Thursday, January 14, 2010
In 1983 the Minnesota Twins had the first overall pick in the June Draft and they chose Tim Belcher. The Red Sox had the 19th pick that year and they took a pitcher named Roger Clemens. That was the June draft-there is also a secondary draft in January that gets far less attention. In ’83 Tracy Jones was the first player chosen in that January Draft. He was a legitimate big league player and had an unspectacular but still respectable career. I mean he was no Roger Clemens, and I guess he was no Tim Belcher either. The January draft just didn’t have the same quality or quantity of players in it and it only went 4 rounds that year. The only player in that draft with any type of success beyond the level of Tracy Jones was original Devil Rays player Dave Martinez who was selected in the 3rd round. The 4th overall player chosen in the 1983 January Secondary Draft was a left-handed starting pitcher from Ranger College in Texas. He would make his Major League debut 17 years after being drafted by the Brewers and would become Martinez’ teammate with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The thing is, he didn’t toil in the minor leagues for 17 years; he played low A ball for 3 seasons in the Brewers organization without much success (ERA around 5) had Tommy John surgery and returned for another 12 innings in 1987 and then another surgery before coming back with the Sarasota White Sox in 1989. The last comeback only lasted for 2 really bad innings and after that he decided his arm wasn’t going to be able to do what it could do when he was in college. He retired from pro ball without making it past A level. The retirement lasted for 10 years and then he made one of the most famous comebacks of recent years (they made a movie about it!). At 35 years of age, removed from the game for 10 years, he realized he still could throw gas and got a tryout with the Devil Rays and got signed. Actually he didn’t realize he could still throw gas, the ten years of rest on his surgically repaired left arm aided him in picking up 12 MPH on his fastball. His wasn’t your average everyday story; I guess that is why the folks at Disney felt compelled to make a movie out of it. His story was pretty amazing in a feel good kind of way. He wasn’t however that great a pitcher. Yeah, the Rays were a last place team, but they already had an over the hill lefty (Norm Charlton) who had far better command. He was a freak show basically. I will admit his first appearance was pretty awe inspiring. He struck out Royce Clayton, the first batter he faced and he was bringing high 90’s heat. He only made 5 appearances in his “rookie” campaign lasting just 4-2/3 innings. He came in mainly as a left-handed specialist, similar to how Randy Choate was used this past year. He struck out a total of 3 batters and yielded 3 runs including a homerun. His 5 games in 1999 were enough to help him make the team out of spring training in 2000-that and he made the league minimum and drew national attention, but his fairy tale would end. After pitching 10 innings and striking out 10 batters, Morris’ arm woes returned. One month into the season his was sent to the minors and decided to have season and career ending surgery. He attempted to come back in 2001 as a non roster invitee with the Dodgers, but even though he was left-handed and breathing, he didn’t make the team. Morris’ comeback ended up lasting 15 innings. He had no decisions in the big leagues; he struck out 13, yielded 2 homers and 8 earned runs for a career 4.80 ERA. I have to admit I have never seen the movie based on Morris’ life and career. He wasn’t exactly my favorite Devil Ray… His baseball career is over, again, and at 45 years old he works as a motivational speaker. If you have an extra 10 or 20 grand burning a hole in your pocket you can book him through his website. He likes to refer to himself as “the oldest rookie” but I think that Satchel Paige had him beat on that claim. He is still living in Texas where he has spent his entire life. Apparently he opens grocery stores and car dealerships as well. The card is a 2005 Christian Family Day, no # card. It shows Morris on the mound in his Devil Rays uniform, but doesn’t mention the team name; it simply lists him as The Rookie. This card is the 61st (Devil) Rays autograph that I have accumulated. My goal is to get one of every player to have ever called Tropicana Field home. This card came to me as a gift from Brian of the Play at the Plate blog several months ago, I was psyched when I got it, but it went right into the Rays case and I just had the chance to scan it today. I believe that Brian met Jim Morris at a car dealership appearance in Texas. Thank you to Brian for thinking of me with this card! I will get around to watching that movie one of these days… For now I am happy to be able to add his autograph to my collection. Thanks so much for the card Brian, it is appreciated! You can find Jim Morris’ career stats here and you can view my progress in my auto quest here… Go Rays! Troll out.