Morris starts inductee visit season at Hall
Maybe it was appropriate that Jack Morris, who made a record 14 consecutive Opening Day starts, was the first of the six-member Class of 2018 National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Class to visit Cooperstown for an Orientation Visit.
“It’s so special just to see all the history of the game and how it has affected America,” said the longtime Detroit Tigers pitcher during a press conference in the Plaque Gallery on Tuesday, Feb. 13. “When you get a private tour, it’s extra special because there’s explanations behind the exhibits. And then you walk into this room (the Plaque Gallery) and it’s like the Holy Grail. It’s what baseball dreams are made of for every kid.
“Other than the guys right behind me (the Hall of Fame plaques of the first five Hall of Fame inductees) who started the whole process, I’m not sure everybody else didn’t dream of this day,” added Morris, voted into the Hall of Fame along with longtime Tigers teammate Alan Trammell by the Modern Era Baseball Committee in December. “And now I get to be a part of that group, it’s just overwhelming.”
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Morris, the right-handed hurler who pitched from 1977 to 1994, winning 254 games for the Tigers, with whom he spent 14 of his 18 seasons, as well as the Twins, Blue Jays and Indians, was at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, along with his wife Jennifer and his 13-year-old son Miles.
As part of the process, the excited Morris trio received a tour of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum from the Cooperstown institution’s Vice President of Exhibitions and Collections Erik Strohl.
“We were in the Hall of Fame Game years ago with the Tigers (in 1984) and I got to walk through one of these doors and basically look in but I never got to tour it, never saw the rest of the Museum, so it’s pretty cool,” said the 62-year-old Morris after the tour. “I know I need to spend a lot more time. I am a connoisseur of the history. The older you get the more you can appreciate some of this stuff. You can’t see it all in an hour or two – you just have to spend more time.
“This room (Plaque Gallery), just the way it’s built, this stands out. So many things. I was teasing my son. I asked him what was the coolest thing? He said, ‘I got to hold Babe Ruth’s bat.’ I’m sure every kid would think that. For me, it was seeing the old sweaters. They’re so nostalgic and so unique. I wasn’t expecting that.”
Morris, dominant during the 18 seasons he played, was a 20-game winner on three occasions and his 162 wins during the decade of the 1980s led all major league pitchers. The ace of the staffs for whom he pitched, he made 14 Opening Day starts, which since 1920 is tied for second behind Tom Seaver’s 16. He was also a member of four World Series winning teams, including the 1984 Tigers, the 1991 Twins, and the 1992-93 Blue Jays, earning Fall Classic MVP honors in 1991 after pitching 10 shutout innings for Minnesota in Game 7 to beat the Braves. Today, the St. Paul, Minn., native is a broadcaster with the Twins and also works with the MLB Network.
Throughout the tour, an inquisitive Morris family took a trip through baseball’s long and varied history. When it came to a photo of Hall of Famer Fred Clarke, Morris asked his son, “Look at the stance and tell me where you’re going to pitch him?” An image of Ty Cobb brought Morris to tell his son, “Look at that batting stance, Miles.”
While Morris finished with 175 complete games, an exhibit on Cy Young amazed Morris. “I can’t believe he had 751 complete games. He just finished everything he started. And he averaged 30 complete games a year.”
Morris was soon checking out exhibits from his playing days, involving both teammates and opponents. On the 1984 Tigers, Morris said, “It was the most positive team I was ever on.” When he saw a video of Ozzie Smith’s famous Opening Day backflip, he joked, “See the Ozzie flip. I always told Tram (longtime teammate and fellow 2018 Hall of Fame electee Alan Trammell) if he did it he would have been elected on the first ballot.”
Asked later what it was like to see on display one of his Tigers caps, a ball from his 1984 no-hitter, and a video of his epic 1991 World Series 10-inning shutout for the Twins against the Braves in Game 7, Morris called it “flattering,” adding, “I sometimes wonder how do I fit in this? There were some moments and I recognize them as being as special in baseball history as any.
“Obviously the 1991 World Series, Game 7, is the crowning achievement of my career. When I’ve gotten so much attention over the years about that game I say to myself, ‘What about ’84? You had two complete games and had a chance to pitch a third game (in the World Series). You would have tied a guy that I respected tremendously, Mickey Lolich, to win three for the Tigers. I used to tease Tram and Lou (Whitaker), I said, ‘You guys screwed up. I wanted to pitch Game 7.’ They said, ‘We did not want to go back to San Diego.’”
After a trip to the basement where Morris saw his no-hitter ball (“It’s dark. No wonder they couldn’t hit it.”), a bat from Tigers teammate Larry Herndon (“I just invited him to my induction and he almost began to cry.”) and a Babe Ruth bat (“It’s like holding a Stradivarius violin.”).
In the Plaque Gallery, Morris not only saw and autographed the space where his plaque would be on view for the first time this summer, he was also sure to have his photo taken with a number of the bronze images, including those of Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Bob Gibson, Sparky Anderson, Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor and Kirby Puckett. It was during the tour that Morris said the three deceased baseball people he will most miss not being able to attend his Hall of Fame induction are Anderson, Killebrew and Puckett.
The four BBWAA electees – Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman - will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame at 1:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 29, at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown along with Modern Baseball Era electees Morris and Trammell, who were elected in December.
When asked about his upcoming induction speech, Morris thought for a few seconds, then said, “Initially, I tend to be more philosophical about what I’m going to say than ‘Jack Morris, Baseball History 101.’ I’ve had enough attention on me. But I’m going to try and talk about what baseball meant to me but also what baseball means to society. If I can do that, then I’ve accomplished what I want to do because, ultimately, every guy in this room was really good at what they did, but it’s a team sport. So they needed their teammates to help them be who they were. And I will acknowledge that from the beginning. Without the great teammates I had, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Having been on the BBWAA ballot for 15 years, Morris did admit some reservations when the Modern Era Baseball Committee met in December.
“I began to wonder, but I never gave up hope,” Morris said. “Quite honestly, I realized early on that my best chance might be on the Veterans Committee. Even though the history prior to Tram and I getting in this year was not all that positive for players. But it worked out. As frustrating as it was at times because of the system, the system is what it is.