Former Royal Hal Morris turns 43 today, evoking memories of the 1998 Royals, a scrappy outfit who went 72-89, but somehow finished third in the AL Central, thanks in part to Hal's veteran presence and leadership. Morris turned an ability to rope singles into a long career, despite being anchored to premium offensive positions. Ross Gload, we all hope you're taking notes.
An important member of the 1990, World Champion Reds, Morris finished third in the 1990 Rookie of the Year voting, although well behind winner David Justice. Morris remained a fixture in Cincinnati for most of the next decade, sometimes mixing in random seasons when he hit .330 and was somewhat valuable. 1994 was one such season, and thanks to Hal's .335 batting average, he finished 15th in the NL MVP voting.
After eight seasons with the Reds, Morris was granted free agency in 1997 and quickly snagged, in a one-year deal, $1.4 M, by the Royals, his last nice contract. Primarily a backup first baseman/corner type, Morris hit .309/.350/.381 in his only season in Kansas City. Through April 18, and the team's first seventeen games, the signing of Morris looked genius, as the man was hitting .462/.486/.631. It was all downhill from there however for Morris as a Royal, as he hit only .285/.328/.342 the rest of the way, as his batting average slowly dripped down to .309.
On his birthday that season, number 33, Muser sat Morris until the 9th inning, when he sent him to the plate to pinch hit for Shane Mack, with two outs and the Royals trailing 2-1. Facing Oriole closer Armando Benitez, Morris looked the demon of failure right in the eye and grinned, lacing a single into right field, keeping the game alive. Jed Hansen then ran for Morris, and he would have been the tying run, had not some guy named Mike Sweeney then struck out to end then game.
Morris's best game as a Royal, unless there is some late-inning heroism to the contrary -- was likely on April 13, in an 11-1 Royal victory over the Blue Jays. Hitting third (obviously) and DHing (obviously again) Morris went 4-5 with two doubles. Sadly, neither of his two doubles led to a run -- his own, or anybody else's -- ditto for his first inning single. Somehow, the Royals scored 11 runs, Morris had four hits, and only one of them even remotely led to a run, namely, his 7th inning leadoff single that eventually led to him scoring run number 9.
Hal's final game with the Royals was a 7-6 loss to the White Sox on September 27th, game 161 of the '98 campaign. Morris started at first, and went 0-3 before being pinch-hit for in the bottom of the seventh by another classic 90's Royal type player, Jeff Conine.
After the season, Morris re-signed with the Reds, where he played for the entirety of the 1999 season, and part of 2000, which also included a July trade to the Tigers. At the age of 35 Morris was done, as the market for corner players who can't slug over .400 was dwindling, a sad side effect of steroids destroying our national innocence. Or not.
Morris made approximately $14.5 million as a baseball player, and remains something of a major figure in Reds history. Morris is 27th in Reds history in games played (1049), 33rd in at bats (3382) and 28th in hits (1030), all pretty remarkable ranks considering the Reds have been around for like 347 seasons. In Royals history, his most veritable rank is his place at 95th all time in hits (146). By the end of this week he should be lower than that, with Alex Gordon only three hits behind him at the moment. By seasons end, Tony Pena Jr. (137), Joey Gathright (136) and Billy Butler (108) should all pass Morris. The cruelest eclipse, however, will come when Ross Gload, the Morris 2.0 passes him, potentially the man that will knock him out of the top 100 as well. Gload currently owns 101 hits as a Royal, and barring trade or injury, will almost certainly get to 147.
We can only hope this milestone occurs at the K, and is marked with the proper observances.