COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (AP) — No longer the emotional wreck he was on that special day in December, Jack Morris settled into a director’s chair inside the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Plaque Gallery, a satisfied smile creasing his face.
“You walk into this room and it’s like the Holy Grail,” Morris said Tuesday after touring baseball’s shrine for the first time in preparation for his induction this summer. “It’s what baseball dreams are made of for every kid. Now, I get to be a part of that group. It’s overwhelming.
“I don’t know what to think or say. It’s hard to put words around it right now. It’s so special.”
The long wait for the 62-year-old Morris ended in December when he and former Detroit Tigers teammate Alan Trammell were selected for induction by a committee that considered older players and executives. They will be enshrined July 29 along with Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman, who were elected in January by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“I began to wonder, but I never gave up hope,” said Morris, who was accompanied by his wife, Jennifer, and 13-year-old son Miles. “Quite honestly, I realized early on that my best chance might be on the veterans committee, even though the history prior to … this year wasn’t all that positive. It worked out.”
The road to Cooperstown for Morris was like few others. He retired after the 1994 season and appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2000. Year after year he slowly rose in the voting, receiving around 20 percent of the ballots in the early years up to 67.7 percent in 2013, 42 votes shy of the required 75 percent. That total decreased slightly the next year, his final time to be considered by the writers, and confounded Morris.
“It was a learning experience,” he said. “The most frustrating thing for me — I got back-to-back-to-back phone calls from some writers and one year they’d say, ‘Well, I voted for you this year.’ And the next year they’d say, ‘I didn’t vote for you this year.’ And I asked them, did I lose some games? Was there something that happened that I’m not aware of? ‘No, I just didn’t think you were as good as the guys that were brought in.’ OK.”
Morris said he hung up the phone wondering if those writers were just looking for a reaction from his frustration.
“It was another lesson learned,” he said. “You can’t control any of that. You just have to accept it. Time proved it. Now I’m here and it doesn’t seem to matter how I got here. I’m finally here.”
Selected by the Detroit Tigers on the fifth round of the 1976 draft after starring at Brigham Young University, Morris played 14 years for the Tigers, two for Toronto, and one each for Cleveland and Minnesota, his home state. The right-hander made 527 starts in his 18 seasons in the major leagues, finishing with a record of 254-186 and an earned-run average of 3.90, the highest of any pitcher in the Hall of Fame, and pitched 3,824 innings with 2,478 strikeouts.
Perhaps most importantly, at least in the mind of a guy who always took pride in his toughness on the mound, Morris registered 175 complete games. During a 12-year span, he went the distance 154 times, averaging 12.8 complete games per season and only once dipping below 10. He also threw four more complete games in the postseason during that stretch, none better than the final one for the Minnesota Twins — a 10-inning masterpiece shutout of the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.
“I was torn between old-school technology and the modern metrics, and modern metrics weren’t favorable to me,” said Morris, a member of four World Series champions.
“When I came up, the starting pitcher’s job was to win the game, number one, and finish the game, number two. I was kind of the last of a dying breed — old school baseball, finish the game.
“I’ve always held the understanding of what I did and what it meant to the teams that I helped win. I could only do what I could do, and I thought I did a pretty good job of it.”