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MLB: Morris misses in final appearance on ballot

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By Mike Berardino

St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — For the 15th and final time, Jack Morris has fallen short of baseball immortality.

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Morris, the St. Paul native and 1991 Twins World Series hero, received 61.5 percent of this year’s vote from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. That was more than 6 percent lower than last year and left the durable right-hander well shy of the 75 percent needed for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Three players were elected in voting announced Wednesday afternoon: former Atlanta Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and former Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas. Craig Biggio (74.8 percent, two votes short of election) and Mike Piazza (62.2 percent) also outpolled Morris.

“Very, very disappointed,” former Twins manager Tom Kelly said. “I don’t know what else to say. As we’ve said over the years, you can’t say enough about Jack and what he’s done for the game of baseball. He won so many games. He was one of the most dominant pitchers of his era. I just have a hard time accepting it.”

Morris, 58, joins former Brooklyn Dodgers great Gil Hodges as the only players no longer on the ballot to cross the 50 percent voting threshold without eventually being honored.

Winner of 254 games in his 18 major league seasons, Morris was attempting to become the third inductee to gain the honor on his 15th and final attempt.

Jim Rice (2009) and Red Ruffing (1967) remain the only final-ballot inductees. Morris’ career 3.90 earned-run average would have supplanted Ruffing’s 3.80 as the highest for any pitcher enshrined.

Morris, the former Highland Park High School standout and ex-St. Paul Saint, fell 42 votes short a year ago, when he garnered 67.7 percent of the BBWAA vote. Only Biggio, the former Houston Astros star, received a higher percentage (68.2) as the writers failed to send anyone to Cooperstown for the first time since 1996.

Kelly, who managed Morris in 1991 and managed against him for almost a decade, said the honor was “well deserved” for this year’s class, but he was hoping for at least one more member.

“It’s a tough wall to break through, and I don’t really understand sometimes what you have to do to get through that wall,” Kelly said. “I know he’s a Hall of Famer in my book and I know in a lot of other people’s. When I think of him, I think of Hall of Fame pitchers.”

Morris’ support had steadily climbed over the years from a low of 19.6 percent in 2001, his second year on the ballot, to 66.7 percent in 2012 and last year’s even closer call. He didn’t cross the 50 percent mark until 2010, but his candidacy seemed to be gathering momentum as the almost 600 voting members of the BBWAA sought to put his long, productive career in perspective.

Before this year, BBWAA voters had elected just one career-long starting pitcher over the previous 14 voting cycles: Twins TV analyst Bert Blyleven in 2011. Blyleven won 287 career games, 149 of them with the Twins.

Morris spent just one season pitching for his hometown team, but it was unforgettable. He went 18-12 with a 3.43 ERA and went the distance in a 10-inning, 1-0 victory over the Braves in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

Morris, who was working on three days’ rest in his seven-hit shutout in Game 7, went 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA in three starts in the ‘91 World Series before opting out of his contact to sign with Toronto during the offseason.

He went 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA in 13 career postseason starts, helping the 1984 Detroit Tigers and 1992 Toronto Blue Jays win championships, as well. Morris also made 27 starts for the ‘93 Blue Jays, who repeated as World Series winners, but he didn’t appear in the postseason.

Despite Wednesday’s disappointment, Morris still could gain admission via the expansion-era committee, which covers 1973 to the present. However, that body — which includes Twins special assistants Rod Carew and Paul Molitor, former Twins general manager Andy MacPhail and Blue Jays President/CEO Paul Beeston — won’t convene again for another three years after giving the nod to a trio of former managers last month: Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre.

“There are other avenues,” Kelly said. “This is obviously the first one that’s coming towards us, but I’m confident it’s going to happen for him. In my mind, whether it’s the veterans’ committee or what other avenues there are, he’ll definitely get in that way. Hopefully it all works out for him.”

The Class of 2014 will be enshrined July 27 in Cooperstown.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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