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Morris' Hall of Fame wait could finally end

Pitcher has resume, narrative to be elected by Modern Era Committee
MLB.com @JPosnanski

In 2012, it seemed a certainty that Jack Morris would get elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. That year, Morris got exactly two-thirds of the vote -- 66.67 percent, 382 out of 573 possible votes -- and every player who has ever gotten two-thirds of the BBWAA vote has been elected, eventually, to the Hall of Fame.

Nobody expected Morris to have to wait very long. He still had two years left on the Hall of Fame ballot. It is true that Morris had been a contentious Hall of Fame candidate; he had one of those big and bold careers that inspire strong feelings on all sides. Morris' supporters pointed out that he won more games than any pitcher in the 1980s, he was indestructible and almost never missed a start, and he had pitched one of the most famous games in baseball history, a 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

In 2012, it seemed a certainty that Jack Morris would get elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. That year, Morris got exactly two-thirds of the vote -- 66.67 percent, 382 out of 573 possible votes -- and every player who has ever gotten two-thirds of the BBWAA vote has been elected, eventually, to the Hall of Fame.

Nobody expected Morris to have to wait very long. He still had two years left on the Hall of Fame ballot. It is true that Morris had been a contentious Hall of Fame candidate; he had one of those big and bold careers that inspire strong feelings on all sides. Morris' supporters pointed out that he won more games than any pitcher in the 1980s, he was indestructible and almost never missed a start, and he had pitched one of the most famous games in baseball history, a 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

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Morris' doubters -- and I admit to having been a fairly prominent one -- had counterpoints. For instance, his career 3.90 ERA was going to be the highest in the Hall of Fame. His advanced stats did not overwhelm. There were other pitchers who seemed to have at least as strong a case.

But all of that stuff seemed irrelevant after 2012. Morris had gotten two-thirds of the vote. He still had two years left on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot. He was going to the Hall of Fame, and it was going to be a glorious celebration of those 1980s Detroit baseball teams that baseball history has overlooked for too long.

Video: Justice, Ringolsby make HOF case for Jack Morris

Then, in 2013, something dramatic that had nothing at all to with Morris happened. A once-in-a-generation tsunami hit the Hall of Fame ballot … and Morris' case was washed away.

That year Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio and Curt Schilling all crashed onto the ballot at the same time. It was overwhelming; nobody really knew what to do with this unprecedented collection of accomplished, brilliant and controversial players.

Circuits overloaded. Paralysis ensued. It seems impossible now, but NOBODY on one of the most stacked ballots in baseball history was elected -- not one player.

And Morris' vote total only went up three votes.

The next year, it got even nuttier. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas came on the ballot together, and all three were elected. Mike Mussina joined the ballot, too. And the craziest thing happened to Morris' vote total. It went down. 

This basically never happens. A player on the ballot for the last time almost always sees a nice surge in his vote total; this is especially true for viable Hall of Fame candidates like Morris. His contemporary, Jim Rice, picked up 20 votes on his 15th ballot to get elected. Bert Blyleven jumped 17 points in his 13th and 14th years on the ballot. Morris was denied that natural bump because of the craziness surrounding the ballot.

All that is why I think that Morris will get elected by the Modern Era Committee on Sunday.

These Hall of Fame committees, as you probably know, have had an almost impossible time voting any player into the the Hall of Fame. They have elected several managers and executives over the last 15 years, but they have not elected even one living player. The reason is that 75 percent is a very high threshold; a player needs to get 12 out of 16 votes from the committee. Even the unanimously beloved Buck O'Neil couldn't get 12 of 16 votes from the Hall's Special Committee on the Negro Leagues. It's just hard for any player to get that many votes from a committee.

Video: Morosi discusses this year's Hall of Fame ballot

Morris -- and, to be honest, probably only Morris this year -- has what I think is the baseball resume and narrative to break the trend and get the necessary 12 votes. It would be marvelous to see the committee also give due consideration to Alan Trammell and Dale Murphy, both viable candidates. But I think Morris is the guy with the realistic chance.

Morris was a pitcher's pitcher; a big (6-foot-3), brawny, tough-as-nails righty with a great mustache, a nasty split-fingered fastball and a defiant unwillingness to back down. He pitched on Opening Day 14 times. He started Game 1 of the World Series three times. He did not miss a single start between 1980-88.

Morris never won a Cy Young Award, but he was an unbreakable force at a time when many of the Cy Young winners -- Fernando Valenzuela, Dwight Gooden, Mike Scott, Rick Sutcliffe -- could not match his unique staying power. Morris won 15 games or more every year between 1979-88 except for the strike year of '81, when he won 14 to tie four others for the MLB lead. 

Morris' games were like the late rounds of a great heavyweight boxing match. He would be bloodied but unbowed. He walked a lot of guys, he struck out of a lot of guys, he gave up a lot of home runs, but he never wanted to come out of a game.

He was from a time before pitch counts, but a game against Texas in 1988 was representative: He threw a complete game with 161 pitches, giving up eight hits, striking out 10, walking nine while somehow holding the Rangers to just two runs and finishing off the game (which actually turned out to be a 2-1 loss). Morris probably had numerous games like that.

Even in his 1984 no-hitter, he walked six but never gave in. Before the final inning of that no-hitter, Morris' teammates stayed away from him as baseball superstition demands. Morris wanted no part of it. He turned his teammates and growled: "I'm going to do it." And he did.

With Morris, the word to use is "will." He willed his way through games, throwing that split-fingered fastball into the dirt again and again and again, never giving in. He led the league in wild pitches six times, and since 1900 only Nolan Ryan and Phil Niekro threw more wild pitches than Morris' 206. This was Morris' nature. He was willing to endure the walks and wild pitches; he was going to make you swing at his pitch.

And through his sheer competitiveness and combativeness, Morris became a larger-than-life character. He never had a season with an ERA below 3.00, but every one of his managers wanted the ball in his hand when the spotlight was hottest and the big moment was at hand.

The arguments about Morris' career numbers and how they match up with other Hall of Famers have been made again and again. He won 254 games, 43rd all-time, and he is among the top 50 in starts, innings pitched and strikeouts. He also falls well short on Jay Jaffe's JAWS system, which combines a player's career and peak value. Morris' JAWS was 38.4; the average Hall of Fame pitcher has a 62.1 JAWS. 

But the argument for Morris is really an argument of the heart, that he was one-of-a-kind, a ferocious pitcher who went after hitters game after game, year after year. And then, in the biggest game of his life, Game 7 of the 1991 Fall Classic, he was at his indomitable best, holding down the Atlanta Braves for 10 innings, outdueling future Hall of Famer John Smoltz and winning the World Series for his hometown Minnesota Twins.

Will that argument speak to the Modern Era Committee? It's a guess, but I think it will.

Joe Posnanski is a columnist for MLB.com.