Originally from Kentucky, JL Weill lives and writes in Washington, DC, and his work has appeared at The Awl and Rush the Court, as well as in print. His take on sports, culture and politics can be found @AgonicaBoss.
It certainly shows my age, but when I think of a first baseman, I don’t usually think of your hulking muscle-bound jock with a goatee and thorny tattoos encircling his Thor arms. Instead, I think instead a skinny spray hitter with a funny-looking batting stance who you’d be unsurprised also had an MBA. He probably wears glasses off the field, and likely he does his own taxes. He definitely doesn’t drive in many runs, but you love him because what he does he does really well. Yes, I think of Hal Morris.
Growing up like I did in central Kentucky, nearly every kid I knew was either a Reds fan or, because of TBS, a Braves fan. I loathed the Braves mostly because every swirlie-giving jackass at my school was a Braves fan and I just never really much cared for the cut of Dale Murphy’s jib. While the Braves were being touted fictitiously as “America’s Team,” the Reds were decidedly un-sexy. Seemingly every year of my mid-teens, they kept finishing in second place with Pete Rose Bettor- Managing and Marge Schott puffing away on cheap smokes while draining the team of scouting funds. But there was something likable about the guys who finished second despite everything. They were a group that had talent but always played hard and overachieved, a reflection of Rose’s best qualities.
In the winter of 1989, the Reds made what seemed a pretty innocuous throwaway trade over the offseason, acquiring a promising 17-win minor league pitcher named Rodney Imes and a utility infielder-outfielder with no power named Hal Morris for a garbage starter and change. Well, as those trades tend to work out more often than you’d think, the centerpiece for the Reds never made it to the big leagues, but Morris, after logging a middling 38 at-bats in two seasons with the Yankees, came aboard a team that – while no one really knew it yet – was about to tear it up and blossomed.
Morris was the definition of a role player. Platooning with fellow cog Todd Benzinger, the light hitting lefty Morris posted a .340 average in his rookie year, but only 36 RBIs. Still, on a team that was built on pitching, defense, flexibility and, more than anything, a killer bullpen, having a guy who got on base, didn’t strike out and didn’t boot grounders was more than adequate. Oh, and Morris even took a few games in the outfield to boot.
That Morris was also a quiet sort, workmanlike and consistent, only added to his value, both to his team and to Cincinnati’s principally blue collar and middle class fanbase. And as a Reds fan, at least the Reds got something of value from the Yankees, considering in two years they’d be trading a future Yankees legend for the inimitable Roberto “Call me Bobby” Kelly.
Personally, I prefer to live in the halcyon days of the batter’s box-dancing Morris. It may not make you think of fireworks, but sometimes a good 50 cent sparkler gets the job done just fine.