It should have been the moment for celebration. His first victory of 1989. But here was the scene by Jack Morris’ locker Saturday, after he finally won his first game against six losses.
Reporter (after watching Morris dress in silence): “Are we talking today?”
Morris: “Not about baseball.”
Reporter: ‘Why not?”
Morris: “Because I’ve learned my lesson.”
Reporter: “Nobody wants to ask about management. Just about today’s game.”
Morris: “I’m not talking. You can’t help me pitch and I can’t write your stories. You’re on your own.”
And he walked out.
The sports writers grumbled and cursed his rudeness. You could hear the poison filling the pens. Finally, he had won a game — and he still wouldn’t talk? He insulted us and our profession. (“I don’t like what you guys do for a living.”) He walked out? To hell with him. He had given us every reason to rip his childish, boorish attitude.
And I’m not going to do it.
Here’s why. Back in February, I ran into Morris at a Pistons game. We were joking about the upcoming season.
“I’m not going to say anything controversial this time,” he announced. “I’m shutting up all year. Dead silence.”
I shook my head. “You’ll never be able to do it.”
He laughed. “Ahhh, you’re right. I’d get ticked off and open my mouth about something.”
Jack talks. Jack doesn’t talk. Jack mopes. Jack makes cynical remarks. If you know this guy, then you know he is moody, hot-tempered and probably too smart for his own good. Brains can be a liability in baseball. (“Don’t think!” was the operative advice from catcher Crash Davis in the movie “Bull Durham,” remember?) But Jack thinks. About management and traded teammates. About getting older and his one-year contract. About the fickle press, the losing season, the unforgiving nature of baseball — and he explodes. He plays media baby. He cries and goes silent. And I promise you he will talk again this season.
Big deal. Who listens to him? The point is, I never saw a guy win a baseball game by talking. Players get paid to give everything they have on the field. And for all his rudeness, stubbornness and poorly chosen responses, Jack Morris has never gone out to the mound with less than his soul.
That’s what counts, folks.
On Saturday, he didn’t have his best stuff. Sparky Anderson called it “the worst fastball Jack’s had all year.” But he battled. He gave up just one earned run. He was willing to challenge the hitters. In the sixth inning, with men on first and second, having already thrown almost 90 pitches, he dug in and got Stan Javier to swing at a third strike, and Walt Weiss to ground into a fielder’s choice. End of rally. And the Tigers won, 6-3, breaking a four-game slump.
The essence of Morris is out there on that pitcher’s mound. It is the one place he has never departed with a “no comment.” He is a workhorse, fiercely addicted to winning, the winningest pitcher in the ’80s — despite his 1-6 record this season.
Unfortunately, he has to leave that mound sooner or later. And he goes into the locker room.
And he blows it.
“You’re not being smart,” I whispered to him Saturday, as he paused on his way out after his tirade.
“Maybe I’m not. But you guys have drilled me enough.”
He was smiling. “Come on,” I said. “It’s just baseball.”
“I know. Look. Write your own stories. I’ll tell my story when I write my book.”
What bugs him? Most recently, he seems to be ticked off because comments he made to a Minnesota writer — concerning Tigers management and the players it has let go — appeared in Detroit newspapers. It is a dumb gripe. What did Jack think? No one would notice?
Personally, I don’t find anything wrong with what he said. What he was knocking were things that everyone around here is knocking. The departure of Darrell Evans and Tom Brookens. The tightwad ownership of Tom Monaghan. The questionable value of some of the guys for whom the Tigers traded this winter. Is Jack the first to gripe about that? Come on. I hear it on the street every day.
But it’s Jack the villain. Jack the jerk. Plenty of people out there figure if the Tigers have to go down the tank, let Morris lead the way. Serves
him right, they say, for shooting off his mouth all these years.
But how would you feel if you were used to being on top and began the season with six straight losses, three of which you didn’t deserve to lose? How would you feel if your manager staunchly defended you, saying you are “the MVP of the 1980s,” yet when contract time came around, you couldn’t even get a three-year deal
Sure, Jack cried collusion back in 1985 and 1986. And there was collusion. A court has already agreed with that. Sure, he opened his mouth about the Tigers letting chemistry players such as Kirk Gibson, Lance Parrish and Darrell Evans go. And you find me one person right now who doesn’t agree with him.
So the popular thing would be to rip him, teach him a lesson, slap his butt for being a nasty interview. But you know what I think? I think on the way home from the ballpark, Morris says to himself “Aw, damn it, I sounded like a jerk again.” Too proud to take anything back, he lets the words stand and they
become his armor.
He is not king of the hill these days. But I have seen him grit down and pitch when he was in pain, I have seen him put himself through off-day workouts that make me sweat just looking at him. I have seen him late at night, in the dark and empty Tiger Stadium, after the Tigers clinched the 1987 pennant, running in his underwear with Jim Walewander and Scott Lusader, racing from first to second, like little kids, reveling in the sheer joy of the game.
So the guy gripes and goes silent and walks out. So he acts like a child. So he has cheated reporters, he has cheated fans, and ultimately, he has cheated himself. But he has never cheated the game.
And in the end, isn’t that what really matters? CUTLINE: Jack Morris smiles on the mound Saturday during his first victory of the season. Afterward, he tells writers: “I’m not talking. You can’t help me pitch and I can’t write your stories. You’re on your own.”