About Jack Morris' 14 Opening Day starts

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

One of the pillars of Jack Morris' Hall of Fame case is that he won more games than any other pitcher in the 1980s.

The Yankees won more games than any other team in the 1980s. Does anyone think of the Yankees as the best team of the '80s? No. The Mets or Cardinals were the team of the '80s. Yankee fans over the age of 40 talk about the '80s like it was the Dust Bowl.

Mark Grace led the majors in hits in the 1990s. Does anyone think of Mark Grace as the best hitt--HA HA HA HA HA HA!!! Ow, my sides!

Ron Guidry won more games than any other pitcher in the ten-year period ending in 1986. He peaked at 8 percent in Hall of Fame voting. Why should the years 1980-1989 matter more than 1977-1986? They shouldn't, of course. One decade is as arbitrary as the other.

The records that really mean something, the ones we know by heart, don't have arbitrary endpoints. We know Warren Spahn won 363 games. We don't know how many of them were won in the '50s or from 1948-1957. Willie Mays hit 660 home runs. How many were hit during the Eisenhower administration?

Without looking it up, do you know which pitcher won the most games in the aughts (2000-2009)?

Randy Johnson, of course.

No, I'm lying. It's Roy Oswalt. But you totally thought it was Randy Johnson, didn't you? No, it's Oswalt.

I did it again! The real answer is Roy Halladay. For realsies this time. Roy Halladay was the winningest pitcher of the 'aughts.*

"Most wins in the '80s" is a junk stat, like "OPS from Aug. 24 through [the] end of season" or "batting average in day games in even-numbered innings during Ramadan." You know, the kind of thing stupid people think is sabermetrics.

Another linchpin of Morris' case is that he was an "ace," as evidenced by his 14 Opening Day starts.

Well. Carlos Zambrano was the Cubs' Opening Day starter every year from 2005 to 2010. In at least three of those seasons, he obviously wasn't the best starter on the staff, but because of injury or seniority or habit or caprice, Zambrano started instead of Ted Lilly or Ryan Dempster or Mark Prior. It's just something that happened. It doesn't mean anything.

Jack Morris pitched on Opening Day every year from 1980 through 1993. But he wasn't the best pitcher on his team every season. He usually led the staff in innings, but some years he just didn't pitch as well as Dan Petry or Frank Tanana or Kevin Tapani.

Year Pitcher Team W-L ERA Inn K BB ERA+ WAR
1982 Dan Petry DET 15-9 3.22 246 132 100 126 3.9
1982 Jack Morris DET 17-16 4.06 266 135 96 100 1.0

1984 Dan Petry DET 18-8 3.24 233 144 66 121 3.3
1984 Jack Morris DET 19-11 3.60 240 148 87 109 2.3

1988 Jeff Robinson DET 13-6 2.98 172 114 72 128 3.5
1988 Jack Morris DET 15-13 3.94 235 168 83 97 0.9

1989 Frank Tanana DET 10-14 3.58 224 147 74 108 2.7
1989 Jack Morris DET 6-14 4.86 179 115 58 79 -0.4

1991 Kevin Tapani MIN 16-9 2.99 244 135 40 143 6.6
1991 Jack Morris MIN 18-12 3.43 247 163 92 125 4.1

1992 Juan Guzman TOR 16-5 2.64 181 165 72 154 5.2
1992 Jack Morris TOR 21-6 4.04 241 182 80 101 2.5

Let's say Jack Morris was a better pitcher than Frank Tanana in 1989. He obviously wasn't, but let's say he was. The Tigers lost 103 games that season. They had the worst pitching staff in the league. "Nominal ace on a terrible team" doesn't look as good inscribed on a plaque as "Fourteen Opening Day starts," but it's more honest.

Why did Sparky Anderson start Morris over Frank Tanana or Dan Petry year in and year out? Here's Morris' explanation:

There's no number for measuring what you meant to your manager. Go ask any current manager what it meant to have a guy on his staff who, almost every game, was going to pitch into the seventh, eighth or ninth inning. To pitch 20 complete games a year.

Jack Morris didn't pitch 20 complete games a year. He did it once. He led the league in complete games once. A more typical total was 10 or 11.

When Morris partisans say "Fourteen Opening Day Starts," they want you to think he was the best pitcher on his team in 14 different seasons. But he wasn't. It's a hoax, just like "20 complete games a year" and "He pitched to the score."

Like "Most wins in the '80s," "Opening Day Starts" is a junk stat. Did anyone talk about Opening Day Starts before Morris? Is 14 even the record for Opening Day Starts? If not, who holds the record? Who's second? Who's the active leader?

This is not a solid foundation on which to build a Hall of Fame case.

Jack Morris was a good pitcher who was unusually durable. He was not a great pitcher. If you let Morris and his 3.90 ERA into the Hall of Fame, there will be dozens of pitchers for whom you can make the argument, "If Morris, than Jamie Moyer" or Jim Kaat or Guidry or Tanana or Appier or Stieb or Tannehill or Saberhagan or Hershiser ... and soon you realize that most of those pitchers, all of whom are on the outside looking in, have much better Hall of Fame cases than Morris.

But hey, nobody asked me. If the BBWAA wants a Hall of Fame with Jack Morris and Jim Rice and Bruce Sutter and without Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and Tim Raines, what do I care? Come to think of it, what will anyone care?

* Andy Pettitte

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