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Armed To Win The Big Ones
Ron Fimrite
October 29, 1984
Detroit's Jack Morris is a complex character with a simple approach to postseason play—dominate it
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October 29, 1984

Armed To Win The Big Ones

Detroit's Jack Morris is a complex character with a simple approach to postseason play—dominate it

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The unkindest cut of all came from Craig, a man with whom Morris had previously enjoyed what he called a "unique relationship." In July, Craig was quoted in the papers as saying that Morris had "acted like a baby." After the Series, Craig said, "It hurt me to say it, and it hurt me to read it. But, and I don't know if that's the reason, he became a better man after that." There's no question, however, that Morris was stung by Craig's remarks. He still refers to all that happened during this unpleasantness as "the ordeal" or "all that trash." He has his own explanation for it.

"It got to the point where I was expected to win," he says. "It became a crisis when Jack Morris lost. When I went through a bad period, as I always do, people couldn't tolerate it. I was raised that if you have nothing good to say about a person, don't say anything. I'm sure Roger wasn't trying to be critical. He was just trying to get the most out of me, and he'd run out of ways to do it. But I sure didn't appreciate it. I was upset. I didn't care to talk to him. My opinion of him dropped for a while. I didn't need that then. I needed to have my confidence built."

In early August, Morris and Craig finally had an emotional 45-minute confrontation. Craig recalls: "I said to him, 'Jack, I don't know whether you like me, but I hope you respect me.' " In the end, Craig says, "Jack broke down. He told me, 'I not only like you and respect you, I love you.' I tell you, he's a tremendous person and a tremendous athlete."

Morris, Tom and their older sister, Marsha, were raised in St. Paul. The two boys competed in every sport from basketball to ski jumping, which they took up when Jack was 10 and Tom was eight or nine. "My uncle and my dad kind of dared us to do it," Jack recalls. "They told us we probably didn't have the guts. The next day we were out there jumping. I finally got up to the 70-meter hills by the time I gave it up when I was a sophomore in high school. The basketball coach told me I'd have to choose between the ball and the skis, and I didn't see any future in ski jumping. But I do give credit to it for strengthening my legs. I push off the mound hard like Tom Seaver, and my legs are the key to my pitching."

Morris's father not only pushed him to excel in sports but also imbued him with an enduring love of the outdoors. Within three days after the Series, Morris and a party of nine, which included his father, brother and father-in-law, set off for the Bob Marshall Wilderness—grizzly country—west of Great Falls, Mont., on an elk-hunting expedition. "It's perfect therapy for me," says Morris. "It's my release, my way of unwinding. I've been fishing and hunting since I was in diapers. I'm not a real city person. One of the things in the world I like least is traffic. If I had a choice of where to live, it would be somewhere in Alaska. I've never been there, but it has everything I like—mountains, lakes, fishing, hunting, cold, everything nice. I love snow."

Morris spent three years "majoring in baseball" at Brigham Young in Provo, Utah. Morris is a Mormon, but at the time he was primarily interested in the best baseball school he could find. He had played mostly shortstop and third base in high school—"I was a good hitter, still am"—but went unrecruited by such baseball powerhouses as Arizona State and USC. "Then I fell in love with the country around Brigham Young. I had three of the greatest years of my life there," he says.

Morris's all-around athletic skills and his experience at other positions have made him, in Craig's opinion, the best fielding pitcher in baseball. Morris is so agile that in the seventh inning of the first Series game he was able to field a ground ball hit slightly to the first-base side of the mound and race to the line to tag Alan Wiggins, the San Diego base-stealing whiz. "How many pitchers can make that play unassisted on a guy as fast as Wiggins?" asks Craig.

Morris, typically, agrees with his coach's assessment. "I don't want to sound like a jerk," he says, "but I think I can field with anybody in baseball at any position except catcher. As for getting to the ball—on instinct and reaction—I can do it. But I've never won a Gold Glove because I always make a couple of throwing errors, usually on pickoff plays called by Roger. Pitchers will make throwing errors because they're so accustomed to throwing 60 feet, six inches, they can't adjust all of a sudden to a different distance."

When it comes to throwing 60 feet, six inches, Morris has few equals. In the past six years, only Steve Carlton has won more games (106) than Morris (103). Morris has a fastball in the 90s and a wicked slider, a pitch not at all favored by Craig, who prefers the curve. But Morris's most effective pitch, hitters agree, is his forkball, a pitch he began working with two years ago and now throws from 30% to 40% of the time.

Craig is renowned for teaching the split-fingered fastball, a pitch in which the ball is held on the seams and away from the palm. The other Tiger starters throw it with deadly effectiveness; it comes to the plate looking like a fastball and then dips like a sinker. "I throw a forkball," Morris says defiantly. "I get the ball right down in there between the fingers. I can still throw it in the 80s. Actually, I don't have a lot of control of the pitch's speed, just the direction and the rotation. All the split finger does is slow down your fastball."

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