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Silent Spring
Franz Lidz
March 24, 2003
For the first time since '78, no one phoned for baseball's ultimate journeyman
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March 24, 2003

Silent Spring

For the first time since '78, no one phoned for baseball's ultimate journeyman

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Mike Morgan has been bought, sold, optioned and traded more times than a tanker of spot-market oil. For 24 years Morgan—who played for 12 teams, a record in baseball and every other major sport—has abided by a simple motto: Have arm, will travel. The travels are ending. Since the Diamondbacks bought out his contract in January, the 43-year-old free agent has been home in exurban Deer Valley, Utah, waiting for the phone to ring. And waiting. And waiting. "Things got a little weird for me in February," he says. "I asked my agent, 'Has Japan called? Has Mexico called? I'll go anywhere.' I had to get a new motto: Have bags, am packed."

Then again, his bags have been packed pretty much ever since A's owner Charlie Finley drafted him out of Las Vegas's Valley High in 1978. A week later the 18-year-old righthander with the sinking fastball was Finley's latest novelty act, starting before a packed house at the Oakland Coliseum. He pitched a complete game, though the A's lost 3-0 to Baltimore. "I started at the top of the ladder," says Morgan, "and spent the next 10 years climbing down the rungs."

Morgan was 0-3 that first year, 2-10 the second, and he didn't have a winning season until '91, when he went 14-10 with a 2.78 ERA for the Dodgers and made his only All-Star team. He knows his lifetime record of 141-186 looks a little lopsided, yet there's a tinge of bitterness in his voice when he recalls how the D-backs asked him to go on the disabled list last June. "They wanted to activate another pitcher [ Todd Stottlemyre]," he says. "I figured I'd be back on the mound again in a couple of weeks." As it turned out, he made only one other appearance—a crowning 1? innings of one-run relief in a 19-1 loss on Sept. 2—and was left off Arizona's postseason roster. "It hurt him a lot," says his wife of 22 years, Kassie. "But before long, the passion was back."

Morgan, who was 1-1 with a 5.29 ERA in 34 innings last year, clung to the hope of another go-round. He stayed in shape, running, biking, working out, even throwing off an indoor mound. But team number 13 never called. Last Thursday, Morgan phoned his agent, Doug Baldwin. "It's over," he said.

"I realized it was just too late into camp," he says, ruefully. "I still feel, deep down, that I can get guys out. But guess what? Nobody wants me to. I thought I'd play forever, but you don't even live forever."

Morgan, who earned $750,000 last year, well off the $3.1 million he averaged per season as a Cub in the mid '90s, doubts he'll watch games on TV. "I don't want my two little girls [Mattison, 7, and Mikhail, 6] saying, 'Daddy's looking at the screen with tears in his eyes,' " he says. "I love baseball, maybe too much."

His glove is in an apple crate in a spare room now, alongside other crates filled with all the big league uniforms he wore: A's, Yankees, Blue Jays, Mariners, Orioles, Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals, Reds, Twins, Rangers, Diamondbacks. Hell spend much of this spring in T-shirts, shining rims at car washes—he owns three—and, to Kassie's delight, doing a little tile work around the house. "I have a new motto," Morgan says with a thin smile. "When in doubt, grout."

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