St. Paul’s newest hall of famer Jack Morris ‘just didn’t accept losing’

ST. PAUL — Bert Blyleven had the curve ball, Paul Molitor the smooth swing and peerless base-running. Dave Winfield was the preternatural athlete who could have played any sport but chose baseball, Rod Carew is simply remembered as one of the best hitters of any era.

Jack Morris will be different from most players in the Baseball Hall of Fame, remembered less for a particular skill than for a hot-tempered will to win that didn’t always put ink on the stat sheet. In fact, his career became the battleground between Hall of Fame voters who favored big-picture memories and those who demanded that certain statistical thresholds be met.

Morris was a five-time all-star but never finished higher than third in Cy Young Award voting (1981, 1983). He never led the American League in wins, and only once in strikeouts (232 in 1983). His 254 career wins, 3.90 career earned-run average and collective 44 WAR over 18 seasons left him at the fringe of what most (all?) sabermetricians consider Hall-worthy.

But what Morris accomplished in 16 seasons as a full-time major league starter made him unique among contemporaries: 14 winning seasons with at least 10 victories; 174 complete games; four World Series titles with three teams; and one of the greatest pitching performances in postseason history, a 10-inning shutout victory that pushed the Twins past the Atlanta Braves 1-0 in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

Recognized as one of the greatest pitching performances of all time, that Game 7 has much to do with Morris’ election to the Hall of Fame by the Modern Era Committee on Dec. 10, 2017.

“I knew in the moment, when innings 7, 8 and 9 came and it was still scoreless, I knew it was history and it was a special game right then and there,” Morris said. “All it did was inspire me to keep going. I wanted to be part of that story.”

Morris will be the third St. Paul native enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Sunday, July 29, not because of rare velocity, a signature changeup or his undeniable mastery of the split-finger fastball. Morris, 63, will join Molitor and Winfield in baseball’s most exclusive club because of how he harnessed the talent to make himself baseball’s best starting pitcher for most of a career that started in Detroit in 1977 and ended in Cleveland in 1994.

“He just didn’t accept losing,” said Molitor, who first battled Morris on the playgrounds of St. Paul and later won a World Series with him in Toronto. “You knew it was going to be ‘game on’ from pitch one.”

“As a competitor, there was nobody like Jack,” said former Tigers teammate and fellow member of the 2018 Hall of Fame class Alan Trammell. “He just wanted the ball. He just wanted it.”

It was a trait that showed up early, whether he was throwing stones on a fishing trip to Ontario with his family, ski jumping around the metro area in high school or playing his first Little League games in Mendota Heights and Eagan.

“I remember Jack on the bench, crying because they lost, and the other kids looking at him like, ‘What’s going on?'” said older brother Tom. “(The coach) said to the other boys, ‘Give me the kid that cries when he loses because he’s got a love for the game.'”

Morris and Trammell will join outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, reliever Trevor Hoffman, third baseman Chipper Jones and former Twins slugger Jim Thome as the Hall of Fame’s newest player members during an afternoon ceremony in Cooperstown.