It seems like in every era of baseball, there are great players who somehow become forgotten and overlooked after their careers are over. For the 1980s, one of those players has to be pitcher Jack Morris. He’s not in the Hall of Fame, nor is he frequently mentioned as one of the best pitchers of all time. However, during the 1980s, there were few pitchers in the game who were most consistent or more accomplished.
Like a lot of young pitchers, Morris came up as a hard thrower who wasn’t always able to control his stuff. Despite some control issues, Morris enjoyed modest success early in his big league career. But in 1983, Morris developed a split-finger pitch, or forkball, that changed his career path.
He was still wild. In fact, he was always wild, finishing his career with the 8th most wild pitches in baseball history. But he became effectively wild and used his forkball to become a pitcher capable of dominating major league lineups.
“In 1983 and 1984, I pretty much had it to myself in the American League. It was a total gift. It was like nobody knew it was coming. It was awesome. It was so much fun.
“And then everyone else started trying to learn how to pitch and then hitters started to adjust to it. My forkball was above average. I could almost tell guys it was coming, and they still couldn’t hit it…. When I threw it right, nobody hit it.”
In 1983, Morris had the first 20-win season of his career, and the following season, he pitched the first no-hitter in Detroit Tigers history since Jim Bunning in 1958. More importantly, he helped the Tigers win the 1984 World Series, the first of four World Series rings he would win.
In three postseason starts that year, Morris went 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA, including two complete games. Between his no-hitter and playoff heroics, Morris announced himself as one of the game’s top pitchers in 1984.
But in addition to being known as a great pitcher, Morris was also known for his strong will and combative personality, which has had a negative effect on his legacy.
The media called him Mount Morris, personifying him as a volcano with a great temper and volatile personality. At one point, he stopped speaking with the media and also quit his position as his team’s union rep because of his propensity for heated confrontations.
Even fans were not exempt from the occasional outburst. During his no-hitter, Morris actually engaged with fans at Chicago’s Comiskey Park who were heckling him. When the fans doubted his ability to complete the no-hitter, Morris turned and said, “I’m going to do it, just watch.”
“I probably had the best mindset in that game that I’ve had in any game in my whole career, and that’s because I didn’t allow negative thoughts into my game. Even when I was in trouble, I didn’t acknowledge trouble. I just said, ‘Well, I’ll get this next guy. We’re going to win this game.’
“If I could bottle that, I’d be the richest man in the world. If I could bottle it and sell it to athletes or sell it to businessmen or whatever, it would be a phenomenal thing. I can’t hardly even describe it, but I can tell you it was something I had never experienced before and really never experienced again.”
After 14 great seasons with the Tigers, Morris fulfilled a lifelong dream of pitching for the Minnesota Twins, his hometown team. When he signed with the Twins, Morris shed tears at being able to come home. Even on the backside of his career, Morris was instrumental in turning the Twins from a last-place team in 1990 to World Series champions in 1991.
After winning 18 games during the regular season, the 36-year old started three World Series games. In those three games, he was 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA, including 10 shutout innings in the decisive Game 7.
Even after manager Tom Kelly called for closer Rick Aguilera to enter the game, Morris convinced the manager to let him stay in the game, helping him win World Series MVP and deliver a world championship during his only season in Minnesota.
When all was said and done, Morris won 254 games, including three 20-win seasons. He also won 15 or more games in 12 different seasons, including 9 in a 10-year span. Morris also had 175 complete games in his career, most of which came under manager Sparky Anderson, who was notorious for pulling pitchers early in games. He made five All-Star teams and won four World Series rings.
“Morris was the winningest pitcher in the 1980s and finished his career with a record of 254-186 (.577 winning percentage). I saw a ton of his games, as I did two hurlers who did get the nod for the Hall, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux. Let me tell you something: if I had to pick one of these three to win a game that my life depended on I would pick Morris in a heartbeat.”
Mike Ozanian, Forbes
Somehow, Morris has not been given entrance to the Baseball Hall of Fame. His candidacy peaked in 2013 when he received 67.7% of the vote, and he has since been taken off the ballot after coming up short in 15 years of eligibility.
But you can’t talk about baseball in the 1980s without mentioning Morris. He had the most starts, most innings pitched, and most wins of any pitcher during that decade. For that, he deserves a hallowed spot in baseball history.