Tracy Ringolsby

Q&A: Morris recalls joy of Opening Day starts

Right-hander started 14 consecutive openers

Q&A: Morris recalls joy of Opening Day starts

Jack Morris has been one of the most discussed Hall of Fame candidates in recent years. He came close, but never achieved the 75 percent of votes necessary from veteran members of the BBWAA.

Now his candidacy will be turned over to the Veterans Committee. Morris won 254 games in his career, but his critics point to a career 3.90 ERA, which is higher than any pitcher in the Hall of Fame. His supporters, however, point out that Morris never faced a pitcher as a batter in his career, something no pitcher in the Hall of Fame can claim. With 2,478 career strikeouts, he is the only pitcher in history to strike out 2,000 or more and not face a pitcher.

What, however, really elevates Morris is that he made a record-setting 14 consecutive Opening Day starts, and he did it with three teams (the Tigers, 1980-1990; Twins, 1991, and Blue Jays, 1992-'93).

Morris had a decision in all 14 starts, going 8-6 with a 3.34 ERA. He pitched four complete games, and went 9 2/3 innings in another, a 2-1 loss to the Yankees in 1987 in which he allowed two runs, one earned.

Morris pitched 6 2/3 innings or more in each of the first 11 Opening Day starts, but failed to get out of the fifth inning with the Twins at Oakland in 1991, and for the Blue Jays at Seattle in 1993. In between, however, he pitched a complete game for the Blue Jays in the 1992 opener at Tiger Stadium.

Morris is featured in this week's Q&A: How special was drawing an Opening Day start?

Morris: Sure, it was a matter of pride. It was always a challenge for me to be ready for that start if I got it. To me, it was a chance to have the most starts in baseball, too. I prided myself on pitching the most innings and starting the most games. I wanted the ball every time, every inning. One thing that sticks out about you starting 14 Opening Days in a row is you did it with three teams, the Tigers, Twins and Toronto.

Morris: That added to the honor, to feel in the later part of my career other teams would acquire me and believe in me enough to give me that start. Which was the biggest of the 14 you started?

Morris: I guess 1980 was the biggest one. It was my first full season in the Big Leagues. It really started in 1979. There was motivation in a different way. Les Moss was the Tigers manager and he drug me off the bus that was taking the club from our spring camp in Lakeland to the airport. I wasn't going north with the club. Instead I was sent to the Minor Leagues. I was up in mid-May. Sparky (Anderson) had taken over as manager. Despite missing the season's first six weeks, I won 17 games. I knew I needed to get on a roll once I got called up. I was determined not to see the Minor Leagues again. Which was the most memorable?

Morris: I think you'd have to say 1986. It was traditional back then that Cincinnati always played the first game. Our game was scheduled to start two hours later. The Reds game was rained out, so our game became the first one of the Major League season. What happened that day?

Morris: We were playing Boston at home. Dwight Evans hit my first pitch of the game for a home run. When he's circling the bases I look at (teammate) Darrell Evans and he has his first basemen's glove over his face, hiding his laughter. He comes over to the mound and Dwight Evans crossed home plate and says, "Want to know what your ERA is? It's infinity." How did the rest of the game go?

Morris: We won, 6-5. I gave up five runs and 12 hits, four of them home runs. But I went seven innings and got the win. It seems pitching deep in a game was important to you.

Morris: As I'm broadcasting for the Twins, I reflect back. The other day Kyle Gibson went six innings. He had come into the game with 11 innings. That gave him 17 innings. I don't remember a spring in which I didn't pitch at least 35 innings. I know the game is played different, but I was worried I wouldn't be able to go nine by the end of spring training. If I wasn't ready to do that, I didn't feel prepared. Pitchers aren't conditioned like that anymore. It's the way the game has changed. One spring I threw 49 innings, two or three complete games. Did you realize you are the only pitcher in history with 2,000 or more strikeouts who never faced a pitcher?

Morris: No. But when you think about it, I spent my career in the American League with the DH, and we didn't have inter-league play, so it makes sense. I was a guy who threw more innings and complete games than anyone else during that time. It means hitters are going to see you more so the odds are in their favor. How many times would be the most a hitter faced you?

Morris: I had (16) guys I faced more than 100 (plate appearances). There were some Hall of Famers in that group (Robin Yount, Cal Ripken, Rickey Henderson, Paul Molitor, George Brett, Eddie Murray and Wade Boggs). It's another way the game has changed this year. You never see a guy face the same pitcher four times. I'd face a guy four or five times in a game.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.