Jack Morris is a throwback. Even at his peak in the eighties and early nineties, he was a throwback, the type of pitcher who ate up innings, stared down opponents, and raised his game when it mattered most. This is a guy who won more games and pitched more innings during the eighties than any other pitcher. He tossed a no-hitter, struck out over 2,500 batters, and was a five-time All-Star. Most importantly to hid legacy, he won four World Series, for three different franchises, which is really pretty amazing when you think about it.
He also pitched what some consider the greatest – or at least gutsiest - game in baseball history, when in 1991 he tossed 10 innings of shutout baseball in the seventh game of the World Series, to lead his hometown Minnesota Twins to the title.
Needless to say, we were pretty damn excited when Cactus Jack showed up at the Maxim offices with this year’s World Series Trophy to talk about what it takes to thrive in the postseason, how pitching has changed in the last few decades, which teams have the best shot at this year’s title, and why he should be in the Hall of Fame (and yes, he most certainly should be.)
You’ve raised the World Series trophy four times, first with the Tigers in 1984, then the Twins in ’91, and the Blue Jays in ’92 and ’93. Was any one better than the others?
I get that question a lot, “Do you have a favorite?” No, I really don’t. The first one with Detroit, a lot of us had come through the Tigers minor league system together, and then failed early on at the big league level. But then we started getting better and realized we were as good as anybody. That was a magical year; we started 35-5, went wire-to-wire, and won it all.
But you grew up in St. Paul, MN, so winning it with the Twins must have been a thrill.
That was just an absolute dream come true of a year. We didn’t start out great, but we started pulling away and played really well down the stretch. I personally was at my best during the last month of that season and the playoffs.
And the Twins finished in last place the year before.
So did the Braves, who we played in the World Series that year. I know I’m biased because I was involved in it, but I think that was the greatest World Series in modern history. It was phenomenal. And as it turned out, I went to Toronto the next year, and we won back-to-back titles. The ’02 Blue Jays was the most talented team I ever played on.
Did you have a different approach to taking the mound in the postseason?
Well, I lived for it. As a player when I was young and we were losing, I always watched the post-season and I envied the players who got to be there. I wanted to be in the big dance.
Kirby Puckett famously hit a walk-off home run in game six of the ’91 series to send you to a seventh game. When he did that, did you think the title was yours to lose?
When Kirby hit that, I knew we were going to win the next night. I might have been the only one, but I knew. I had never had so much confidence, so much peace. I was at the absolute pinnacle of my career physically. I could have gone 15 innings that night if I had to.
Some people call it the greatest game in history.
Well, Don Larsen threw a perfect game in the World Series, and Roy Halladay pitched a no-hitter in the playoffs a few years ago. And some of the stuff we’ve seen this postseason to me has been pretty spectacular. Young kids like Garrett Cole, Sonny Gray or Michael Wacha have all pitched phenomenally.
Just last night, Justin Verlander went eight innings of shut-out ball on only two hits.
I really feel like it’s going to be a great postseason, and every series is going to be close, well-fought games. But I’m pulling for Detroit. I still have a lot of friends there, and we have a really great pitching staff.
What’s it like seeing guys you played with or against managing and coaching these days?
Well, with Kirk Gibson and Alan Trammell, I’ve got a lot of old Tigers buddies in Arizona. Billy Beane was a teammate of mine. And Don Mattingly, I loved. I mean, I hated him because he was so hard to get out, but I really respect him a lot.
How do you think post-season performance effects one’s legacy?
Every player dreams of winning a World Series ring. And with a lot of players, all fans remember about them is determined by their performance in October.
There’s been debate recently about whether Andy Pettite is a Hall of Famer, and his candidacy rests mostly on his postseason stats. But you only won one less title, and you did it for three different teams.
Well, he had more opportunities than anyone. Curt Schilling is another player who was great in the postseason, but he only won 204 games, so for me he’s not there for the Hall of Fame.
What are you most proud of from your career?
My durability. The fact that I was the number one starter for every team I played for. I led the league in every category except ERA, because I didn’t care about that. I cared about wins. I know I could have had a better ERA, but I’d probably have suffered in other categories that I thought were more important. For me, it all came down to wins and rings.
One last thing: football has the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the NBA has the Larry O’Brien Trophy, hockey has the Stanley Cup, but baseball just has the Commissioners trophy. Don’t you think they should name it after someone like Yogi Berra, who participated in a total of 21 World Series?
Here’s the thing with baseball: It’s so rich in tradition. It’s like going against the gods to try and change anything. The World Series trophy is what it is. If you want to come up with new awards and name them after someone, that’s fine, but let’s not change things that have been the way they are forever.
Tune in to the NLCS on TBS and the ALCS on FOX. And if you want to really impress your buddies, the World Series Trophy will be on display at T-Mobile stores in Detroit and Los Angeles. Pop in and get your picture taken with it. We did!
The World Series Trophy at a glance:
- The Commissioners Trophy was created in 1967
- The first club to receive it was the St. Louis Cardinals when they defeated the Boston Red Sox in seven games in the 1967 World Series
- In 2000, Tiffany & Co. redesigned the trophy at the request of Major League Baseball
- The current trophy features 30 flags, one for each MLB team
- It weighs about 20lbs, and stands 24 inches high
- Master artisans employed age-old techniques – spinning, silversmithing, chasing, hand engraving, and polishing – to create the trophy
- Until 1996 the trophy was only presented to the winning team in their clubhouse; now it takes place on the field (unless the World Series Champions are the visiting team…then it’s back in the clubhouse)
- Before the World Series Trophy and World Series Rings were created, players received pocket watches or other medallions.
Photos by Hulton Archive / Getty Images | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2013