Jack Morris: From St. Paul to the Hall of Fame (Part I)

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Jack Morris will finally get his plaque in Cooperstown this weekend. The right-handed pitcher shares how he was introduced to baseball in St. Paul.

[MUSIC PLAYING] JACK MORRIS(VOICEOVER): You know I can't remember if it was really a bunch of neighborhood friends that got involved in pickup games. Or if it was actually my dad, who probably started rolling the ball across the living room floor when I was a little infant. It started young, I just can't remember exactly how or when. I just know that at a very young age we were playing neighborhood baseball all summer long.

NARRATOR: Summer days feel longer when it comes to childhood reminiscing. For Jack Morris, many of these carefree flashbacks took place in St. Paul. John Scott Morris was born in 1955, when baseball in Minnesota flourished, not within granite walls or beneath the Teflon sky, but rather on the Bloomington prairie.

JACK MORRIS(VOICEOVER): When I went to see a major league game as a kid, I was a child amongst men. And you could tell there was a huge difference. But that they were playing a sport with genuine love that you couldn't help but admire. But it was a lot of fun.

I remember that was one of our special nights when our family would get together. And it was always spontaneous. Dad would come home from work and say to my mom, hey, we got anything going tonight? Let's go out to the Twins game. And at the old Met, to sit on the third base bleachers there and watch the guys, it was always a special night.


NARRATOR: Jack's family consisted of an older sister, Marsha, and a younger brother, Tom. It was his brother who can be credited for fueling the fire in the future Hall of Famer.

JACK MORRIS(VOICEOVER): We were so competitive in everything we did. I don't know how many times I heard Mom yelling at both of us to get out of the house. If we're going to wrestle in the house, go on outside. And we would.

PAUL MOLITOR(VOICEOVER): I mean the Morris brothers-- Jack and Tom-- you know Jack was a little bit older. He was the great athlete, great pitcher, although known for his wildness. And Tommy, his younger brother, who was a smooth left hander.

But we didn't play against each other a ton at the high school level. Jack was at Highland Park and I was at Cretin. But we played against each other quite a bit in American Legion ball. And my first at bats against Jack go way back to probably my mid-teens.

JACK MORRIS(VOICEOVER): I was not a pitcher, I was a thrower. I could throw the ball through a wall. If I hit the wall, I probably could knock it down. Sometimes I missed.

PAUL MOLITOR(VOICEOVER): I remember him hitting a kid up in the Highland Park field on our team in the face. And it was one of the ugliest hits batsman I'd seen at that level. Because normally a guy's velocity doesn't concern that you can't get out of the way, or you're going to cause a lot of damage.

NARRATOR: While Jack's arm wasn't accurate, it was strong. And he attracted the attention of Brigham Young University. The college offered the former third baseman a scholarship to pitch. Joining Morris at BYU was his brother, Tom, Harmon Killebrew's son, Cam, and Vance Law, whose father played a vital role in honing Jack's skills.

JACK MORRIS(VOICEOVER): Vernon Law was my college pitching coach and he had played in the major leagues for the Pirates.

ANNOUNCER(VOICEOVER): Vern law is the perfect example of what mothers and fathers thrill over if their sons idolize a baseball player.

JACK MORRIS(VOICEOVER): He was the first guy to ever show me any kind of change up. My change up wasn't anything refined. It was so slow that 99% of the guys would just take it.

So I always looked at it as a free pitch. If I could just throw it for a strike, I got a free pitch. Because they were so baffled that I'd throw that slop up there. With that being said, I realize that change up is-- changing speeds is really an art.


NARRATOR: With new guidance from a Cy Young award winner, Jack flourished. He went on to be drafted by the Tigers during his junior year in 1976. But in the days leading up to his date with destiny, Jack was feeling a little uncertain. He went home to Minnesota to reflect and be with family.

JACK MORRIS(VOICEOVER): While I was home, I went to a twins game. And Bert Blyleven was pitching against Frank Tanana. And both guys were throwing curve balls from off the moon. And I looked at my mom and dad and, honestly, I had this thought, I don't know if I'm good enough for this.

NARRATOR: Morris was good enough. In fact, in a twist of baseball fate, he got to prove it. His first major league start was against a pitcher he so greatly admired.

- Yeah it was quite the start. And, again, butterflies and anxiety comes into effect. My first start-- I think I walked the first three hitters.

I remember Ralph Houk, our manager, came out to the mound. And he said, Jack, you're really throwing the ball well. But you've got to throw a strike or I got to get you out of here.

And I thought to myself, this is not the way to end your first start. And so I kind of calmed down, took a deep breath, was able to get the next two guys out. Got out of the inning. And then it was off to the races.

BERT BLYLEVEN(VOICEOVER): We both went nine innings. It went extra innings. And the Texas Rangers won.

Out on the mound, you knew if I was pitching against Jack Morris, I'd have to be a top of my game. Because as he matured and got settled into his role as starter, he came up with that split finger, along with his fastball. He was nasty. In the 1980s, nobody won more games than Jack Morris.


NARRATOR: And for a young Jack Morris, it all started on the third base bleachers watching a pitchers duel at the old Met.

JACK MORRIS(VOICEOVER): Those guys were flat out dealing. And I was so impressed with those two guys. Little did I know that I'd be friends with Bert.

Frank Tanana would become my teammate later on in life. I had no idea that that was going to be a part of my future. But I was very impressed with what I saw.