Jack Morris was down to the final words of his Hall of Fame induction speech.
He had, to his satisfaction, summed up an 18-year career that took him from St. Paul Highland Park High School to Brigham Young to the Tigers to the Twins to the Blue Jays and finally to Cooperstown, N.Y., where he will be enshrined into the Hall of Fame on Sunday.
He found a way to summarize a career that included 254 wins, 175 complete games, 28 shutouts, five All-Star Game appearances (including three starts), three 20-win seasons, a no-hitter — and perhaps the greatest Game 7 performance in sports history. And the proper way to thank everyone who assisted him during his journey.
He didn’t hire a speechwriter. He wanted to use his own words as he looks out at thousands of fans and joins baseball’s most exclusive club. Living members of the Hall, including fellow St. Paul products Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor, will be seated behind him.
There’s just one problem. Morris was troubled by how he was going to deliver the biggest speech of his life.
“You’re allotted eight minutes,” Morris said. “It’s slightly longer than that because I didn’t allow for crowd reaction time, and I didn’t allow for Jack Morris emotion time, which I have no way of judging.
“I’ve gone through it in my mind 100 times, because I’ve given emotional speeches over nothing. I think about things during my speeches, and I get emotional and it is going to be a challenge for me.”
Morris is part of a Hall class that also includes Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones and former Tigers teammate Alan Trammell. Morris and Trammell were elected by the Modern Era committee after failing to be voted in by writers during 15 years on the ballot.
And that lengthy wait could make Morris’ day dramatic. Anyone have a spare handkerchief?
“I’m going to try to keep it reasonable and see if I can gather my feelings and put it back together,” Morris said, “because I don’t want it to become something where I lose it and can’t finish.”
The birth of a big leaguer
When Morris was a teenager, his father, Arvid, moved his family from Mendota Heights to the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul, one reason being the strong youth sports programs there.
Morris was a good basketball player in high school, but he loved baseball, playing the infield so he could hit. But when he arrived at Brigham Young, he was sent to work with the pitchers.
Morris developed well enough under coach Glen Tuckett and pitching coach Vern Law, a former major leaguer, to be selected in the fifth round by Detroit in 1976. A year later, he was in the majors. In 1979, he went 17-7 and became a fixture in the Tigers rotation.
But he didn’t become the Jack Morris until 1983, when he went into the bullpen one day to fix a flat slider and teammate Milt Wilcox showed him how pre-eminent NL closer Bruce Sutter threw his forkball.
“I threw a few and nothing happened,” Morris said. “Then I threw one that just fell off the table. I was like, ‘Oh, this could be fun.’ Two starts later, I threw it in a game. I felt like I was cheating.”
Morris went 20-13 that year and won at least 18 games in three of the next four years.
“Once he came up with this thing,” Royals great George Brett said while making the forkball grip with his right hand, “he became a different pitcher.”
Morris was a key figure for the 1984 champion Tigers, throwing two complete games during the World Series.
Detroit started off that season a ridiculous 35-5. Morris no-hit the White Sox on April 7 and was 10-1 with a 1.88 ERA by May 28. But he went 4-7 with a 5.85 ERA over his next 12 outings. Fans complained. The media criticized him. He stopped talking to reporters. And teammates griped about how difficult he was to deal with.
This was the “Mount Morris” side of No. 47. Known for his competitive fire, he glared at his infielders when plays weren’t made behind him. He was tough for catchers to work with and seethed when managers removed him from games.
Trammell recalled a game when manager Sparky Anderson pulled Morris. He had a habit of clapping his hands twice before asking for the ball.
“Well, Jack being the competitor that he was, he didn’t realize what he did, but he was so hot he didn’t want to come out of the game he slammed the ball in Sparky’s hand and broke some blood vessels,” Trammell said.
Anderson approached Morris later and explained the proper procedure for leaving a game.
“And it kind of woke Jack up,” Trammell said. “Often times, you know, Jack was very remorseful after the fact. But his hot blood. … That stuff was there. It was real.
“And he learned from that. He had a few blowups over the years and was always remorseful. Always sorry for things and a super guy.”
A season to remember
Morris, who had high-profile contract squabbles during his career, left Detroit after 1990 as a free agent.
“The Twins were a team on the move and they were tougher and tougher for me to beat,” Morris said. “I just figured the one ingredient they needed was a pitcher that could help the younger guys go out and do what he’s supposed to do, and that’s compete and show them how to compete.”
Morris signed an incentive-laden contract with the Twins, worth at least $3 million in 1991. Some questioned whether Morris had another good season in him at age 36 — but it turned out to be was money well spent.
Morris went 18-12 in 1991 while teaming with fellow righthanders Scott Erickson (20-8) and Kevin Tapani (16-9). The defense was sound. The offense was deep. Rick Aguilera was the closer.
And the Twins also had a chance to see what Morris was really like after years of being busted in on the hands by his fastballs.
“I still to this day call him Black Jack,” said Al Newman, a utility player on the 1991 team, “because the day that he was pitching it was as if he was mad at everybody.”
Then Newman laughed and added: “It’s a term of endearment. He was all business on game day. To me he was a big help to Scott Erickson being as dominant as he was. I just think Erickson took on that persona that year from watching Jack.”
The Twins won 95 games, toppled Toronto in five games to win the AL pennant and then took on Atlanta in the World Series.
Morris was 4-0 in the postseason that year — but everyone focuses on one game in particular.
It was scoreless in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series at the Metrodome, and Morris walked off the mound after striking out Mark Lemke on his 118th pitch of the game. Aguilera was warmed up.
Twins manager Tom Kelly believes players win games with managers making a few decisions along the way. A big decision was headed his way — but he let Morris make it for him. Morris wanted the 10th.
“He’s pitching the game of his life here,” Kelly said. “Do you want to take him out? No. Do you want him to lose? No.”
Eight more pitches in the 10th produced another scoreless inning before the Twins won it in the bottom of the inning as Dan Gladden scored on Gene Larkin’s pinch hit. Morris was named World Series MVP.
“You gotta be a man to do that kind of stuff,” Winfield said. “Heart. And he did it at home to win for a home team. If there’s a defining point in his life, you’ve got to remember that.”
Morris declined a $2 million player option and became a free agent after that season. He met with the Blue Jays first but was threatening to go to Boston.
“I remember saying to him, ‘By the time that plane lands at Logan Airport, Frank Viola will be a Toronto Blue Jay,’ ” said Paul Beeston, former Blue Jays president. “Had to call his bluff.”
Morris signed with the Blue Jays while Viola signed with the Red Sox a few weeks later.
Two more rings
Toronto, Morris said, might have been the most talented team he has played on, with Joe Carter, Winfield, Roberto Alomar, John Olerud and Devon White. Morris even felt comfortable turning games over to the bullpen. Manager Cito Gaston, he said, was the most reserved of the three managers he won World Series with, but always had the pulse of his team. Morris went 21-6 with a 4.04 ERA in 1992, and the Jays downed the Braves in the World Series. But he was 0-3 with a 7.43 ERA in the postseason.
Morris faltered in 1993, going 7-12 with a 6.19 ERA, and wasn’t on the playoff roster, but the Blue Jays repeated as champions, giving him his third consecutive ring and fourth overall.
“He came in and taught us how to win,” Beeston said. “He came in with a purpose, with the intention of going back to the World Series and getting another ring.”
Morris played with Winfield on the 1992 Blue Jays, then Molitor on the 1993 team. Three St. Paul greats — one from Highland Park, one from St. Paul Central, one from Cretin — winning with one organization.
Now all three are Hall of Famers.
“It’s just one of those strange little baseball facts that a really, really small geographical area within a relatively smaller sized Midwestern city produced three guys from the same generation,” Molitor said. “It’s a nice little thing that speaks well of St. Paul, of the baseball programs that Dave and Jack and I were able to participate in.
“And all three are going to share that same destiny of being enshrined in Cooperstown.”
Said Winfield: “Times were different. You could play different sports, different seasons. There were coaches and people who ran the facilities. You were always active.”
It’s something that St. Paul can be proud of and something that makes Morris’ election more special. Twins owner Jim Pohlad gave Molitor permission to leave the Twins series in Boston to attend the ceremony.
And Minnesota’s baseball community will finally celebrate someone who had to wait longer than many for the gates to Cooperstown to swing open, the driving force behind the last championship won by a major men’s professional team in the state.
“It’s going to be really fun to see Jack Morris on that stage,” Molitor said. “I’ve been waiting a long time to be able to see that.”