It has become a rite of spring at the Baseball Hall of Fame. With a new class of six Hall of Famers having received their calls of election, it’s time for each new electee to come to Cooperstown for what has become a traditional orientation visit. The orientation gives the new Hall of Famer a chance to see what is expected during the busy Hall of Fame Weekend schedule, while also giving him a behind-the-scenes tour of the Museum and a chance to meet the staff, some of whom he will work with closely during the induction process.
This year’s series of orientation tours began in earnest on February 13, when former Detroit Tigers ace Jack Morris visited the Hall of Fame. Much like his election, which came through an era committee vote after years of being bypassed by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, Morris’ visit came only after a series of fits and starts. He was supposed to visit Cooperstown in late January, only to have a winter snowstorm result in the cancellation of his flight. And then Morris planned to visit on February 12, only to have that plan delayed for non-weather reasons—albeit by just the one day.
For Morris, this represented his second visit to Cooperstown. The first came in 1984, when the Tigers played in the annual Hall of Fame Game. But as Morris pointed out during his orientation tour, other than a quick “peek in the door,” he never had the chance to visit the Museum during that first visit in the mid-1980s. Running on a tight schedule, the Tigers players changed into their uniforms at the local gymnasium, then made their way over to Doubleday Field for the annual exhibition game, and then left town almost immediately. There was simply no time for a tour, either of the Museum or the Plaque Gallery, where Morris’ bronze plaque will soon reside.
The pace is far less frenetic during the orientation tour. Each New Hall of Famer, usually accompanied by his spouse and children, arrives in town, spends the night, and then takes the next day to go through orientation. That orientation includes a behind-the-scenes tour with the Hall of Fame’s vice president of exhibitions, Erik Strohl, who serves as the Museum’s chief curator. For Morris, the highlights of the tour included the Plaque Gallery and some old-time baseball sweaters, but other parts of the Museum hit home with him, his wife Jennifer, and their 13-year-old son, Miles. “This room [the Plaque Gallery], just the way it’s built, this stands out,” Morris told Hall of Fame senior researcher Bill Francis. “So many things [are great here]. I was teasing my son. I asked him what the coolest thing was. He said, ‘I got to hold Babe Ruth’s bat.’ I’m sure every kid would think that. For me, it was seeing the old sweaters. They’re so nostalgic and so unique. I wasn’t expecting that.”
Other highlights included a chance to look at one of the baseballs from his 1984 no-hitter and an inspection of a bat used by one of his former teammates, Larry Herndon. (Morris revealed that Herndon will be on his list of invited guests for his induction in July.) At one point, Morris eyed an image of former Tigers great Ty Cobb, one of the five original inductees to the Hall of Fame. As Morris looked at the photo, he told his son to take special note of Cobb’s batting stance. The implication was clear: something could be learned from observing the stance of one of the game’s greatest pure hitters.
After the completion of his tour, which included a behind-the-scenes look at the Hall’s archive located in the basement of the facility, Morris met with Hall of Fame staff members. Those gatherings, featuring a congratulatory cake and servings of punch, usually take place in the Hall of Fame’s Learning Center, and give staff members a chance to shake hands with the new inductee, ask a question or two, and have a photograph taken.
Those who attended the event with Morris noticed a different personality from his playing days. As a pitcher, Morris had a reputation for being cantankerous and short with the media, which many attributed to his competitive nature. Nowadays, Morris is mellower and calmer, more introspective and philosophical.
The old Morris might have been upset about having to wait so long for Hall of Fame election, which came 24 years after he last suited up in the major leagues. But not the new Morris. There is no bitterness, just satisfaction in having been received in Cooperstown. He also seems to understand why it took so long for him to earn election, in a time when many voters focused on his elevated ERA (3.90) rather than his ability to win in big-game situations. “I was torn between the old-school methodology and the modern metrics,” Morris told Francis, “and the modern metrics weren’t favorable to me. I was kind of the last of a dying breed, a dinosaur per se of old school, take the ball and finish the game… I’m happy and proud to say I pitched in the American League, where I got to finish games.”
Morris completed 175 games during his career, including 20 for the Tigers in 1983. His complete game numbers look like something out of the 19th century in comparison to today’s game, where most pitchers don’t complete a game during an entire season. In response to the critics who have cited his ERA, Morris believes that the mark would have been lower if he had left games in the sixth and seventh inning. Instead, he pitched deep into games, often through fatigue, which inflated his ERA but gave the bullpen additional rest or a complete night off.
For that, Morris offers no apologies. He is simply looking forward to the next time he visits Cooperstown—the weekend of July 27 through the 30th. That’s when he, Alan Trammell, and four others will officially make the Hall of Fame their second home.