Detroit — Jack Morris long has had the reputation for being gruff — from his days with the Tigers, when he’d stare down old Captain Hook, Sparky Anderson, when Skip tried to take him out of a game, to his post-retirement days, when he’d mix it up with reporters who didn’t consider him Hall-of-Fame worthy.
And that’s fair.
But Morris hasn’t always been Mr. Serious, Dan Petry is here to tell you.
“Before a game, you could talk to him. He would go out on the field and he would yuck it up,” Petry said. “Before the game, he wasn’t one of those stone-faced guys like, ‘Don’t talk to me, I’m pitching today’ guys. That was not him.
“There were also times when, I do recall, he came in to the clubhouse and maybe he lost in the bottom of the ninth or the top of the ninth — and there’s always that rule that you don’t get music if you lose. It shouldn’t be a celebratory locker room.
“And he would come in and say, ‘The heck with that!’ and he’d turn on the music and say, ‘I did everything I could and so did you guys. There’s no reason why we need to be somber.’ And he’d turn the music on.”
Morris has been humming a happy tune lately. He was inducted last month into the Baseball Hall of Fame alongside his longtime teammate, Alan Trammell.
And on Sunday, before the Twins-Tigers game at Comerica Park, Morris will have his No. 47 retired — forever emblazoned on the brick wall. He’ll be the seventh Tiger to have his number retired, along with Charlie Gehringer (2), Hank Greenberg (5), Al Kaline (6), Anderson (11), Hal Newhouser (16) and Willie Horton (23). Ty Cobb’s number would be retired, if they wore numbers back then. The Tigers also retired No. 42, as did every team in baseball, for Jackie Robinson.
The last Tigers number retired was Anderson’s 11, in 2011, after his death in 2010. The last Tigers player to have his number retired was Horton, in 2000.
In two weeks, the Tigers will retire Trammell’s No. 3.
Petry, 59, and Morris, 63, first met in instructional league in Lakeland, in 1976, the year the Tigers drafted Petry out of high school in California in the fourth round, and Morris out of Brigham Young in the fifth round.
“My first impressions were, and I’ll never forget this, we were running as pitchers, and you know, Jack was bragging about how fast he was and they said, ‘Man, you should race Petry. He’s pretty fast!’ I’m going, ‘I’m not fast!’ I don’t know why they would say that,” Petry said, laughing. “And of course, it was no contest. He just blew me away. Jack was really fast and, as I later found out, he was a tremendous athlete.”
Petry spent the better part of his career pitching in Morris’ shadow, which was fine with him (statistically, he was better than Morris in the World Series year of 1984). Just like Milt Wilcox pitched in Petry’s shadow, and was pretty darn good, too.
Those also were three pretty darn good mustaches — grown back in the mid-1980s, after they shaved them upon Anderson’s arrival in 1979, assuming the no-facial hair rule of the Reds transferred over. (That was executive Dick Wagner’s rule.)
Prior to the 1984 season, Morris, Petry and Wilcox were photographed — Petry can’t remmber if it was by The Detroit News or Detroit Free Press — on I-4 in Lakeland, near a 55-mph sign. Anderson figured he needed 55 wins from those three guys. Amazingly, they combined for 54 — Morris with 19, Petry with 18 and Wilcox with 17.
One of those wins, of course, was among the most memorable in 1984, April 7 at Comiskey Parky, where Morris used his signature pitch, the Roger Craig-taught split-finger, to strike out Ron Kittle for the fifth no-hitter in Tigers history, first since 1958.
Petry remembers it well.
“About the fifth inning, he came into the dugout and says, ‘Hey, you guys can talk to me! I know I have a no-hitter! Don’t give me that jinx crap!’” said Petry, who will speak at Sunday’s retirement ceremony.
Odds are, he’ll shed light on the lighter side of the fiery right-hander whose 198 wins rank fifth in franchise history.
Jack Morris number retirement
When: 12:30 Sunday
Where: Comerica Park, Detroit
Details: The Tigers will retire new Hall-of-Famer Jack Morris’ No. 47 in a pregame ceremony, with Dan Petry among those speaking. Other former 1980s teammates, including Kirk Gibson, Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell, will be in attendance.
Tickets: Available at tigers.com or at the Comerica Park box office