10 moments that defined Jack Morris' career

May 16th, 2022

DETROIT -- Sure, he didn't have the gaudy strikeout totals or the minuscule career ERA some of the other greats boast, but what Hall of Famer Jack Morris possessed can't be determined by even the most newfangled sabermetric equations. Morris, a 2018 member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, outworked nearly everyone around him during an 18-year career that included 254 regular-season wins, 175 complete games (16th most in the expansion era) and 28 shutouts.

Morris was a true competitor in every sense of the word. Remember, this is the guy who once looked up at then-Twins manager Tom Kelly -- who, understandably, was approaching Morris in the dugout after the latter had just worked nine shutout innings in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, which was headed to extras, and might have been coming to shake his hand -- "Don't even [expletive] think about it."

We all know how that storyline -- and the rest of his remarkable career -- unfolded. Not bad for a fifth-rounder out of the 1976 MLB Draft who made just 29 starts in the Minors before debuting for the Tigers in 1977.

With Saturday being the anniversary of Morris' momentous signing with the Twins on Feb. 5, 1991, let's take a look at 10 of the right-hander's top moments:

1) Sorry, Smoltz, Game 7 is mine
Twins vs. Braves. Morris vs. Smoltz. Oct. 27, 1991. No doubt fans sensed they were in for an epic battle, but with two future Hall of Famers on the hill and a trophy on the line, this contest surpassed even the biggest hype surrounding it.

If there ever was a game that personified Morris' grit and grind, it was this one. He navigated a bases-loaded situation in the ninth, needed just eight pitches to dispatch Atlanta in the 10th and outdueled John Smoltz, a 2015 Hall inductee, over 10 scoreless innings during a 1-0 win that clinched the Twins' second World Series title in four years. It marked the first extra-inning shutout for a pitcher in a playoff clincher in MLB history.

As a baseball fan, can it get any better?

"There's no question it's one of my defining moments in baseball, because it was the only Game 7 that I pitched," Morris said. "I knew the importance of it, but I was also at the apex of my career both mentally and physically. I've never pitched a game where I had better focus, and I don't know why. I had the best mindset I've had in my entire career."

2) No-hit? No problem
Perhaps what's most remarkable about Morris' lone career no-hitter was that he didn't exactly have pinpoint accuracy during that April 7, 1984, outing against the White Sox. Nevertheless, the right-hander navigated around a season-high-tying six walks -- including three in a row to begin the fourth inning with the bases loaded -- to preserve the no-no and give the Tigers their first no-hitter since Hall of Famer Jim Bunning skunked the Red Sox on July 20, 1958.

And Morris did it all on three days' rest.

3) Big game on a big stage
You'll no doubt notice a developing trend regarding 1984 on this list, and Oct. 9 of that year was no different. The Tigers led wire to wire that season, then swept Kansas City in the ALCS to advance to the World Series against the Padres. The pressure was on, and Morris made sure Detroit got off on the right foot with an eight-hit, complete-game gem that included sitting down the side in order in the bottom of the ninth to preserve the 3-2 victory.

Morris won all three of his postseason starts that year, pitching two complete-game victories in the World Series.

4) Taming the Padres (again) in Game 4
After twirling the Game 1 gem above, Morris returned to the hill four days later, Oct. 13, with the Tigers clinging to a 2-1 series lead in Game 4. While Alan Trammell gave Detroit a big boost with a pair of two-run homers off starter Eric Show, Morris held up his end of the deal and then some with his second complete-game effort in as many World Series games.

After he allowed a solo homer in the second inning, Morris stymied San Diego right up until the end. His lone gaffe, a wild pitch with two outs in the ninth, allowed a run to score but Morris recovered to coax a lineout from the next batter, Terry Kennedy, to seal the win.

5) Going the distance ... and then some
That a 10-inning shutout only earned fifth place on this list is another testament to the bull Morris was.

Sure, the Sept. 27 game didn't have postseason implications, but you wouldn't have guessed by Morris' intensity. He held the Yankees to four hits, fanned eight and walked two en route to his 20th victory of the 1986 season. It was one of four career 10-inning CGs for Morris.

He went the distance 15 times in 1986; six of those were shutouts. By comparison, there were 47 complete games in MLB in 2021, led by Adam Wainwright (Cardinals), Germán Márquez (Rockies) and Zack Wheeler (Phillies), who each had three. The last pitcher to throw a 10-inning complete game was Toronto's Roy Halladay, against the Tigers, on April 13, 2007.

6) The '80s ... period
Can we pack an entire decade into one "moment"? You bet. What Morris accomplished while the rest of us were posted by the radio making mixtapes and breaking the bank on can after can of Aqua Net is nothing short of remarkable. And if anyone needs convincing that Morris was a workhorse, they need only look to the era of shoulder pads and Iron Maiden for proof. Not only did Morris have more wins in the 1980s than any other pitcher (162), he also had the most innings pitched (2,433 2/3), starts (332) and complete games (133).

Morris was a five-time All-Star during the stretch and appeared in Cy Young voting five times, earning a World Series ring with the Tigers in 1984 during a bodacious trip through the decade.

7) 20/20 vision
On Sept. 27, 1983, Morris and the Tigers opened a three-game series against the O's. Detroit won easily, 9-2, with Morris fanning nine against six hits to reach the 20-win milestone for the season and notch his 20th career complete game. Baltimore, of course, went on to win the World Series that year, but not before Detroit swept that September set by a combined score of 27-11.

Morris, who worked 293 2/3 innings that season and fanned 232 -- both AL bests -- finished the campaign third in Cy Young voting, tied for his best career finish for the award.

8) Coming out strong in '84
The 1984 Tigers were unquestionably one of the most exciting teams in franchise history, and the eventual World Series champions showed as much by roaring to a 35-5 start. Many made key contributions during that remarkable 104-58 campaign, but Morris made sure the gang got off on the right foot with a 10-1 record out of the gate.

Morris began with a 5-0 mark across six April starts. A 1-0 loss to the Red Sox on May 3 sent him off on a second tear, reeling off another five "W"s during a stretch that included two complete games. He went the distance seven times before June -- including his lone career no-hitter -- and worked nine innings against the Royals in his only no-decision, a game the Tigers dropped in extra innings.

Morris carried a 1.88 ERA and limited opponents to a .185 average and .256 slugging percentage during those 12 starts.

9) Flying high in his first MLB start
Mark "The Bird" Fidrych will forever live in Tigers' lore thanks to an incredible 1976 rookie season during which he wowed baseball as much with his numbers -- a 19-9 record, a 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games was enough to snag AL Rookie of the Year honors -- as his odd mannerisms. (How many MLB players have been on the cover of Rolling Stone?) But injuries clipped The Bird's career just as it was taking off, and by July 31, 1977, he was sidelined with right shoulder issues and Detroit needed someone to fill his spot in the rotation.

Enter Morris, a 22-year-old rookie who'd made just one career appearance. The beginning wasn't pretty, with Morris issuing a pair of walks to start his outing before a single and a wild pitch made it 2-0 in Texas' favor before he'd even registered an out.

The rest of the game was a different story. Morris came back out to fire eight consecutive scoreless frames, fanning 11 along the way.

10) Workin' overtime
Morris' first of four career 10-inning complete games came against the White Sox on April 24, 1981. Though he allowed just three runs and outlasted his Chicago counterpart, Steve Trout, who bowed out after eight frames, Morris was ultimately saddled with the loss in the 3-2 defeat. Still, the performance added to the then-26-year-old's growing platform as an absolute beast.

Though pitch counts weren't really tracked on a widespread basis before 1988, baseball sabermetrics guru Tom Tango devised a formula that will give us a rough estimate of Morris' load that April day: 3.3PA + 1.5SO + 2.2BB. Following that equation, Morris threw around 128 pitches. Another formula, created by Boyd's World, offered a bit less conservative 145-pitch estimate.

Whichever you prefer, it's clear Morris earned his pay that day, and many more afterward. He hurled 175 career complete games, eight 10-inning offerings (four of which were CG) and one outing of 11 innings.