Why do people still think Jack Morris pitched to the score?

Every so often, I see tweets or articles from reputable sources repeating a long-since debunked myth. This one was posted about a week ago:

Lyle Spencer, a writer for MLB.com, is no different than a lot of other veteran reporters or fans who keep repeating this idea that Jack Morris pitched to the score. Morris popularized the notion, I think, to bolster his Hall of Fame candidacy despite a lifetime 3.90 ERA. As far as Hall campaign strategies go, it’s probably been one of the more effective ones. Morris just missed induction through the writers ballot and may be a future Veterans Committee pick.

Never mind that Joe Sheehan picked apart the myth of Morris pitching to the score in a landmark 2003 piece for Baseball Prospectus. In the piece, which is long but worth a full read, Sheehan examined everyone of Morris’s 527 career starts and discovered that Morris put his team behind in roughly two-thirds of them. That Morris had 254 wins while allowing nearly four runs a game is largely a credit to pitching for one of the best teams of the 1980s, the Detroit Tigers and getting at least five runs of support in nearly half his starts.

Sheehan’s piece is easily found in Google, as are any number of related ones that have come since. It’s like the majority of people who follow baseball aren’t even reading them.

As an enthusiast of sabermetrics, I see the world through proverbial rose-colored glasses sometimes. Primarily through this site and Twitter, I associate with a lot of researchers, analysts and fellow baseball writers, people who can concisely explain why they favor one version of Wins Above Replacement over another. I forget that most of the baseball universe doesn’t work this way.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a fellow who wrote at Baseball-Reference.com’s blog. What he told me: Most fans aren’t like us. They go with traditional stats like batting average or RBIs and don’t seek any kind of deeper statistical appreciation of baseball. They embrace the game’s myths, like Abner Doubleday inventing baseball or Morris pitching to the score. My friends and I? We maybe comprise less than one percent of all people into baseball.

People change, granted. Peter Gammons, among others, changed his mind on Morris pitching to the score after reading Sheehan’s piece. In time, maybe others will follow. But I suspect articles and tweets like the one above will keep coming and more people like me will keep writing pieces denouncing them until this issue, finally, is completely beaten to death. Trying to get people to see things differently seems like a fool’s errand sometimes. I know I often feel like I’m preaching to a choir of like-minded individuals.

The baseball world and the world in general remains so polarized. It’s a shame Jack Morris’s career has become a reminder of this. He was a fine pitcher, one of the best of his era and his work in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series was masterful. I agree with people like Joe Posnanski who’ve written that all this debate about him pitching to the score detracts from this.

4 Replies to “Why do people still think Jack Morris pitched to the score?”

  1. Here’s a question, bud. What do you think Morris’ max HoF vote percentage would have been had he gone, oh I don’t know, seven innings with one earned run (or something of that ilk) in Game 7 1991?

    I feel like the narrative sometimes is as much THAT ONE GAME as it is “pitching to the score.”

  2. Good point, that game is a powerful part of Morris’s narrative. Others have definitely made note of this: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=15836

    Personally, I don’t know if arguing in favor of Morris over Game 7 bothers me as much as saying he had a high ERA because he pitched to the score, since Game 7 actually happened and is far from the only thing he did. I can see, though, where it’d chafe for some people. The game has assumed almost mythic value over the years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *