Yes, I had a great relationship with Carl Pohlad during the 25 years he owned the Twins, but we had a real argument when Pohlad told me he couldn’t re-sign Jack Morris, who is going into the baseball Hall of Fame this week, after he pitched the team to a World Series victory in 1991.
Morris told me he met with Pohlad and that the Twins couldn’t meet Toronto’s contract offer of two years and $10.85 million, which at the time made Morris the richest pitcher and second-highest-paid player in baseball behind Bobby Bonilla.
“I have to sign [Kirby] Puckett,” Pohlad told me while we were having lunch in his office. The team would sign Puckett to a five-year, $30 million contract one year later.
Still, Pohlad and I got into a pretty good argument because I had known Morris since his high school days in St. Paul and actually did some campaigning, which was allowed in those days, with phone calls to him in Detroit to persuade him to come to the Twins in the first place.
In fact, Morris gave me the scoop on his decision to sign with the Twins before the ’91 season. I’ll never forget meeting him outside the Metrodome as he walked in for the news conference wearing a big silver fur coat.
During the ’91 World Series, Morris told many friends about how he begged manager Tom Kelly to let him start Game 6, with the Twins trailing Atlanta 3-2 in the series. Kelly told him to take a walk and that Scott Erickson was going to start Game 6 regardless of what Morris thought.
Puckett’s big home run in Game 6 gave Morris the chance to pitch the game of his life in Game 7. When Kelly attempted to take him out, Morris would have none of it as he pitched 10 shutout innings in a 1-0 victory and was named World Series MVP.
Still, when I talked to Morris in December 1991 after he had signed with Toronto, he made it clear how tough the decision was to leave his hometown team after only one season.
“[The Blue Jays contract] is a hell of a good deal,” Morris said. “But I hesitated for a long time before I accepted the offer. I sat there and negotiated for five hours. I went back to my hotel room. I called Andy [MacPhail, Twins general manager]. I called Carl. I told them I would take less.
“But they both told me right to my ear over the phone that if they were me, they would accept the Blue Jays’ offer. What does that tell you? ‘Jack, we don’t have any ill feelings, but you have to do what you have to do and that is the best for you.’ ”
While Morris’ time with the Twins was short, his 1991 Game 7 performance will always stand above the 562 games he pitched in his Hall of Fame career.
Hall of Fame town
I watched three Hall of Fame members — Morris, Paul Molitor and David Winfield — grow up from their days as high school players in St. Paul and followed them through their college days and early days in the pros. And I hope I will watch another one make it in Joe Mauer.
All three of the Hall of Famers played for the Twins at different points in their pro careers. Morris was the first in ’91. Winfield joined the team from 1993 to ’94 and collected his 3,000th hit against Oakland in the Metrodome in 1993 before finishing his career in Cleveland. Molitor also had his 3,000th hit as a Twin in 1996 before retiring in 1998.
In a conversation earlier this year, Morris talked about getting the call to Cooperstown.
“The first week or two after the announcement came, I was overwhelmed,” he said. “I still had a tough time understanding the meaning of it, just so happy and so grateful for what had transpired. But then life goes back into a normal pace. I wouldn’t want it any other way. If I had to change my life, I wouldn’t want it.
“So life goes on. But everybody tells me you’ll really feel the impact of it when you’re standing on the stage and all of the Hall of Famers are behind you and the big crowd is out in front of you and you deliver a speech that tries to encircle your life in baseball. I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a crazy weekend, a lot of activities, but certainly happy for the honor.”
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) didn’t vote Morris into the Hall of Fame in his 15 seasons on the ballot, but he made it in on the Modern Era committee vote.
“I kind of accepted the fact that it might not happen and that was OK,” Morris said. “You know, initially I was frustrated with it all. I thought I had done enough. But then I get to a point where you realize that honors are something you cannot control. It really hadn’t changed my life that much.
“I was still grateful for so many things that came my way and all of the things baseball has given me in my life. I mean it is really, truly part of my life. So I mean, how do you get angry over that? I certainly couldn’t. I sort of accepted the fact that sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for and be content with what you have. And I have learned that being content with what you have is still pretty darn good for Jack Morris.”
The shocking death of Vikings offensive line coach Tony Sparano on Sunday was sadly similar to the death of former Vikings assistant defensive coach Jocko Nelson. Nelson died during a Vikings game with the Chargers in November 1978 after spending 18 days in a coma following a heart attack suffered while playing racquetball with then-Vikings defensive coordinator Bob Holloway.
Sparano, much like Nelson, was beloved by many with the Vikings and around the NFL.
Former Vikings coach Bud Grant recalled what a shock Nelson’s death was and how deeply it affected the team.
“I remember getting the phone call at halftime that he had passed away,” Grant recalled.
Nelson had deep roots with Gustavus Adolphus, where he played and coached, before joining the Vikings. He was close to his family, including his wife, Lee, and four children.
The Vikings wore black arm bands for the final four games of the 1978 season to honor Nelson. You have to imagine the Vikings will do something similar to honor Sparano.
• Mauer has been on an extended hot streak. He is hitting .379 (25-for-66) with a homer, four doubles, 12 RBI and 12 runs over 15 games since July 6.
• A prospect for Twins fans to watch is first baseman Brent Rooker, the 35th overall pick in the 2017 draft. Rooker was already a polished college hitter out of Mississippi State, and the Twins believed he would quickly climb through their farm system. He is hitting .272 with 19 homers, 27 doubles, 65 RBI and 54 runs scored in 96 games at Class AA Chattanooga.