Wednesday, December 14, 2011

#65 Jack Morris

Card:  Jack Morris is shown here on his sixth Topps card.

Pic:  The action shot captures Morris in his follow through. His hat is not on straight in the inset.

Player:  Jack Morris was a fifth round pick by the Tigers in '76 out of BYU and he made his MLB debut the next July.  In his first taste of big league action Morris made six starts and relieved in another with a 3.71 ERA.  Morris spent the '78 season pitching mainly in long relief with an occasional start.  He was 3-5 with a 4.33 ERA in 106 innings.  He started '79 in AAA but was inserted into the Tigers rotation on May 13.  Morris won 17 of his 27 starts and was 13-2 from July through the end of the season.  He posted a 3.28 ERA and after dealing with the injury problems of previous young phenoms such as Mark Fidrych and Dave Rozema, Tigers brass was hopeful they had found a durable starter to front their rotation.

Morris won 16 more games in 1980, pitching 250 innings over 36 starts.  His 4.18 ERA was just over league average.  He had a 3.08 ERA in 27 starts in '81 and tied for the league lead in wins with 14.  Morris made 37 starts in both '82 and '83 winning 17 and 20 games respectively.  His ERA was 4.06 in '82 and dropped to 3.34 in '83.  Morris logged an impressive 293.2 innings in '83 and completed 20 games. 
The right-handed hurler no-hit the White Sox on April 7, 1984 as Morris and the Tigers ran away with the AL East.  Morris (19), Dan Petry (18) and Milt Wilcox (17) combined to win 54 games as the Tigers won 104 in the regular season.  He won all three of his starts in the postseason with a 1.80 ERA as the Tigers knocked off the Royals and then the Padres on the way to a World Series title.

Over the next three years Morris was very consistent, winning a total of 55 games with ERA's between 3.27 - 3.37.  The Tigers passed the Blue Jays during the last week of the season to win the East in '87, but Morris was shelled for six runs in his only postseason start as the Twins dismissed the Tigers.
Morris was durable but average in '88 and in '89 missed a scheduled start for the first time of his career.  1989 was a disaster for both the 34 year-old pitcher and his team.   Morris was 6-14 as the Tigers won only 59 games and his 4.86 ERA was easily a career worst.  He was healthy in 1990  leading the AL in both starts (36) and complete games (11).  Otherwise it was rather a mediocre season with a 15-18 record and 4.51 ERA.

Morris left the Tigers via free-agency in '91 to sign a one year deal with his hometown Minnesota Twins.  Now 36, he had his doubters, but Morris returned his ERA to a more familiar 3.43 and won 18 games.  The Twins won the AL West and Morris won both of his starts against the Blue Jays.  Morris started games one, four, and seven in the World Series against the Braves.  He won all three and pitched the legendary 10-inning shutout in game seven.  For his efforts Morris took home World Series MVP honors. 
Morris signed with the Blue Jays in '92 and behind a powerful offense won 21 games despite a league average 4.04 ERA.  Morris made four postseason starts and the Jays were able to capture a championship despite his 0-3 record.  Morris had a wretched season in '93 posting a 6.19 ERA in 27 starts.  The Blue Jays didn't use him in the playoffs as they won their second consecutive title.

Morris signed with the pitching hungry Cleveland Indians in '94 and had a 10-6 record with a 5.60 ERA when he retired in August.  Morris flirted with a comeback with the Reds in '95 but retired again before the season started.  The 41 year-old came back in '96 with his hometown St.Paul Saints in the independent Northern League.  He was 5-1 with a 2.61 ERA when retired for the final time halfway through the season.

Stuff:  Fastball (94 mph in his prime), Slider, Split-Finger, Change. 
Flipside:  Morris, if nothing else, was incredibly durable and in the midst of a 13 year run from '80 to '92 where he averaged 245 innings per year.

Oddball:  Morris, an excellent athlete with good speed early in his career, was used as a pinch runner 18 times in his days with the Tigers.  He never attempted a steal but scored four runs.  He also batted once with a fly-out in a complete game win where manager Sparky Anderson lost his DH.

History:  I won't use this forum to address Morris' Hall of Fame worthiness, but I will say that as a little leaguer growing up a Tiger fan, I emulated his pitching style.  By the way, his results were much better.
Morris was the undisputed ace of the Tigers for many years and was the winningest pitcher of the 1980's with 162 wins.  He won four World Series titles and the WS MVP in '91.  Morris was a five time all-star and was top-ten in Cy Young voting seven times.  He won 254 games in his career but hung around a bit too long.  But it was that same attitude and stubbornness that helped make him a successful pitcher. 
Morris currently does commentary on Twins radio.     

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