He was a four-time World Series winner, a five-time All-Star and the author of what is possibly the greatest Game 7 World Series pitching performance of all-time.
But not even 254 big league victories and 14 straight Opening Day starts do justice to the legacy of Jack Morris, whose career can be summed up in one word: Competitor.
“He never wanted to come out (of a game),” said Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson, who skippered Morris and the Tigers to a win in the 1984 World Series. “So any time you went near the mound, you’d have problems.
“He was the last of a breed: Somebody who actually comes to the park with anger to beat you.”
Born May 16, 1955, in St. Paul., Minn., Morris began his baseball odyssey under the wing of his father, Arvid, who instilled an unquenchable work ethic in his son. After attending Brigham Young University, Morris was a fifth-round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers in 1976.
One year later, he was in the majors, and by 1979 Morris earned a regular rotation spot with Detroit.
Anderson joined Morris in Detroit that year, and by 1981 Morris and the Tigers were on the verge of greatness. That year, Morris led the American League with 14 wins, finishing third in the AL Cy Young voting.
Morris won 20 games in 1983 and again finished third in the Cy Young vote, setting the stage for the Tigers’ championship season in 1984. Morris pitched a no-hitter on April 7 of that year, and the Tigers bolted to a 35-5 start – the best in baseball history. Morris finished the season with a record of 19-11, and the Tigers lost only one game in the Postseason – Morris won three – to roll to the World Series title.
“He’s the best closer I’ve ever seen,” said Kirk Gibson, who was a teammate of Morris’ on the 1984 Tigers. “If you have a lead in the seventh inning and Morris was on the mound, it was a win. His intensity was incredible.”
Morris remained with the Tigers for six more seasons, winning 21 games in 1986 and leading Detroit to the AL East title in 1987. Following the 1990 season, he signed a free agent deal with the Minnesota Twins – who had finished in last place in the AL West in 1990.
In 1991, Morris went 18-12 with an AL-best 35 starts to help the Twins win the division title. In the playoffs, he won two games against Toronto in the ALCS, then took the ball in Games 1 and 4 of the World Series against the Braves, earning a win and a no-decision.
When Kirby Puckett’s 11th-inning home run in Game 6 forced Game 7, Morris was in line for his third start of the Fall Classic.
“When Kirby hit that home run, a calm came over me that I never had felt before,” Morris said. “I had mentally prepared for this game my whole life.”
Morris and Braves starter John Smoltz each allowed no runs to score through seven innings. Smoltz, then 24, was relieved during the eighth inning. But Morris, 36, refused to come out of the game – even when the Braves put runners on second and third with no outs in the eighth.
Morris pitched out of that jam, then faced the minimum six batters in the ninth and 10th before Gene Larkin’s single scored Dan Gladden to win the game. In an announcement that virtually made itself, Morris was named the World Series Most Valuable Player.
“(Twins manager Tom Kelly) wanted to take Jack out after the ninth, but I sided with Jack and thought he should stay in,” said Dick Such, the Twins pitching coach in 1991. “I told TK: He’s got all winter to rest up.”
Morris’ final line for Game 7: 10 innings pitched, seven hits, two walks and eight strikeouts.
“I was in trouble many times,” Morris said. “But I didn’t realize it because I never had a negative thought.”
Morris left the Twins after the World Series, signing a free agent contract with the Blue Jays. The next season, 1992, saw Morris post a career-best record of 21-6 while helping the Blue Jays win their first World Series.
Arm troubles slowed him down in 1993 (a year the Blue Jays won the World Series again) and 1994, and he retired in 1995 with the Cincinnati Reds before throwing a pitch that season. Morris returned to organized baseball the following year with the independent St. Paul Saints of the Northern League, but never again pitched in the majors.
His final numbers: a 254-186 record, including a big league best 162 wins in the 1980s and 515 consecutive starts – an AL record at the time of his retirement. He completed 175 of his 527 career starts.
Morris was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2018.