
As his generation ages, Morris thinks the shift to analytics will become even more prominent. That said, he says he will always stand by the fact that he's never cared about the numbers.
"It's always been about letters to me: 'W' and 'L'," Morris said. "That's all that matters. You play the game for those two letters. You don't play for on-base percentage. You don't play for WHIP or WAR or anything like that. You play to win the frickin' game. If that ever changes, let's forget playing."
Going the distance
Morris was especially proud of always being able to go the distance. Of all his career statistics, he said, the 175 complete games stand out most, especially when looking at it through the current lens of the league.
"I was like that because I was emulating the guys that I wanted to be like," Morris explained, noting that the legendary Cy Young finished with his career 749 complete games. "You look at the complete games that most of those guys had and I look like a little kid. Those guys would have 25 complete games a season and 300 innings a season. As a kid growing up watching that, we were conditioned to do the same thing."
Because of that, Morris is baffled by things like the Quality Start stat that has become a major league metric. In today's game, if a pitcher completes at least six innings and allow no more than three earned runs, it's considered a Quality Start.
"For me, a Quality Start me was a nine-inning, complete-game shutout," Morris said with a laugh. "That was it and everything else filtered down after that."
That said, Morris points to some of his Non-Quality Starts as the ones that made the biggest impact on his way to the Hall of Fame. He can thank legendary Tigers manager Sparky Anderson for that.
"In 1980 I was struggling late in games," Morris recalled in Sunday's acceptance speech. "He told me I needed to finish games to rest the bullpen. He said he couldn't tell me how to do it, and wasn't coming out to get me, so I shouldn't look for any help."
Those struggles are seared into his memory, Morris said, and undoubtedly helped him reach the Hall of Fame.
"I remember he left me out there to rot a few times (early in my career)," Morris said. "It taught me an unbelievable lesson. Getting my butt beat on the mound in front of 35,000 people is the worst thing in the world."
"I feel like pitchers have to go through a failure wall to know what success is. If they aren't ever allowed to fail, they're never going to get through that wall. You've got to let them bang on the wall a little bit to figure out if they're going to make it or not. He let me make it. He forced me to make it."
'The greatest fraternity'
There's no greek life at Brigham Young University, where Morris played collegiately, so no, he's never been a member of a fraternity.
In hindsight, Morris wouldn't have had it any other way. After all, the long wait has made Hall of Fame Weekend that much more special.
"They talk about the way guys kind of use this as the greatest fraternity," Morris said. "I didn't know what that meant until I got here. I can say this: They genuinely care about each other here and it's such a special feeling to be welcomed by those people. I've had so many of them tell me, 'You belong with us. You'll get there someday. You've got to hang in there.' "
Well, Morris is in, and as he wrapped up his speech on Sunday afternoon, the speech he pored over for months leading up to the once-in-a-lifetime event, he made his message clear.
"This game has always been a part of who I am and what I have become," Morris said. "It has somehow been connected to almost every lesson that I've learned in life. To be successful, it takes practice, patience, focus, concentration, work ethic, desire, determination, trust, will, confidence and more practice."
It also takes failure, according to Morris.
"I've had plenty of challenges and failures, too," Morris said. "It only made me work harder to find a path to success."
That path, at long last, has led him to Cooperstown.
How tough was the wait to get here?
"Well, I guess the answer to that is now it doesn't matter," Morris said with a smirk. "None of that matters anymore."