“What the Heck, It’s Only a Game”

Jack Morris last night, with Twins President Dave St. Peter

Last night my wife and I were guests of our good friend Clark Griffith, whose family used to own the Washington Senators and the Minnesota Twins, and his beautiful wife at an unofficial baseball Hot Stove League event. The president of the Twins was there, along with umpire Tim Tschida and a couple of popular former Twins, Tom Brunansky and Jack Morris, among other luminaries. It was a fun event in many ways, but one of the highlights was hearing Morris validate, in response to a question from the crowd, one of my favorite sports stories.

Morris was the winningest pitcher of the 1980s as a Detroit Tiger, but he came home to Minnesota–Morris is from St. Paul–for a single season, in which the Twins won the World Series. Morris belongs in the Hall of Fame, due to his extraordinary athletic talent and boundless determination. Compared to Jack Morris, a mule is a malleable creature.

The 1991 World Series between the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves is regarded by many as the greatest series ever. I attended the opener at the Metrodome; in those days I had great seats, in the fourth row right on first base. Sitting immediately ahead of me and one seat to my left were Ted Turner and Jane Fonda. Jane did the Tomahawk Chop non-stop for nine innings–the most endearing thing she ever did, after Barbarella, anyway, in my opinion. Happily, the Twins won.

Game Six, won by the Twins on a Kirby Puckett home run in the bottom of the 11th, was the peak moment in the history of Minnesota sports. Due to the only paranormal experience of my life, I witnessed Puck’s homer from a hotel room in Munich in the middle of the night.

That set the stage for Game Seven the following night. Jack Morris started for the Twins. It was a pitchers’ duel. After 8 1/2 innings the game was a scoreless tie. Morris came off the field after retiring the Braves in the top of the ninth, and the Twins’ manager, Tom Kelly, approached him in the dugout. “Great job, Jack,” Kelly said. (This is the account that Morris confirmed last night.) “You pitched a great game. We’ve got Aggie [closer Rick Aguilera] warmed up, you’re done.” “No, TK,” Morris replied. “This is my game. I’m not coming out.” As Morris told the story, Kelly was taken aback and looked at him for a moment, then went to confer, out of Morris’s hearing, with pitching coach Dick Such. After a few moments Kelly turned to Morris, threw up his hands, and said, “Ah, what the heck. It’s only a game.” And he sent Morris back out to pitch the 10th.

The rest is history. Morris retired the Braves in the top of the 10th and the Twins scored a run in the bottom of the inning to win the game 1-0 and the series 4-3. Some call Game Seven the best World Series game ever. It serves, certainly, as a reminder that it takes more than a strong arm to be a great pitcher, and more than a calculator to be a great manager. It was fun to hear Morris affirm that the long-rumored story is true.

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