Left-handed pitcher John Morris was born on August 23, 1941 in Lewes, Delaware. He played baseball as he grew up and was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies shortly after high school, in 1960 as an amateur free agent.
Morris spent the next few years toiling away in the Phillies minor league system, and made his major league debut with the team on July 19, 1966. He appeared in 13 games during the remainder of the season, posting a 5.27 earned run average. The team sent him back to the minors for the entire 1967 season.
After the 1967 season Morris was sent to the Baltimore Orioles to complete an earlier deal between the two teams. In 1968 he pitched for the Orioles and made the most of his new surroundings and opportunity. Over the course of 31 innings he put up a 2.56 ERA, but the Orioles still placed him into the 1968 expansion draft for the new Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots. Morris wound up becoming the 52nd pick by the Seattle Pilots in the draft.
Morris pitched for the Pilots in their lone 1969 season and remained with the team after they were purchased in bankruptcy court and became the Milwaukee Brewers. He made the team out of spring training and was there for the franchise’s first home opener at Milwaukee County Stadium. He recalls, “The opener was electric – Milwaukee is a close knit community.”
As many Brewers fans know, the team was beaten soundly 12-0 on their first opening day. By the time it was over, 16 players could say they appeared in the team’s first ever franchise game. Morris was one of them, as he pitched the final two innings, giving up a hit and a run.
Morris started the year in the bullpen but didn’t stay there for long. Early on it was apparent that the back end of the starting rotation was not completely solid. Manager Dave Bristol made some changes by May, having Morris replace George Lauzerique in the starting rotation, which gave Milwaukee a much needed left-handed starter. The Brewers opened the season as the only American League team without a southpaw starter. Morris commented in the newspapers that he “felt better suited to be a starter in the major leagues.” The consistent schedule of starting games allowed him to focus more on being the best pitcher he could be.
Morris entered the rotation with an excellent outing against the New York Yankees at home on May 13th. He says, “My first start in the majors was against the Yankees. I threw 9 innings with only three hits and one run. We won 3-1.”
His time in the rotation was short however, as a kidney ailment forced him onto the disabled list in late May. It turned out to be a long and tough summer for the pitcher and he remained on the DL until mid-September. His return was a source of encouragement for the team, as they were desperately battling to finish in fourth place in the American League West division after a poor start to the season.
Manager Dave Bristol immediately inserted Morris back into the starting rotation. While Morris only lasted a little over four innings and took the loss in his first game, a number of his teammates commented on how good it was to see him on the mound after such a long layoff. Morris says as a player he taught himself to “always expect the best” and lived up to those expectations by winning his final two starts of 1970.
The Brewers beat California 7-4 in their final home game of the 1970 season. Only 6549 fans were in the ballpark to see their Brewers explode for six runs in the first two innings and then cruise to victory behind the arms of Morris, John Gelnar, and Ken Sanders. Morris says his best friend on the team was Sanders. Ironically, it was the kidney ailment by Morris and an injury to another pitcher that opened the door for Sanders and Dave Baldwin to come up from the Portland minor league team and prove their worth at the big league level.
It turned out that 1970 was the high water mark for innings pitched by Morris in a single season, as he started nine games and relieved another 11, for a total of 73.1 innings. Morris was not known as a big strikeout pitcher as he fanned just 40 batters – roughly one every other inning. But he kept his ERA to 3.93 for the year.
Morris had another consistent season in 1971, mostly in relief this time. He appeared in a lot more games – 43 overall – and threw 67.2 innings. It was his final season in a Brewers uniform.
The Milwaukee Journal headline on October 21, 1971, proclaimed “Brewers Trade Last Original.” Morris was the last remaining member of the roster from opening day in 1970 until being traded to the San Francisco Giants. Morris had been assigned to the Double A Evansville roster at the end of the season by the Brewers, paving the way for the trade. He had the distinction of being the only other pitcher besides Ken Sanders to earn a save in the 1971 season for the Brew Crew.
He did not pitch much for the Giants in his final years – and in fact he threw just 6.1 innings in both 1972 and 1973. He managed 20.2 innings in 1974. The Giants bounced him between their Phoenix minor league team and the majors over the course of those three years.
Morris threw his last pitch for the Giants on October 2, 1974. He reported to spring training with the team in 1975 but was released just prior to opening day. He retired from baseball soon afterward and finished his career with a 11-7 record with a 3.95 ERA over 232.1 innings pitched. He appeared in 132 games, and all but 10 were in relief. During his playing days Morris stood 6’ 2” and weighed 195 pounds.
After baseball Morris worked in sales for the purification of water for 15 years. He joined the Phoenix International Church of Christ non-denominational. Today Morris enjoys his retirement by playing a lot of golf near his home in Scottsdale, Arizona.
As for his time with the Brewers, Morris says he “felt privileged to be part of the franchise” and the “fans met us with open arms.”
My thanks to John Morris for taking the time to answer my questions about his time with the Milwaukee Brewers!
My book Building the Brewers: Bud Selig and the Return of Major League Baseball to Milwaukee is available to be ordered on the McFarland website. It’s also listed on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.