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Jack Morris, the Tea Party, and WOW THE INTERNET

Gregory Shamus

Here's Jon Heyman on MLB Network last week, shortly after the results were announced:

It's really a shame and I think it really has hurt, as Dale Murphy told us it might, it's hurt some of the clean guys, and one of them is Jack Morris. Because you can't put in more than 10, and some people lean toward the steroid guys, and I think Jack Morris went up nothing in his second-to-last year, and I've never seen that before. This is a guy who was terrific in the postseason, and I don't want to rehash his whole career but I think this is a real shame that he's got one year to go. You've got more great guys coming on the ballot and he may never get it. And it seems like to me, he's been mistreated by being the only guy, he's the DH [sic], nobody's got in, AL-only DH pitchers, and now he's got the steroid guys working against him, and I think it's unfair to Jack Morris.

Later, Heyman sent this out into the world:

I don't want to rehash Jack Morris's whole career, either, and in fact I'll rehash it even less than Heyman rehashed it. Instead I'll just mention in passing that Heyman considers Morris a slam dunk for the Hall of Fame, but didn't vote for Craig Biggio. No, what really caught my eye was that reference to 'net negativity. Now, I'm not exactly sure what that means ... but I think I can make a decent guess.

Later in the show, Tom Verducci previewed next year's ballot, which will include first-timers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas. What will happen, Verducci asked Ken Rosenthal, next time? Here's Rosenthal's response:

I think those three get in, and Morris is going to be awfully close. And I will say this about Morris: I don't vote for him, but the level of discourse against him, by certain segments of the sabermetric community right now, is over the top. It's almost a crusade, and it's ridiculous. One thing that has bothered me, at times, not among many of us, but some of us, is the almost polarized view of the world now, that has come to pass. It's as if the Tea Party is taking over one part of baseball discussion, and that's not right.

Heyman, of course, weighed in there: "And the internet campaign against Jack Morris has really hurt him. I think it was the opposite with Blyleven, the internet campaign got him in."

Here's a question for Ken Rosenthal (who I like, and who generally does great work) ... How, exactly, should certain segments of the sabermetric community best present their case that Jack Morris was not, for example, as good as Bert Blyleven or Curt Schilling?

Basically, in Rosenthal's world-view, it seems that it's okay to mention in passing that a candidate isn't quite good enough for the Hall of Fame. But if you truly engage the question, and do some ACTUAL RESEARCH, then you're engaging in some ridiculous ill-spirited crusade.

The internet campaign has really hurt Morris? Perhaps a tiny bit. What I wanna know is, what's really been helping Morris? Because something sure has been helping him. Here were his vote percentages, his first four years on the ballot: 22-20-21-23. In his fourth year on the ballot, he finished 13th. Granted, eight of the guys ahead of him are now in the Hall of Fame. But four are not: Lee Smith, Steve Garvey, Jim Kaat, and Tommy John. In fact, none of those four have come close to Morris's 68-percent support on this year's ballot.

On the same ballot that saw Morris get 23 percent (in 2003), Alan Trammel got 14 percent. Morris has since jumped from 23 percent to 68 percent; Trammell's gone from 14 percent to 34 percent.

Last time I checked, THE INTERNET was higher on Trammell than Morris.

Is THE INTERNET a part of the story? Sure. Everything counts. I suspect that THE INTERNET did help Blyleven, if only because the internet -- and by that I mean the medium, not basement-pajama guys like me -- makes it a lot easier to publish facts (and lies, too, but most of the stuff about Blyleven was actually true). How badly has THE INTERNET hurt Morris, though? He was 42 votes short this time. It's certainly possible that THE INTERNET cost him 42 votes. It's also possible that the internet got him a few votes. And I don't mean just because guys like Heyman and most of the crew were able to use the internet to pump his candidacy. There were probably a few reactionaries who actually voted for Morris simply because they knew it would piss off THE INTERNET.

Frankly, it should be very clear to everyone that Rob Neyer and Joe Sheehan and Jay Jaffe have an exceptionally small impact on Hall of Fame balloting. If that were not true, then Jim Rice wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame and Jack Morris wouldn't come nearly as close as he's come. If that were not true, Craig Biggio would have been elected this year, along with a number of other notables. Does THE INTERNET impact Hall of Fame voting? Probably. But not nearly as much, I suspect, as the Old Guard you see on MLB Network and ESPN every day, and on all the big-boy websites. Most of these guys have been doing their very best for a few years to get Jack Morris elected, and their failure (so far) says less about their continuing power over other old white guys (i.e. "the voters") than about the flimsiness of Morris's credentials.

Ken Rosenthal thinks THE INTERNET is like the Tea Party? Well, okay. In his defense, the fact that he does not vote for Jack Morris does give him a bit of credibility. But I don't think the anti-Morris forces are what Rosenthal thinks they are. Mostly, they're just a bunch of people who think a vote for Jack Morris is a vote against Alan Trammell or Tim Raines, and who are persistent in their frustration that, no matter how many facts they marshal in response, another voter will pop and spout a bunch of bullshit about Morris just knowing how to win.

You know, stuff like this:

He's not a Bert Blyleven type, who will suddenly get a surge of support from numbers crunchers. Quite the opposite. Morris has become the whipping boy for those who lean more on numbers, who refuse to acknowledge that as vital as stats are in examining a Hall of Famer, there also is a value to the so-called "wow factor" the player created among his peers during his playing days.

With Morris it wasn't wow. It was WOW.

That's Tracy Ringolsby, writing in Baseball America. See, if you argue the facts about Jack Morris, you're not just making a case; you're turning Morris into a whipping boy in the midst of your over-the-top crusade.

Also, you're ignoring the WOW FACTOR ... which was so WOW during his playing days that five years after he retired, only 20 percent of the Hall of Fame voters were WOWED by him. Which was so WOW during his playing days that Morris never won a Cy Young Award, or finished second for a Cy Young Award. He was so WOW during his playing days that not once in his whole career did Ringolsby's peers consider Morris even the second-best pitcher in the American League.

Those are facts, to which guys like Ringolsby can only respond with a big WOW.

The Tea Party. Taking over the discussion. From our basements. Heh. That's a good one, guys. Really it is.

P.S. I just re-read Heyman's tweet. It's time to START a pro-Morris campaign? Are you f'ing s'ing me?