Search

Armed To Win The Big Ones

Oct. 29, 1984
Oct. 29, 1984

Table of Contents
Oct. 29, 1984

Dolphins
West Virginia-BC
Jack Morris
Pro Basketball 1984-85
Pro Football
College Football
Hang Time
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

Armed To Win The Big Ones

Detroit's Jack Morris is a complex character with a simple approach to postseason play—dominate it

He doesn't want to do it," Detroit's Victory Day emcee told the jubilant thousands in Kennedy Square, "but he'll come up here because he's such a great guy—Jack Morris!" The crowd, not yet sated with its World Series heroes after two days of virtually continuous celebration, roared its approval as the reluctant Morris stepped to the microphone and raised his arms for quiet. "I'm not running for mayor," he told the celebrants, intelligence that elicited a relieved chuckle from Mayor Coleman Young, who was seated to Morris's left. "I'm not much of a speaker. I'm trying to go hunting sometime this afternoon.... We've got a great bunch of guys here. Without them I couldn't have won the two World Series games which I did win.... I love you all."

This is an article from the Oct. 29, 1984 issue Original Layout

That little speech probably wouldn't have cut the mustard at Gettysburg, but it did tell us a good deal about the speaker, a man of complex and contradictory nature. There was the awkward attempt at humor, a game try to win favor, the genuine embarrassment at having to confront his public, the poignant longing to get away from it all, the recognition of his teammates' efforts on his behalf, the boastful reminder of his own accomplishments and the, by this time, heartfelt affection for all the friends and former enemies around him. So Morris wasn't mouthing platitudes, after all.

In many ways 1984 was Morris's finest year in baseball. He won 19 games and pitched a no-hitter during the regular season. Only injuries, illness and his own perverse nature deprived him of his second straight 20-win season. But it was in October that he exhibited the qualities that have made him, in the opinion of some baseball experts—his manager and pitching coach included—the best pitcher in the game. He defeated the Royals 8-1 in Kansas City in the opener of the American League playoffs, precipitating a Tiger sweep. He beat the Padres 3-2 in San Diego in the opening game of the World Series, breaking their spirit and dashing their hopes by striking out the side in the sixth inning after they'd put two men on base with no outs. And he gave the Tigers a decisive 3-1 lead in the Series by beating the Padres again, 4-2, in the fourth game, with an even more impressive and economical 98-pitch complete game effort. Those three virtuoso appearances made him Detroit's most consistent postseason performer.

In the 28 World Series games Sparky Anderson, a.k.a. Captain Hook, has managed for Cincinnati and Detroit, he has permitted only one starter to complete a game, and that pitcher, Morris, has done it twice. Marveling at Morris's postseason dominance, Detroit pitching coach Roger Craig said, "Those games showed that Jack Morris is a true champion. He's a Nicklaus, an Ali. If you had one game to win, I don't know who I'd rather give the ball to."

In other ways the championship season had been Morris's most difficult. He won his first five games, lost one and won five more. Then he abruptly stopped winning. Over the next two months he was only 3-6. He missed two starts because of tendinitis in his right shoulder, and he suffered for a month with a chest cold that drained his strength. His tender psyche also suffered. Morris, 29, had long had a reputation for being temperamental, a pitcher who did not suffer losing gladly. "He just doesn't like to lose," says his brother, Tom, a former minor league pitcher now working toward his doctorate in geology at the University of Wisconsin. "He can't just walk off the field and shake his head and say, 'Well, I did my best.' He gets mad. And he's always had this problem of getting down on himself."

Craig agrees with Tom, saying, "Jack has such high expectations of himself that when he doesn't live up to them, he shows it—in public."

The Tigers knew this. They also knew that Morris's concentration occasionally waned in unimportant games, a condition particularly aggravating to his catcher. Lance Parrish, who found himself obliged to visit the mound from time to time to arouse the wandering artist with sharp words. "Sometimes during the season he gave us the impression he didn't care," said Parrish, comparing that Morris with the dynamo he'd just caught in Game 4 of the Series. Morris's midseason malaise may have resulted from the Tigers' largely unchallenged lead in the American League East.

"He's like a high-strung racehorse," says Anderson, "and he was a racehorse without a race. If it don't mean anything, he'll give you what it means, which is blah. But if you put him out there with something on the line, he's there. The great ones can perform when they have to. They may not do much in the sticks, but you put them on Broadway and watch 'em go. He's arrogant, sure. He knows he's good. He's like a great thoroughbred who'll bite you if you try to get near him."

Morris was also unhappy. He was getting knocked in the press and booed by the fans. He felt he was spreading himself too thin, trying to pitch while also writing a column for The Detroit News and acting as his team's player representative. He dropped the column and resigned as player rep in midseason. Finally, he stopped talking to the press altogether, joining baseball's silent squad (two months later, at Anderson's request, he resumed talking to reporters). But his tantrums on the mound and in the clubhouse didn't stop. Soon he was being criticized by teammates. Kirk Gibson deplored Morris's pouting. Milt Wilcox said Morris made the other players edgy. And Parrish said Morris was no fun to catch when his temper was up.

"There was a spell when everything seemed to be working against him," says Parrish. "He got so down on himself, it was frustrating everybody else on the ball club. We couldn't understand why things so minute would bother him. It's just that he's a perfectionist. It started as a minor disturbance, then there seemed no way of stopping it. He was making the whole team uneasy. It was an attitude we didn't need. Finally, it just got ridiculous. I had the unfortunate job of being the catcher who had to make sense of it all. Pitchers do get temperamental, you know. Finally, Jack recognized what was happening. He pulled himself right out of his hole. It was as if he flipped one switch and turned on another. Now, it's all behind us. He became the ace of the staff again."

The unkindest cut of all came from Craig, a man with whom Morris had previously enjoyed what he called a "unique relationship." In July, Craig was quoted in the papers as saying that Morris had "acted like a baby." After the Series, Craig said, "It hurt me to say it, and it hurt me to read it. But, and I don't know if that's the reason, he became a better man after that." There's no question, however, that Morris was stung by Craig's remarks. He still refers to all that happened during this unpleasantness as "the ordeal" or "all that trash." He has his own explanation for it.

"It got to the point where I was expected to win," he says. "It became a crisis when Jack Morris lost. When I went through a bad period, as I always do, people couldn't tolerate it. I was raised that if you have nothing good to say about a person, don't say anything. I'm sure Roger wasn't trying to be critical. He was just trying to get the most out of me, and he'd run out of ways to do it. But I sure didn't appreciate it. I was upset. I didn't care to talk to him. My opinion of him dropped for a while. I didn't need that then. I needed to have my confidence built."

In early August, Morris and Craig finally had an emotional 45-minute confrontation. Craig recalls: "I said to him, 'Jack, I don't know whether you like me, but I hope you respect me.' " In the end, Craig says, "Jack broke down. He told me, 'I not only like you and respect you, I love you.' I tell you, he's a tremendous person and a tremendous athlete."

Morris, Tom and their older sister, Marsha, were raised in St. Paul. The two boys competed in every sport from basketball to ski jumping, which they took up when Jack was 10 and Tom was eight or nine. "My uncle and my dad kind of dared us to do it," Jack recalls. "They told us we probably didn't have the guts. The next day we were out there jumping. I finally got up to the 70-meter hills by the time I gave it up when I was a sophomore in high school. The basketball coach told me I'd have to choose between the ball and the skis, and I didn't see any future in ski jumping. But I do give credit to it for strengthening my legs. I push off the mound hard like Tom Seaver, and my legs are the key to my pitching."

Morris's father not only pushed him to excel in sports but also imbued him with an enduring love of the outdoors. Within three days after the Series, Morris and a party of nine, which included his father, brother and father-in-law, set off for the Bob Marshall Wilderness—grizzly country—west of Great Falls, Mont., on an elk-hunting expedition. "It's perfect therapy for me," says Morris. "It's my release, my way of unwinding. I've been fishing and hunting since I was in diapers. I'm not a real city person. One of the things in the world I like least is traffic. If I had a choice of where to live, it would be somewhere in Alaska. I've never been there, but it has everything I like—mountains, lakes, fishing, hunting, cold, everything nice. I love snow."

Morris spent three years "majoring in baseball" at Brigham Young in Provo, Utah. Morris is a Mormon, but at the time he was primarily interested in the best baseball school he could find. He had played mostly shortstop and third base in high school—"I was a good hitter, still am"—but went unrecruited by such baseball powerhouses as Arizona State and USC. "Then I fell in love with the country around Brigham Young. I had three of the greatest years of my life there," he says.

Morris's all-around athletic skills and his experience at other positions have made him, in Craig's opinion, the best fielding pitcher in baseball. Morris is so agile that in the seventh inning of the first Series game he was able to field a ground ball hit slightly to the first-base side of the mound and race to the line to tag Alan Wiggins, the San Diego base-stealing whiz. "How many pitchers can make that play unassisted on a guy as fast as Wiggins?" asks Craig.

Morris, typically, agrees with his coach's assessment. "I don't want to sound like a jerk," he says, "but I think I can field with anybody in baseball at any position except catcher. As for getting to the ball—on instinct and reaction—I can do it. But I've never won a Gold Glove because I always make a couple of throwing errors, usually on pickoff plays called by Roger. Pitchers will make throwing errors because they're so accustomed to throwing 60 feet, six inches, they can't adjust all of a sudden to a different distance."

When it comes to throwing 60 feet, six inches, Morris has few equals. In the past six years, only Steve Carlton has won more games (106) than Morris (103). Morris has a fastball in the 90s and a wicked slider, a pitch not at all favored by Craig, who prefers the curve. But Morris's most effective pitch, hitters agree, is his forkball, a pitch he began working with two years ago and now throws from 30% to 40% of the time.

Craig is renowned for teaching the split-fingered fastball, a pitch in which the ball is held on the seams and away from the palm. The other Tiger starters throw it with deadly effectiveness; it comes to the plate looking like a fastball and then dips like a sinker. "I throw a forkball," Morris says defiantly. "I get the ball right down in there between the fingers. I can still throw it in the 80s. Actually, I don't have a lot of control of the pitch's speed, just the direction and the rotation. All the split finger does is slow down your fastball."

Morris fanned San Diego's Bobby Brown, Carmelo Martinez and Garry Templeton in that memorable sixth inning of the first World Series game using, at Parrish's urging, his blazing fast-balls. But in his April 7 no-hitter against the White Sox, the forkball did the trick. "He always was an outstanding pitcher with the fastball," said the Sox' Tom Paciorek. "With the forkball, he's a great pitcher. I don't think anybody in baseball is more talented than Jack Morris."

At least not when there's something at stake, which may be why Morris, the thoroughbred, is already sniffing next season's race. "I know in my heart it'll be harder doing it again," he says. "They'll all be gunning for us." Then he smiles wickedly. "But I love it. I love the challenge. I live for this. I'm a thrill seeker."

And for the Tigers, a thrill maker.

PHOTOJERRY WACHTEROn Victory Day 500,000 fans lined up to give Morris and his teammates a hand.PHOTOJOHN IACONOAnderson (that is you, isn't it?) likens Morris to a great—and grumpy—thoroughbred.PHOTOWALTER IOOSS JR.Morris speaks with forked ball: It got him 22 wins in '84, two of them in the Series.PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIERParrish and Morris are verbal assault and battery mates.