Don’t expect pitching great Jack Morris to illuminate Toronto Blue Jays radio listeners about which players he thinks are juicing as he watches them this season.
“It’s not my job to judge that,” says Morris, who’s replacing Alan Ashby beside Jerry Howarth. “That’s baseball’s job. My job is to talk baseball.”
Don’t mistake that for indifference about performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.
“Players using [PEDs] is not fair, it’s not right,” Morris says. “I will say that. They do it because they’re weak. I lived clean in my career, because I believe that’s how we should do it. It was the same in my career, guys are always looking for an edge. You have a choice, and some guys convinced themselves they needed it.”
Despite the type of record that would get him first-ballot induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the four-time World Series champion has yet to receive a call to Cooperstown. Morris was the quintessential big-game pitcher from 1979 to his retirement in 1994. So how does he feel about the drug cheats getting into Cooperstown before him?
“There’s been a lot of spaghetti thrown at the wall the past few years for people to sort out,” he says. “My opinion is that the writers have to sort it out. It’s going to be for them to decide it. It’s not easy, that’s for sure.”
Morris says he’s had offers to do full-time media work, but family concerns have not allowed them. Now, the 254-game winner says, the chance to go to a team like the Blue Jays was too good to pass up.
“Toronto was special for me when I played there, and I can see the same thing maybe happening this year again. Nobody wants a job where the team you cover loses 95 games a year. This has a chance to be special.”
Journalists who dealt with him can attest that Morris did not suffer media fools gladly in his career. (“From now on I’m not talking,” he said after one media row. “From now on I know I won’t be misquoted.”)
The five-time All-Star says that since he stopped playing, the dynamic between reporters and players has changed dramatically.
“Baseball has done a better job of prepping players how to handle the media,” he says. “There’s not the same kind of access we used to have. They do a lot more to protect players now.”
Morris says he’s going to have to use his access to win over the players in the Toronto clubhouse. Previously he’d work 25 to 30 games a year for the Minnesota Twins, not enough exposure to players to create a bond.
“I’m going to try to let them know what I’m about,” Morris says. “Criticizing friends has always been the toughest part of the job for me. I get no joy ripping on players, but if I have to do that, I want them to know I’m not just taking shots. I’ve been there and know how it works.”
Morris’s favourite players turned media guys are Jim Kaat (‘I love him, how he does it”), John Smoltz, Ron Darling and Buck Martinez. “They understand the transformation a player has to make when he joins the media, being fair but critical when you need to.”
So what will make the difference for this Blue Jays team over all the non-playoff squads since Morris left?
“I think they need a clubhouse leader, a guy who keeps them on course over the long season when stuff happens. I watched every team last year, and I’d say the difference for the Giants winning the World Series was the chemistry in the clubhouse. The Giants had it where other teams didn’t.”
Who on the Blue Jays can be that leader?
“I’m not going to know until I get into that clubhouse,” Morris says.
In retail they say underpromise and overdeliver. But it’s getting to the point where the Blue Jays, who open spring training next Tuesday, are looking so promising that there is only a small margin for underdelivery in 2013.
Team president Paul Beeston cautions that nothing’s guaranteed, but he might as well be telling the kids not to touch the presents till Christmas morning. The assumption in Blue Jays Nation is that a World Series is already under the tree.
While the baseball team is cautiously committed, its broadcaster at Sportsnet is all-in. Despite the fact that it now owns the Maple Leafs, Raptors and Toronto FC, Rogers’ sports strategy hinges on the baseball team it owns. So much so that Rogers will not entertain flipping Jays games to another network in exchange for another property.
A Blue Jays team in the postseason will be the driver for its sports specialty TV channels, fill the stands at Rogers Centre, spill over into its publication arm and probably clean up the dishes too. All they have to do is win.