Jack Morris: The Definition of an Ace

Jack Morris has had a busy summer. The former Detroit Tigers starting pitcher was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 29, and this afternoon he had his number 47 retired by the Tigers, ensuring that no Tiger player will ever wear the 254 game winner’s number ever again.

I began watching baseball regularly in 1983, about the same time Morris’ name began to be associated with other top starting pitchers of the day. I watched every game pitched, as long as the game was televised. He became more of a strikeout pitcher under the tutelage of then-Tigers pitching coach Roger Craig, who taught his pitchers how to throw a split-finger fastball. This pitch, which became known as a “splitter”, has the same action as a fastball coming out of the hand, but drops suddenly just before reaching the plate. A properly thrown splitter will cause the hitter to swing over top of the ball, and Morris perfected this pitch to his advantage.

Morris won 20 games for the first time in his career in ’83, and started 1984 off with a bang. In his second start of the season, he pitched a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox. At the time, the White Sox were no slouches, having come off a 99 win season in ’83, losing to the Baltimore Orioles in that year’s ALCS.

 

Morris’ no-hitter was the first one I ever saw on TV, and it was so exciting to watch. I was barely a teenager watching NBC’s “Saturday Game of the Week” , with legendary broadcasters Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola making the call. Not many games were shown on TV in those days the way they are today. NBC chose to cover this game in advance, as future Hall of Famer and new White Sox starter Tom Seaver was originally slated to make his debut with the team. However, a rain-out changed things, bumping all Chicago starters back a day.

The Tigers went on to win 35 of their first 40 games, and they ran away with the AL East Division in 1984. They went on to win the World Series, beating the San Diego Padres four games to one. Morris went on to win 198 games in a Tigers uniform, starting 34 or more games in six of his last seven seasons in Detroit. However, 1984 was the only year he won a ring with the Tigers.

Jack became a free agent after the 1990 season. On February 5, 1991, he signed a one year deal with the Minnesota Twins, getting an opportunity to play for his hometown team, having been born and raised in St. Paul. 1991 would prove to be memorable for the Twins and Morris. They won 95 games that year, and Jack did his part, winning 18 games, logging almost 250 innings en route to the playoffs. He made five starts in the postseason, winning four of them. Morris started Game 7 of the ’91 World Series against the Atlanta Braves, matching zeroes with future fellow Hall of Famer John Smoltz. The Twins’ workhorse threw 126 pitches over 10 innings, when Minnesota pinch hitter Gene Larkin drove in Dan Gladden, ending the game and the World Series. Morris’ 10 inning shutout became his defining moment and cemented his legacy forever.

 

 

But his career in Minnesota would prove to be “one and done”, as Morris again became a free agent and signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. Benefiting in large part to Toronto’s generous offense, Morris would win 21 games in 1992, marking the first time any Blue Jays starter would win 20 games or more. Despite a relatively high ERA of 4.04, he would come in fifth in voting for the AL Cy Young Award. Morris did pitch 240.2 innings, the 11th season he would reach that threshold in his career.

The Blue Jays would reach the postseason in ’92 and eventually went on to win the World Series four games to two over Atlanta. To help get them there, Toronto rode Morris hard in the second half of the season. He threw 127 innings over his last 18 starts of 1992, an average of just over seven innings/start, which would be unheard of today. But the 37 year old workhorse seemed to wear down, as he allowed 19 runs in 23 postseason innings. Still, Morris had another World Series Championship.

 

Jack Morris Boomer Wells.jpeg

In 1993, he would earn yet another ring as the Blue Jays won 95 games and the AL East, going on to beat the Philadelphia Phillies in seven games. Joe Carter became Toronto’s Game 7 hero as he hit a walk-off home run to give the Blue Jays back to back championships. Personally, Morris had the worst season of his career, going 7-12 with an ERA of 6.19. Age and injury seemed to catch up to him.

The Blue Jays released Morris from his contract on November 5, 1993, making him a free agent. He would pitch one more season, going 10-6 for the Cleveland Indians with a ERA of 5.60 in 1994 before being released on August 9, a mere three days before a player’s strike wiped out the rest of that season. Morris went to spring training in 1995 with the Cincinnati Reds in a final attempt to catch on with a MLB team, but retired shortly afterward.

This writer believes the Baseball Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee made the right call by inducting Jack Morris into the Hall (along with former Tigers teammate Alan Trammell). He didn’t have the gaudiest of numbers, but he won ballgames and gave his teams a lot of innings. He just seemed to WIN. Morris pitched 3,824 innings over his career, over 549 appearances. That’s an average of 6.97 innings every time he took the mound. He’s the guy I would want standing on the mound in a “must win game”.

 

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Trade Deadline Winners & Losers – American League

The non-waiver trade deadline passed two days ago, and dust is beginning to settle. Contending teams added some depth to their teams and the sellers added young prospects in hopes of building for the future. Today we’ll take a look at the winners and losers in the American League, and in a future entry we will assess the senior circuit.

 

Winners

 

Seattle Mariners – Seattle GM Jerry DiPoto, who may well win MLB Executive of the Year, was busy working the phones in July. He added depth to the Mariners bullpen, adding righty relievers Adam Warren and Sam Tuivailala from the Yankees and Cardinals, respectfully. DiPoto worked a deal with the Minnesota Twins for lefty Zach Duke, and brought in outfielder Cameron Maybin from Miami to add depth to Seattle’s bench. Earlier this season, the Mariners swung a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays for reliever Álex Colomé and outfielder Denard Span. The M’s are poised for a run for the pennant and gave up so little in return for these players.

 

New York Yankees – The Yankees needed to add a starter and got one when Brian Cashman swung a trade with Toronto for veteran lefthander JA Happ, in return for surplus infielder Brandon Drury and minor league outfielder Billy McKinney. Cashman made a deal with the Baltimore Orioles for lefty power reliever Zach Britton for three minor league prospects, and landed veteran Lance Lynn from the Twins for 1B/OF Tyler Austin and minor leaguer Luis Rijo. Austin was deemed expendable after the Yankees acquired Luke Voit from the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for lefty reliever Chasen Shreve. Lynn was originally slotted for the bullpen, but he has since replaced Sonny Gray in the Yankees rotation going forward.

 

Losers

 

Baltimore Orioles – Will the last person to leave the clubhouse turn out the lights? This franchise needed a reboot and they are definitely doing that after they traded away everyone but the beer vendors. Zach Britton was shipped to the Bronx for three young pitchers who project to soon be major league ready. Darren O’Day, Kevin Gausman and Brad Brach were all sent to the Atlanta Braves for prospects and future considerations. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop was sent to the Milwaukee Brewers for fellow 2nd baseman Jonathan Villar and two minor leaguers. The granddaddy deal came almost two weeks before the deadline when Manny Machado was sent to the west coast with the Dodgers for five prospects. The Orioles also had a deal in place to move long-time fan favorite Adam Jones to the Philadelphia Phillies, but it was shot down by Jones himself, who has a full no-trade clause as a “10/5 player” (10 years MLB service time with past five seasons with the same team). While the O’s will continue to be abysmal in the short term, they overhauled their minor league system, which will hopefully be worth it in the long run for Orioles fans.

 

Cleveland Indians – Wait a minute. How can a team handily leading it’s division possibly be considered losers at anything? Follow along. The only additions the Tribe made before the deadline was adding OF Leonys Martin from Detroit and lefty reliever Brad Hand from the San Diego Padres. Hand is a good addition for the team, but it came at a significant cost with 22 year old blue chip prospect C/OF Francisco Mejía going to the Padres. I think GM Mike Chernoff overpaid for him, and I feel Mejía will be a star eventually. Hand will help the bullpen, but the rest of their relief corps have been anything but reliable. Andrew Miller’s return will help make the pen better. The addition of Martin adds to the mix in Cleveland’s outfield, but he’s not a difference maker. Barring a disaster, the Tribe will win their division, but they may not have enough horses to make a deep playoff run, especially with a leaky bullpen. If any of their stars like Lindor, Ramirez, or Corey Kluber go down, it will leave them much more vulnerable.

 

Check back soon as we will assess the trade deadline winners and losers in the National League.

 

All-Star Snubs – American League

The 2018 baseball season is more than half over. Major League Baseball’s All Star Game is next Tuesday in Washington, D.C. (on FOX) and the rosters for the All Star Game were announced Sunday evening. Yesterday, we took a look at some National League players who were snubbed for the mid-summer contest. Today we’ll get a glimpse at a handful of guys who should have initially made the squad in the American League, but were overlooked.

Blake Snell – (Rays) Since Snell is our featured image above, we’ll start with him. He’s sporting a 12-4 record with a miserly 2.09 ERA and somehow he didn’t make the cut. I am sure Snell will end up an alternate since Justin Verlander is scheduled to start for Houston on Sunday, thereby eliminating him from pitching the the all star game. But how he didn’t make it on his own is just ridiculous.

**UPDATE** 7/13 – Added to AL All Star team, replacing Corey Kluber.

Andrelton Simmons – (LA Angels) The Angels shortstop is having an excellent season (.213/.372/.442), hitting 40 points higher in batting average and OBP than his numbers in 2017, but Manny Machado and Francisco Lindor got the All Star nods. Simba is also providing his typically excellent defense with only five errors this season as of this writing.

Nick Castellanos – (Tigers) With young 3rd baseman Jeimer Candelario joining the team out of spring training, the Tigers switched Castellanos to right-field this season. So far it’s worked out well for Nick. His slash-line (.306/.359/.523) are at all time highs for him, and he is roughly on pace to match his career highs of 26 home runs and 101 RBI, set last season.

Whit Merrifield – (Royals) Not much has gone right in Kansas City this season, but young Merrifield has been a diamond in the rough. He can play most positions in the field except catcher. he’s hitting .306 and boasts an OPS of .810. He has only five home-runs, which says he’s adept at driving balls into the gap. I’ve heard his name mentioned in trade-talks, so it remains to be seen if he will be dealt. Any team who deals for him will be getting a spark-plug kind of guy who hustles and is fun to watch. Also, Whit just has a cool baseball name — don’t ask me why, but he does.

 

Eddie Rosario – (Twins) – He doesn’t get all the press that guys like Aaron Judge, Bryce Harper and many others get, but Rosario is quietly putting together a good season up in Minnesota. Currently he has 18 HR’s to go along with a slash-line of .300/.341/.530. His defense has slipped a bit from 2017, as he currently has six errors in left field, compared to four all of last year. Nonetheless, the 26 year old Rosario is an exciting young player who’s been flying under the radar up north.

Charlie Morton – (Astros) How Morton was left off the All Star Team is beyond my comprehension. After his career high 14 wins last season for the World Champion Astros, “Ground Chuck” is on pace to obliterate his numbers from last season. Morton is boasting a record of 11-2, with an ERA of 2.83. He is striking out just a shade under 12 per nine innings. Morton has indicated that he may retire after this season to spend more time with his wife and kids. Hopefully he will make the squad as an alternate in what could be his last chance to play in an All Star Game.

UPDATE: 7/13 – Charlie Morton added to All Star team, replacing Aroldis Chapman.

**Late Addition**

Andrew Benintendi – (Red Sox) Somehow I overlooked one of the more obvious guys who should have been on the AL team to begin with. The young Benintendi has been somewhat streaky in 2018, hitting .242 in April. However, he ramped things up in May batting 100 points higher (.349), and has hovered around .300 since. Benintendi has 14 HR’s on the season and 17 steals to go along with 57 RBI. In the field, he runs down everything hit at him and also has six assists on the season. The 24 year old outfielder lost out on the “Final Vote” to Seattle’s Jean Segura, and has since been put on the Bereavement List due to a death in his family.

Hired Guns – Who Will Load Up in the AL?

As we approach the halfway point of the 2018 season, this is when contenders start to separate themselves from pretenders. These contenders then look to the pretenders to see where they can shore up weak-spots via trade before the July 31 deadline for non-waiver trades. Most deals will involve players who are set to become free-agents after the season or from teams looking to shed payroll.

Today we will take a look at contending teams in the American League to see where they could use some help via trade. We will start with teams in the American League East and work our way through the Central and the AL West. We will look at the National League in an upcoming entry.

AL EAST

New York Yankees – The Yankees, sitting atop the AL East, don’t have many holes to fill. GM Brian Cashman is actively seeking a starting pitcher, (Cole Hamels‘ name has frequently been mentioned) and that’s their only real need. That said, rookies Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga are more than filling the need, especially German. The bullpen has been in lock-down mode all year, but they could use another situational LOOGY, because Chasen Shreve is shaky at best.

Boston Red Sox – The Red Sox are sitting two games back of New York, and could use help behind the plate, where the platoon of Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon get on base barely more than a quarter of the time. If somehow GM Dave Dombroski could pry Salvador Perez from the downward spiraling Kansas City Royals, he would be a great fit in Boston. Otherwise, Jonathan Lucroy of the Oakland A’s would be an upgrade, and has a reputation for working well with his pitchers. Jackie Bradley, Jr. has a slash-line of .181/.278/.292 in center-field, but is still only 28 years old and plays stellar defense. He may not win a game with his bat, but he usually won’t cost you the game with his glove-work.

AL CENTRAL

Cleveland Indians – The 1st place Indians are currently five games ahead of the Tigers and six above Minnesota. They could really use another starting pitcher with Danny Salazar out until at least September and Carlos Carrasco a concern with an elbow contusion. Beyond the solid trio of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger, the Tribe has been relying on the likes of Josh Tomlin, Adam Plutko and currently Shane Bieber in the rotation. The 23 year old Bieber worked seven scoreless innings tonight in his third MLB start against the Detroit Tigers. A lefty addition such as the aforementioned Hamels, J.A. Happ or Derek Holland would help balance Cleveland’s all righty rotation.

Minnesota Twins – The Twins sit in 3rd place in the Central, six games behind the Indians and are currently five games under .500.

There is a lot of good talent on this Minnesota Twins team. Steve Pearce or Lucas Duda would serve well as an upgrade from first baseman/DH Logan Morrison (.191/.297/.340). Jorge Polanco is expected to be reinstated from his 80-game suspension for PED use on July 2, and Byron Buxton is currently on rehab assignment with Triple-A Rochester and will soon be ready to rejoin the parent club. The addition of Polanco and Buxton will add instant offense for the 2nd half. The team could also use an inexpensive lefty starter (Derek Holland again comes to mind) to balance the rotation. Say a few Hail Mary’s for closer Fernando Rodney..

AL WEST

Houston Astros – The Astros are poised for another run to the players, hoping to repeat as World Series champions.

Their starting rotation appears to be bulletproof with Justin Verlander leading the way. Houston also has a deep bullpen, although closer Ken Giles can be shaky when off-kilter. Their lineup is solid from top to bottom, their weak-link currently is CF Jake Marisnick (.176/.200/.321) but minor league prospects Derek Fisher and Kyle Tucker will soon be on the horizon. The Astros could stand to get younger behind the plate, and trading for Kansas City Royals backstop Salvador Perez would set them up for the next several years. A package involving prospects including Tucker, Forrest Whitley, Yordan Alvarez and J.B. Bukauskas could help entice Royals GM Dayton Moore into pulling the trigger.

Seattle Mariners – The Mariners haven’t made the playoffs since God was a baby (Okay, since Lou Piniella was at the helm, seven managers previous), but GM Jerry DiPoto and current manager Scott Servais are pushing to get back in the postseason.

This team is talented! DiPoto fleeced the Dbacks when he acquired OF Mitch Haniger and SS Jean Segura for Tijuan Malker and Ketel Marte. The weak-spot in the offense has been catcher Mike Zunino, who is struggling at .202/.266/.424 but he’s too good to not rebound. Dee Gordon slid into his much more familiar spot at 2nd base when Robinson Cano was suspended 80 games for performance enhancing drugs. To the credit of this team, the Mariners have won 23 of their 35 games since Cano’s suspension was announced. DiPoto traded for Denard Span and Alex Colome from the Tampa Bay Rays to shore things up. The M’s have a lefty-heavy rotation and could use another righty starter for additional depth. Someone like San Diego’s Tyson Ross would be a nice fit, if DiPoto opts to add another right-hander.

Next time, we will take a look and see who could be “hired-guns” in the National League.