This summer has been one to remember for Jack Morris. On July 29 he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. This past weekend his #47 was retired by the Detroit Tigers in a ceremony at Comerica Park. The former ace pitcher has achieved legend status.
Some Tiger fans are probably too young to remember Morris and his days in Detroit. They don’t know what it was like for a staff ace to pitch complete game after complete game after complete game. For a pitcher to make 35 or 36 or even 37 starts. They’ve never seen a pitcher put more than 290 innings on his arm in a single season. To say it another way: they don’t know why Morris was so special.
Here are the top ten moments from the career of Jack Morris.
10. Subbing for The Bird to make his first big league start
July 31, 1977 vs. Rangers in Texas
In 1976, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych took baseball by storm. He was the biggest story in the game, maybe in all of sports. He was the most fascinating personality to come into the game in years. But in 1977, The Bird has his wings clipped. A shoulder injury kept Fidrych from repeating his rookie heroics, and in late July, the Tiger righthander was scrubbed from a start on the road in Texas. The team asked Morris, a rookie who had only pitched one game in relief to that point, to take The Bird’s place. The Rangers, expecting a large gate with Fidrych on the mound, were not happy. No one knew that they would be witnessing the first start of a future Hall of Famer.
Morris got off to a very rocky beginning in his first big league start. He walked the first batter, walked the second batter, and then allowed a single and a run. After a stolen base, Jack threw a wild pitch. Run #2 came scampering home. Just like that, before recording an out in his first start, Morris was down 2-0. But he recovered.
After the rough first inning, Morris pitched eight scoreless innings and kept the Tigers in the game, striking out 11 batters. In fact, the contest went to extra innings (where the Rangers won, but Morris did not factor in the outcome). The 22-year old rookie had shown that he could handle adversity and pitch deep into a ballgame. Ten days later he won the first of his 254 regular season victories.
9. Shackling the O’s to take first place late in 1981
September 29, 1981 vs. Orioles at Tiger Stadium
The 1981 season was a strange one. Split in two because of a players’ strike, the standings were frozen when the schedule was interrupted and restarted when the players returned in August after a two-month hiatus. The Tigers played well that season. They had a young nucleus built around Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish, Morris, and a young outfielder named Kirk Gibson who got red-hot late in the summer. Gibby’s hot bat led the Tigers in pursuit of first place. On the mound, Morris was the ace.
On Tuesday, September 29, Detroit was hosting Baltimore in a crucial game at Tiger Stadium. The Tigers were one-half game behind the Brewers for first in the AL East. For the first time in a decade, the Tigers were playing meaningful games late in the season.
Morris was in serious ace mode that night. He allowed only one harmless hit in six innings as the Tigers pounded the Orioles 14-0. The win vaulted Detroit into first place with only a handful of games left.
8. Battling the Brewers for first place in ’81
October 3, 1981 vs. Brewers in Milwaukee
It was the final Saturday of the season and the Tigers were in contention for a playoff spot. The season had been cut in half and the second-half standings showed Detroit 1 1/2 games behind the Brewers, the team that was hosting them for a season-ending series. With two games left, the Tigers had no room for error, they needed to win on Saturday to force a winner-take-all game on Sunday. Morris was tapped to face the Brewers on three days rest.
The ’81 season was a coming out party for Jack. He led the AL in wins with 14 and was among league leaders in complete games, innings, and ERA. He had enjoyed an eight-game winning streak earlier in the summer which included seven consecutive complete games. In August he started the All-Star Game for the American League.
In a nationally televised game, Morris was sharp, holding the vaunted Milwaukee lineup scoreless into the eighth while clinging to a 1-0 lead. But in the bottom of the eighth, Paul Molitor and Robin Yount combined to spark a rally that pushed across two runs. An inning later, Detroit was eliminated from post-season contention. But Morris had set the precedent that he was a big game pitcher. In years to come on bigger stages, he would prove his mettle.
7. 10-1 before June 1
May 28, 1984, vs. Athletics in Oakland
The ’84 Tigers were one of the greatest teams of all-time. They started the year 9-0, 18-2, and 35-5. The best 40-game start in baseball history. They overwhelmed opponents and made winning look easy. At the front during their fast start was Morris, who quickly racked up wins.
In April, Morris went 5-0 in six starts, losing one game that the Tigers won in extra innings. In May he lost his first start, a heart breaker 1-0 to the Red Sox. Then he proceeded to beat the Royals, Mariners, A’s, and Angels, pitching two complete games. On May 28 with the team in the midst of a west coast road trip and in pursuit of the major league record for most consecutive road wins, Morris took the rubber to face the A’s in Oakland. On only three days rest, the big righty coasted through the Oakland lineup, staked to an early 4-0 lead. The A’s managed one earned run, Jack struck out eight, and the Tigers won 6-2 to improve to 36-8. The victory was the tenth of the young season for Morris, making his record 10-1.
Not since 1972 had a pitcher won as many as ten games before the end of May. Morris was on pace to 37 games. People were seriously starting to think he would become baseball’s first 30-game winner since Denny McLain in 1968. He was named pitcher of the month for the second straight month.
Morris cooled (as did the Tigers) and ironically he didn’t even win 20 games in 1984, settling for 19. But he turned it on again when it mattered, winning all three of his starts in the postseason.
6. Game One win for Twins in ’91 World Series
October 19, 1991, vs. Braves in Minnesota
For the second time in his career in 1991, Morris was tapped to start Game One of the Fall Classic. Just as he had in 1984 for the Tigers, Morris was a horse for the Twins. He allowed only five singles and pitched into the eighth inning. This time he needed some relief help, but the Twins and Jack won the game 5-2 to take an early lead in the series. The win improved Jack’s postseason record to 6-1.
5. A gutsy battle with the Jays for first place in 1987
October 3, 1987 vs. Blue Jays at Tiger Stadium
Entering the final three-game series of the season against the Blue Jays at Tiger Stadium in 1987, the Tigers were one game back in the AL East. On Friday the Tigers beat the Jays behind Doyle Alexander to reach a tie atop the standings. On Saturday, Morris took the mound to face their rivals. He didn’t have his best stuff that afternoon, but he had what Jack Morris always had: his heart.
Morris allowed eight walks and five walks in nine innings, escaping several jams, especially early in the game. Meanwhile, Mike Flanagan was dealing for the Jays and the two teams remained tied 2-2 after nine innings. That’s when Morris stepped aside for the bullpen. In the bottom of the 12th, Alan Trammell singled in the winning run and the Tigers won 3-2 to take a one-game lead in the standings. The next day the Tigers defeated Toronto 1-0 to win the division.
4. Game Four complete game win at The Corner
October 13, 1984 vs. Padres at Tiger Stadium
Morris pitched another complete game in Game Four at Tiger Stadium, the first World Series day game played at The Corner since Game Five of the ’68 Series. Alan Trammell smacked a pair of two-run homers and Jack cruised to a 4-2 victory. You got the feeling after the impressive win that the Tigers were not going to be denied.
3. Complete game manhandling of the Padres in Game One of ’84 Fall Classic
October 9, 1984, vs. Padres in San Diego
Jack Morris was his own closer. He didn’t need help when a win was in sight. In Game One of the 1984 World Series he proved he was capable of finishing what he started when it mattered most.
The Tigers were heavily favored to win the series, but the pressure was on them. After a 35-5 start and a sweep of the Royals in the playoffs, the Tigers would be considered busts if they didn’t finish it off with a win over their NL foes. Game One was played at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego and Sparky Anderson had his ace on the mound.
The Tigers jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first and things looked great. But perhaps showing nerves, Morris allowed the Padres to out two runs on the board in their half of the first. But after that, Morris was stingy.
Morris squashed a rally in the fourth and struck out three straight batters in the sixth after two had reached base. He fanned two more in the seventh, and in the ninth, staked to a 3-2 lead, the big righthander plowed through the Padres, sending them down in order. Game One win for Detroit. Complete game win for Jack. Series advantage Tigers.
2. No-hitter on national television
April 7, 1984, vs. White Sox in Chicago
Of all the great memories from the 1984 season, Jack Morris delivered one of the biggest and earliest of that magical year. On the first Saturday of the season on a cold, windy day at old Comiskey Park, Morris held the White Sox hitless, firing the first Tiger no-hitter in more than twenty years. That afternoon, Morris didn’t have his best command, in fact his split-finger fastball was tumbling and dropping more than usual. As a result, he walked six batters, including the bases full in the fourth inning. A ground ball double play got him out of that jam, and other than a line drive to third base, he didn’t have a scare the rest of the way. He struck out Ron Kittle to complete the no-hitter, securing a place in history and grabbing his second win of the young season.
1. 10-inning shutout in Game Seven of the ’91 World Series
October 27, 1991, vs. Braves in Minnesota (win improved Jack’s career postseason mark to 7-1)
In the long history of baseball, only one pitcher, Jack Morris, has thrown an extra-inning shutout in a deciding game of a playoff series. In 1991, Morris did it on the biggest stage: in Game Seven of the World Series. That year Morris was pitching for the Twins, his hometown team, and nothing was going to stop him from coming out on top in the ultimate game. His opponent was John Smoltz, a young ace (and future Hall of Famer) taking the ball for the Atlanta Braves. Neither pitcher flinched through seven innings, the game remaining scoreless. The Twins knocked Smoltz out in the eighth, but still couldn’t score. Meanwhile, Morris refused to surrender as dozens of family members and friends watched from the stands in the loud Metrodome.
In the eighth, the Braves opened the inning with a single and a double off Jack, but when Lonnie Smith misread the relay throw, he held at third. One put later, Morris walked David Justice to load the bases, setting up force outs at any base. The game, and possibly the championship, teetered in the balance. The next batter was Sid Bream, who bounced a grounder to first. The Twins turned a 3-2-3 double play to end the threat. Morris pumped his fist in elation as the third out was recorded. Breathing a sigh of relief, Twins watched as their ace showed the fire that made him the ultimate competitor.
Morris got two ground outs and a strikeout of Mark Lemke to end the top of the ninth. The game was still scoreless and moved to extra innings after the Twins failed to score. There was no talk of Morris coming out of the game. He passed manager Tom Kelly in the dugout and barked “This is my game, not way you take me out!”
In the top of the tenth, Morris needed just eight pitches to get three harmless outs. He was now in uncharted territory: pitching a shutout in extra innings of the seventh game of the World Series. It had never been done before. In the bottom of the frame, the Twins got a man to second and sacrificed him to third. After two intentional walks, Gene Larkin singled into the gap and sent the World Series-winning run home. Morris was one of the first players out of the home dugout to celebrate. His achievement remains one of the most epic in baseball history.
What are your favorite memories of Jack Morris? Share them in the comments below.