Jack Morris for the Hall of Fame! (Robb Nen too!)
January 16, 2008 6 Comments
Well, we’ve finally gotten through another annual go-around of the un-pleasantness that is the Hall of Fame balloting. This year, Goose Gossage and his mustache finally got in. This year’s ballot was done in by the fact that there weren’t any “so obvious a caveman could have voted for him” candidates. All we had were the usual arguments over Jack Morris (OK, let’s play the board game Taboo. The five words you can’t say are “Game, Seven, 1991, World, Series” Go ahead. I dare you. Make a case for Morris), “Circle Me” Bert Blyleven, Jim Rice, and Tim Raines, none of whom made it. (for the record: no, yes, no, yes.)
Still, there was one player whose candidacy got no attention from the media and who was subsequently screwed by the system. A truly great (in the sportscaster sense of the word) pitcher has been shunned forever from the Hallowed (which means “holy”… doesn’t it sound stupid when you say “holy”?) Hall in Cooperstown. This man I have in mind only received two votes this year, meaning that next year, when BBWAA finally sends me a ballot, I can’t vote for him. Initially, the fact that he got two votes made me question whether the drug problem in baseball goes all the way to the writers. (Read the last few posts from Fire Joe Morgan, whom I am
blatantly ripping off paying hommage to in this article, and you’ll be convinced that it does…)
But then it hit me. If people can make an argument about Jack Morris getting into the Hall of Fame, more than two guys should be making the same arguments in favor of Robb Nen. Seriously. Robb Nen for the Hall!
On a side note: I’d like to meet the man who wrote the words “Shawon Dunston” on his ballot this year. Maybe he thought he was writing “Bert Blyleven” or “Mark Grudzielanek”, but the pen slipped. That’s the only reasonable explanation I can possibly come up with for that one. The rest of my theories involve space aliens or O.J. Simpson or Cubs Fans who had one too many Old Styles in 1987 and are just now waking up from the hangover and assuming that Dunston actually went on to have that Hall-worthy career everyone thought he would. Actually, that last one’s pretty reasonable. Maybe the Dunston voter meant to write “I’m done, son” and he put it at the end of his list to indicate that he had no more players for whom he wished to vote, and the guy at the HOF office mis-read it. My guess is that this Dunston voter lives and/or works somewhere near Wrigley Field, so it’s entirely possible that I might meet this guy.
Back to Nen. Let’s take the usual arguments for Jack Morris and apply them to Robb Nen.
1) Morris won a lot of games (254 to be exact). In fact, he won more games than (insert name of another pitcher in the Hall already).
Nen was a closer, so it’s not a good idea to compare win totals. Thankfully, closers have a stat (the save) that everyone purrs over and that’s, statistically speaking, just as goofy as wins for a starting pitcher. Just eliminate any sense of context and raw save totals sound really cool.
So… Nen saved a lot of games (314 to be exact). In fact, he saved more games than… well… Goose Gossage. (It’s true. You can look it up.) Never mind that Nen played in an era where he was the ninth inning specialist on some good teams and racked up saves that way. When you make this type of argument, all context must vanish. Nen also had more career saves than Cy Young, the greatest pitcher of all time ™. Beat that completely specious argument!
1a) Morris won more games than any other pitcher in the 1980s.
Robb Nen, from 1994-2003 (see, a full decade!) saved more games than any other pitcher in baseball whose name was not Trevor Hoffman. And Nen didn’t pitch in 2003! (Hoffman didn’t pitch much either in 2003, due to injury.) I don’t suppose it’s much of a shame to lose in the saves race to Hoffman, who’s also a future Hall of Famer. Over that time frame of a full decade, Nen saved 31 more games than 3rd place contestant Troy Percival. Wow! Nen probably would have saved more in his career, but for the fact that he was injured in 2002 and never recovered to pitch again (see below.)
Why start in 1994? Because 1994 was a marking point in baseball. A year before, the Coors Field era began, and 1994 was the year I graduated from middle school.
1b) Excitedly citing the rest of his career stat line in isolation with a random exclamation point for effect! (e.g., Morris, in his career, had 254 wins, 28 shutouts, nearly 2500 K’s, and issued 99 intentional walks!)
Nen: Career 2.98 ERA! 314 saves! and struck out 10 guys per nine innings! (Morris = 5.8). (n.b.: proper grammar is optional) Plus, Nen also had a hit in his Major League career as a batter. Morris never did. I rest my case. Here’s another random exclamation point!
2) Game Seven, 1991 World Series. (Oops, I wasn’t supposed to say any of those words…)
Morris won 7 post-season games. Nen notched 11 post-season saves. See where I’m going with this? Nen was also the closer on two different World Series teams. Defining moment: In the ninth inning of Game 1 of the 2002 World Series, Nen came into the ninth inning to face the Angels with his Giants up 4-3. What did Nen do? Set them down 1-2-3, including a strikeout of the grittiest, pluckiest guy ever. EVER. David Eckstein is the Chuck Norris of baseball. And Nen did it with a bad shoulder (see below.) It gave the Giants a 1-0 series lead, which they should have held. This guy comes through in the clutch!
However, it must be pointed out that Nen was not the winning pitcher in (the five words I’m not supposed to say). Nen did win a ring with the Marlins in 1997. (And as an Indians fan, I hate him for it.) Nen’s a champion. That has to count for something. (Someone call Buddy Biancalana! I think we’ve got an angle for his candidacy.)
3) Morris made 14 consecutive Opening Day starts.
To be named the team’s Opening Day starter, it doesn’t mean that you’re good. It just means that the four other morons you’re standing next to you who also have the designation “starter” aren’t quite as good as you. (Exhibit A: Runelvys Hernandez.) Robb Nen was the “closer” (got the most saves on his team) for 9 seasons. Which is the same thing as saying that he was judged superior to the other five morons on his team who were designated “relievers” in 9 different seasons. Robb Nen can honestly say that he was judged better than Ed Vosberg. Wow.
4) C’mon man. Morris had HEART. And he was FEARED.
During the 2002 World Series, Nen pitched knowing full well that he had a significantly torn rotator cuff, and that in doing so, he was jeopardizing his career by continuing to pitch. For his efforts, he became a cult icon in San Francisco and he also never pitched again because of his aggravation of the injury.
(*Begin teary eyed speech and cue “America the Beautiful” playing in the background*)
There are some things in baseball that go beyond what can be measured on the field. Nen not only put his shoulder on the line, but his very livelihood. What for… for his team. He never complained. That, my friends is heart. That’s what really separates the merely good players from the absolutely magical. There’s that one moment in time where they take their team up on their (wounded) shoulders and no matter the consequences, they see the job through. In October of 2002, Robb Nen was that guy. Remember: they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!
Plus, the guy had a Slider that was nicknamed “The Terminator” (how fearful!) and a high 90s fastball. People are generally afraid of having a small projectile hurled in their general direction at a great rate of speed, but if I simply say that there was a non-specific “fear” of “seeing Nen come out of the bullpen” you really have no way to refute that and have to take my word for it, don’t you? I thought so.
5) Morris is better than Bert Blyleven, cuz… ummm, Bert Blyleven was part Dutch and I don’t like Dutch people.
No, no one actually made this argument. But this one would actually make more sense. Look, if you want to vote for Jack Morris (or anyone) for the Hall of Fame based on arguments related to his character and virtue or because you watched the re-run of (those five words I’m not allowed to say) on ESPN Classic a week or so ago and can augment them with a few numbers showing that Morris was “great” in the sportscaster sense of the word, then I suppose that’s your right. Just keep it consistent like those other two guys did and vote for Robb Nen as well. But remember: people who specialize in bovine excrement can cobble together a heart-string-tugging case for just about anyone who was moderately good.