This is 40 for 'Uncle Charlie'

February 1st, 2024

This story was excerpted from Mark Bowman’s Braves Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

A little more than 12 hours before the Braves needed to make their decision in November, there wasn’t any clear indication about whether they were going to exercise the club option on ’s contract.

The ever-cool Morton didn’t seem to be too bothered. He never even reached out to Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos.

“I didn’t talk to him until he called after they exercised the option,” Morton said. “I honestly had no idea. I didn’t know what was going to happen. At this stage, realistically, there were only a couple teams I would have played for, if I was going to play.

“My family and I, we didn't really have any discussions about it. We just kind of went to the offseason, just relaxing. I started working out and just getting ready, assuming that if they did [exercise the option], I would be ready. I'm excited. I feel ready. I feel like I'm in a good spot.”

As folks were saying their goodbyes after the Braves were eliminated in Philadelphia last October, the conversation with Morton was a little more sentimental. We first got to know him as a member of the 2008 Braves squad, which featured Mark Kotsay as its center fielder. John Smoltz and Tom Glavine both made starts for that team.

It was easy to root for Morton as he spent most of the next decade elsewhere, and there was reason to get excited when he rejoined the Braves before the 2021 season. So, yeah, there was reason to wonder if this was the end. Were the Braves going to exercise their $20 million option? And even if they did, was he leaning toward retirement?

“Cindy and I didn’t even talk about it a whole lot,” Morton said, referring to his wife. “I think she just assumed they were going to exercise the option and I was going to play. The kids were ready for me to go home and stay home. Maybe not our little guy, Benjamin, who is really into baseball. They have been a baseball family for a long time. They get it, and they support me.”

Morton, aka "Uncle Charlie," turned 40 in November. So is durability an issue? Well, he’s one of 11 pitchers to make 30-plus starts each of the past three seasons. And the 94 starts he has made during that span stand as the game’s sixth-highest total.

How effective has he been with this workload? His 3.77 ERA since the start of 2021 ranks fifth among the 10 pitchers who have at least 94 starts over the past three seasons. The only members of this group with a better ERA are Kevin Gausman, Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery and Dylan Cease.

Yeah, Morton missed last postseason because of the freak finger ligament injury he suffered while trying to spin some curveballs too aggressively. Are older pitchers more prone to unusual injuries? After watching Morton produce a 3.64 ERA over 30 starts last year, the Braves were willing to give the likeable veteran another chance to provide value both on and off the mound.

“I never doubted he was going to return,” fellow starting pitcher Spencer Strider said. “As long as he’s breathing, he’s going to keep playing, whether he tells you different or not. To me, he’s really the glue in the clubhouse, especially amongst the pitching staff. Anytime there is a dull moment, we look up to Charlie and say, ‘What are we doing?’ He’s the best.”