He doesn't want to do it," Detroit's Victory Day emcee told the jubilant thousands in Kennedy Square, "but he'll come up here because he's such a great guy—Jack Morris!" The crowd, not yet sated with its World Series heroes after two days of virtually continuous celebration, roared its approval as the reluctant Morris stepped to the microphone and raised his arms for quiet. "I'm not running for mayor," he told the celebrants, intelligence that elicited a relieved chuckle from Mayor Coleman Young, who was seated to Morris's left. "I'm not much of a speaker. I'm trying to go hunting sometime this afternoon.... We've got a great bunch of guys here. Without them I couldn't have won the two World Series games which I did win.... I love you all."
That little speech probably wouldn't have cut the mustard at Gettysburg, but it did tell us a good deal about the speaker, a man of complex and contradictory nature. There was the awkward attempt at humor, a game try to win favor, the genuine embarrassment at having to confront his public, the poignant longing to get away from it all, the recognition of his teammates' efforts on his behalf, the boastful reminder of his own accomplishments and the, by this time, heartfelt affection for all the friends and former enemies around him. So Morris wasn't mouthing platitudes, after all.
In many ways 1984 was Morris's finest year in baseball. He won 19 games and pitched a no-hitter during the regular season. Only injuries, illness and his own perverse nature deprived him of his second straight 20-win season. But it was in October that he exhibited the qualities that have made him, in the opinion of some baseball experts—his manager and pitching coach included—the best pitcher in the game. He defeated the Royals 8-1 in Kansas City in the opener of the American League playoffs, precipitating a Tiger sweep. He beat the Padres 3-2 in San Diego in the opening game of the World Series, breaking their spirit and dashing their hopes by striking out the side in the sixth inning after they'd put two men on base with no outs. And he gave the Tigers a decisive 3-1 lead in the Series by beating the Padres again, 4-2, in the fourth game, with an even more impressive and economical 98-pitch complete game effort. Those three virtuoso appearances made him Detroit's most consistent postseason performer.
In the 28 World Series games Sparky Anderson, a.k.a. Captain Hook, has managed for Cincinnati and Detroit, he has permitted only one starter to complete a game, and that pitcher, Morris, has done it twice. Marveling at Morris's postseason dominance, Detroit pitching coach Roger Craig said, "Those games showed that Jack Morris is a true champion. He's a Nicklaus, an Ali. If you had one game to win, I don't know who I'd rather give the ball to."
In other ways the championship season had been Morris's most difficult. He won his first five games, lost one and won five more. Then he abruptly stopped winning. Over the next two months he was only 3-6. He missed two starts because of tendinitis in his right shoulder, and he suffered for a month with a chest cold that drained his strength. His tender psyche also suffered. Morris, 29, had long had a reputation for being temperamental, a pitcher who did not suffer losing gladly. "He just doesn't like to lose," says his brother, Tom, a former minor league pitcher now working toward his doctorate in geology at the University of Wisconsin. "He can't just walk off the field and shake his head and say, 'Well, I did my best.' He gets mad. And he's always had this problem of getting down on himself."
Craig agrees with Tom, saying, "Jack has such high expectations of himself that when he doesn't live up to them, he shows it—in public."
The Tigers knew this. They also knew that Morris's concentration occasionally waned in unimportant games, a condition particularly aggravating to his catcher. Lance Parrish, who found himself obliged to visit the mound from time to time to arouse the wandering artist with sharp words. "Sometimes during the season he gave us the impression he didn't care," said Parrish, comparing that Morris with the dynamo he'd just caught in Game 4 of the Series. Morris's midseason malaise may have resulted from the Tigers' largely unchallenged lead in the American League East.
"He's like a high-strung racehorse," says Anderson, "and he was a racehorse without a race. If it don't mean anything, he'll give you what it means, which is blah. But if you put him out there with something on the line, he's there. The great ones can perform when they have to. They may not do much in the sticks, but you put them on Broadway and watch 'em go. He's arrogant, sure. He knows he's good. He's like a great thoroughbred who'll bite you if you try to get near him."
Morris was also unhappy. He was getting knocked in the press and booed by the fans. He felt he was spreading himself too thin, trying to pitch while also writing a column for The Detroit News and acting as his team's player representative. He dropped the column and resigned as player rep in midseason. Finally, he stopped talking to the press altogether, joining baseball's silent squad (two months later, at Anderson's request, he resumed talking to reporters). But his tantrums on the mound and in the clubhouse didn't stop. Soon he was being criticized by teammates. Kirk Gibson deplored Morris's pouting. Milt Wilcox said Morris made the other players edgy. And Parrish said Morris was no fun to catch when his temper was up.
"There was a spell when everything seemed to be working against him," says Parrish. "He got so down on himself, it was frustrating everybody else on the ball club. We couldn't understand why things so minute would bother him. It's just that he's a perfectionist. It started as a minor disturbance, then there seemed no way of stopping it. He was making the whole team uneasy. It was an attitude we didn't need. Finally, it just got ridiculous. I had the unfortunate job of being the catcher who had to make sense of it all. Pitchers do get temperamental, you know. Finally, Jack recognized what was happening. He pulled himself right out of his hole. It was as if he flipped one switch and turned on another. Now, it's all behind us. He became the ace of the staff again."