Originally published Dec. 14, 2017
By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. _ Jack Morris was 16 hours into having the adjective Hall of Famer before his name.
Morris spoke of his emotions when Jane Forbes Clark, chairwoman of the Hall of Fame, had called him with the news. And how his phone exploded with calls and texts, plus emails, when Jeff Idelson, Hall president, told the world on Major League Baseball Network.
Who was the name you heard from which you hadn’t heard from in years? Someone that went back in your past?
“Larry Herndon,” said Morris.
LARRY BLEEPIN’ HERNDON!
Now there was a name that fit high on the list of all-time villains amongst Blue Jays fans. Right there with Jim Sundberg, Dennis Eckersley, Alex Rodriguez, Eric Hosmer and Ryan Merritt.
Herndon homered off lefty Jimmy Key with one out in the bottom of the second in Game 162 to give the Detroit Tigers a 1-0 win over the Blue Jays and the 1987 American League East title.
If Herndon is on the short list of players who harmed Blue Jays post-season chances, Morris is on the short list of Blue Jays elected to Cooperstown: former hitting coach Bobby Doerr, who died last month at 99, knuckleballer Phil Niekro, Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield, Bobby Cox, Frank Thomas, Rickey Henderson, GM Pat Gillick, broadcaster Early Wynn and of course Robbie Alomar the only one with a Blue Jays logo on his cap.
Molitor, Winfield and Morris have more in common than a Blue Jays uniform -- all grew up in St. Paul, Minn. in the 1970s. Morris faced Molitor playing Legion ball.
Morris and Trammell, former Detroit Tigers teammates, met the press Monday morning in Orlando at the winter meetings. Morris was known as Black Jack. Adjectives used to describe him were often “gruff,” or “tough.” At least four times Morris’ voice cracked and he broke down answering questions.
Sitting behind Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox as Morris had to pause again I asked Cox if Morris reminded him of anyone. He shrugged. I whispered Pat Gillick? Cox nodded yes.
In the third row sat the very regal Al Kaline, the last Tiger position player elected to Cooperstown by the writers, back in 1980, his first year on the ballot.
That is an awful lot of time between Tigers.
* * *
Morris was at the winter meetings doing work for MLB.com and as soon as he saw Idelson on MLB Network, the home town boy was invited to the Twins suite. He is a broadcaster for the Twins after working in the Blue Jays booth when Alan Ashby left to join the Houston Astros.
There his former Blue Jays teammate, Minnesota manager Molitor spoke and presented him with a bottle of champagne.
“I know him and I know Paul well,” Morris said. “Paul said he was proud of the way I handled things over the years.”
Morris was on the Baseball Writers of America Association ballot for 15 years. He peaked in 2013 as he was named on 67.7% of ballots, 39 votes shy. Every player to obtain 65% or more has been elected either by the writers or the veteran’s committee.
Yet, in 2014, Morris slipped to 61.5% as Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas were elected. Morris was 78 votes short.
* * *
“Obviously it is a humbling point in my life,” Morris told reporters his voice quivering. “After failing on the writers’ ballot, reality sinks in. For me, it was a wonderful learning time because I had to remind myself of how much I am grateful for without the Hall of Fame.
“And then you get this wonderful news from your peers, and it happens, and Alan Trammell and I are both having a tough time grasping that right now. But it’s more for the people that were in my corner than me, myself, right now. Had I made it on the first ballot, I wouldn’t have that same feeling. So, I’m grateful for the time, because it has taught me a lot.”
The peers Morris spoke of were on the 16-man committee, which saw Morris get 14 votes consisted of
_ Former Braves manager Bobby Cox, and GM John Schuerholz, who were on the other side of the field that night in 1991 when Morris pitched a 10-inning, 1-0 complete game win over Atlanta in Game 7 in the MetroDome.
_ Ex-New York Yankee Dave Winfield hit .217 with four homers, 14 RBIs, a .692 OPS in 83 at-bats going up against his fellow St. Paul native.
_ Former Milwaukee Brewer Robin Yount batted .276 with a five homers, 20 RBIs and a .783 OPS against Morris in 123 at-bats.
_ Former California Angels Rod Carew hit .292 with one homer, three RBIs and an .810 OPS in 39 at-bats against Morris.
_ Former Kansas City Royals 3B George Brett batted .319 with five homers, 18 RBIs, a .984 OPS in 91 ABs going against Morris.
Reliever Dennnis Eckersley and RHP Don Sutton were the other two Hall of Famers on the committee.
Later someone in the work room asked, “Is it better to be elected by your peers than writers?”
Maybe it is, but we doubt that the 15-year wait required to get on the Modern Era ballot was any fun.
* * *
“It is somewhat more gratifying to know that guys who tried to get hits against me, a guy who managed against me, and guys who were in the front office of other teams elected me,” Morris said.
Then he paused.
Known for a stare to match Dave Stewart, Morris let his guard down for all to see.
* * *
Both were chosen in the same draft by scouting director Bill Lajoie. Trammell was chosen in as a San Diego high schooler in the second round of the 1976 June draft. Three rounds later Morris was drafted from Brigham Young University.
They made their pro debuts at double-A Montgomery. Morris was 2-3 with a 6.25 ERA in 12 games, making nine starts under manager Les Moss, who became one of his mentors. Trammell hit .179 with two RBIs and a .448 OPS. He also spent 41 games with rookie-class Bristol hitting .271 with seven RBIs and a .700 OPS.
Morris made his debut July 26, 1977 for the Tigers pitching four innings against the Chicago White Sox. Trammell had his first game Sept. 9 of the same season, taking over for Tom Veryzer and going 2-for-3 against the Boston Red Sox. Morris and Trammell played 13 seasons together and they will be together again July 29.
“I honestly didn’t think I would get in,” said Morris, who added jokingly. “I had my answers all prepared ... and they would have been better than these.
“I was a wreck,” Morris said. “I’m overwhelmed. I’m grateful. I’m honoured and very humbled,”
* * *
Someone asked Morris if he knew how many pitches he threw in his Game 7, 10-inning scoreless 1-0 master piece win over the Atlanta Braves in the 1991 World Series.
"The number was 126," said Morris.
So you actually went through the order a third time someone else asked in mock jest?
"A third, a fourth and part way through a fifth," Morris said, lifting his fingers one by one. "I gave up seven hits and walked two."
The final batter Morris retired in the top of the 10th was Braves 3B Terry Pendleton batting for the fifth time of the day.
* * *
On 1500-ESPN Minneapolis radio with legendary columnist Patrick Reusse, Morris was gracious. Reusse told him, “Jack you were the greatest winner I have ever been around but you were hard to be around after a loss.”
Morris gave credit to his split-fingered fastball, developed in the early 1980s thanks to teammate Milt Wilcox.
“Milt was with the Cubs and saw Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter have success with it,” Morris said. “It was during a bullpen session in Oakland and Milt wanted to know if I ever tried throwing a splitter?
“I know why he asked me — because my slider started to really stink. I didn’t have an out pitch and I couldn’t put guys away. So Milt showed me how to throw it. After about 50 pitches the first one ever worked -- once I put my thumb on the side of the ball. I remember thinking ‘this is like cheating, no one can hit this pitch.’”
Morris made 527 career starts and had 175 complete games. He pitched 3,824 innings and was the winningest pitcher in the 1980s.
“I used to get a bonus for wins and for innings pitched, I never got a bonus for a WHIP or an ERA. There is a whole world of analytics and sabermetrics that weren’t part of my world that I played in,” said Morris. “I was being analyzed by a bunch of numbers that didn’t even exist when I played.
“Baseball is not about numbers. It is about letters ... a W and an L.”
(Sorry we are late with this but cataracts surgery last week meant we could not read the laptop for eight fun-filled days.)