Sully Baseball Podcast – Taking Stock, Acting Better and Painful Detroit Season – May 4, 2017

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One month into the season, some potential contenders have some tough decisions to make. Meanwhile, Boston fans should listen to criticism rather than be so defensive. And I pick the Tigers team that should have won.

Tough love given in this episode of Sully Baseball.

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Lerrin LaGrow 1978 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for April 4, 2017

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Lerrin LaGrow will always be known in baseball for two things, one might not be true and the other was done TO him.

Did he throw at Bert Campaneris on purpose in the 1972 ALCS?

And yes, Bert Campaneris threw a bat at HIM.

LaGrow was a product of the Arizona State University baseball system when the Tigers drafted him in 1969, a year after winning the World Series. After success in Montgomery in AA, he bounced between AAA Toledo and Detroit during the 1970, 972 and 1973 season.

In 1972, he had success in Billy Martin’s bullpen during his 16 appearances. Twice during his two months with the parent team he logged 3 inning relief appearances. He didn’t get chances to close out many games, but he added valuable depth as the Tigers outlasted the Red Sox to win the AL East.

LaGrow was rewarded with a spot on the playoff roster.

He came in to pitch in the 7th inning of Game 2. The Tigers lost a heart breaker in extra innings in Game 1 and were trailing in Game 2 with the chance of falling behind 2-0 in the best of 5 series.

Bert Campaneris was the bane of Billy Martin’s existence, getting hit after hit and using his speed to score. He got 3 hits, stole a pair and scored twice in Game 2 when LaGrow faced him.

The pitch went right at his ankle, potentially injuring him and threatening his speed game. Campaneris was sure that it was intentional to knock him out of the game. Before taking his base, he glowered at LaGrow and no doubt enraged at Billy Martin for ordering it.

Instead of walking to first, he flung the bat at LaGrow, who ducked it before it caused serious harm. All hell broke loose with players emptying onto the field and Billy Martin needed to be restrained from killing Campaneris.

Martin and LaGrow denied repeatedly it was intentional. A grand total of no human beings on the planet believed them. Martin loved the intimidation game and LaGrow was a young kid probably wanting to earn his spot in the minds of his teammates.

Campaneris and LaGrow were both suspended for the remainder of the series. The Tigers would be eliminated and LaGrow never did play in the post season again.

In the end, he would play pitch in 10 big league seasons. After mixed results as a starter with the Tigers he moved back to the bullpen when he bounced from St. Louis to the White Sox. He saved 25 games for the 1977 White Sox, good for 3rd in the AL for the year. He picked up 16 saves the next year, 6th in the league.

As he was picking up those saves, he posed for this Topps Card, one of my favorite obviously and awkwardly staged pics. He is standing by a batting cage and clearly not really pitching. Meanwhile he looks good with the open collars of the White Sox of the time.

Between 1979 and 1980, he moved from the White Sox and Dodgers, finishing his big league career with a Phillies team that would go on to win the World Series but was released in mid season.

Like anyone who pitched for a decade in the majors, Lerrin LaGrow no doubt has a lot of stories to tell.

But the main one people want to hear was not when he threw a ball towards a batter, but when a batter threw a bat at him.

Jack Morris 1989 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for March 27, 2017

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Let me say something very controversial.

Jack Morris had a fine career.

(Sully ducks, expecting someone to throw something at me.)

He did. Even if you do not think he was a Hall of Famer (and I can appreciate both sides of the argument) we all know that there is a huge gray area between “Hall of Fame Immortal” and “Worthless Bum.”

Even Morris’ harshest critics should put him into the that gray area.

There is no reason to breakdown his career bit by bit because between 2000 and 2014, his Hall of Fame candidacy was examined closer than a Supreme Court Nominee.

In review, he won more games than any pitcher in the 1980’s, was the number one starter one three World Champions and threw a dramatic 10 inning shutout to clinch the 1991 World Series. 7 top 10 Cy Young finishes and had the reputation of being a big game pitcher.

AND he had a high ERA, had a lot of offensive support that boosted his win total, did not survive cross examination of any advanced metric and LOST a few critical post season games as well.

We all know that. His debate was a battleground of old school thinkers and new school thinkers. He got to within 8% of the Hall of Fame.

The strange thing about it is he will never be a Hall of Famer (save for a Veterans Committee vote) not because of new stat thinking but because of some old school voting stubbornness.

Think about it. When the Morrs vote was first starting, it was 2000. Who was embracing new stats then? Bill James and 6 guys name Doug who had a Fantasy Baseball League.

His stats never changed. He never won another World Series game between 2000 and the 2014 vote. All the old school writers who championed him had a shot to vote him in then. Morris would have been in Cooperstown and his detractors would use him as an example (like Bill Mazeroski or Don Sutton) of someone who got in because of old school thinking.

But he only got 22.2% of the vote on his first year on the ballot. He dropped to 19.6% in 2001. He did not crack 30% until his 6th ballot.

Why? Because voters don’t like to vote for Hall of Famers on the first ballot. Because they like the twisting in the wind element of it.

It wasn’t until 2010, when new versus old thinking made Morris a Cause Celebre that he even made it to 50%. That was his 11th time on the ballot. The old guard had more than a decade to put the proverbial crown on his head.

At that point, even I, a huge Morris supporter for years, thought “Hmm… maybe there is something to their arguments.”

What sunk Morris for good? Was it the new Sabermetrics crowd? Nope. Once again, the old school guard that did not vote for him right away obliterated his hope on his second to last year on the ballot.

On his 14th and second to last try, Morris was on the ballot again. He had reached 66.7% the previous year (2012) and fell short of 75% as Barry Larkin was the lone Hall of Fame entry that year.

In 2013, there were some big hold overs, including eventual inductees Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines.

But that was also the first year that Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa were on the ballot. Those three who had dared use (or were suspected of using) PEDs to obliterate the record book were on the ballot.

And it was the old school who protested, sending in blank ballots, many voting for nobody. This was a statement to say those players could not cheat their way into Cooperstown and sit along side Mays, Aaron, Koufax and Berra.

OK, fine. But that also meant that Morris once again fell just short. At 67.7%, he was within 10% of election. But with no players elected, that would leave a glut the next year.

Public opinion went against the writers, who seemed petty, and led to a crowded ballot. And even old school writers who use traditional stats were putting Morris in an impossible position in his 15th and final year on the ballot.

Again, none of Morris’ stats changed after the 1994 season, his final one in the bigs. But he would be a victim of comparisons in 2014.

Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were both on the ballot. Both had stats that dwarfed Morris’ and both his the magical 300 win mark that Morris fell far short of.

He finished with 61.5% as no doubt the cluttered ballots, many filled with 10 candidates, didn’t have enough room.

So while modern stats exposed the flawed thinking behind Jack Morris’ Hall of Fame hopes, it was bullheaded mindsets of old school writers that kept him out.

If they voted for who they felt was worthy, first ballot or not, he would have been in earlier. If they didn’t make a ham fisted protest, he would have been in later.

Instead, Morris has to console himself with adulation from Tigers, Twins and Blue Jays fans, millions of dollars and three World Series rings.

And a fine career.