The Wolverine

September 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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SEPTEMBER 2019 THE WOLVERINE 69 BY JOHN BORTON H al Morris watched with fascina- tion — and a touch of alarm — while Michigan's infielders scooped up ground balls with flawless fluidity. The visiting high school senior looked to make a college decision. Though he knew the Wolverines un- der Bud Middaugh were the class of the Midwest, this wasn't making it any easier. Morris recalled: "I was watching these guys take infield, and I turned to my dad and said, 'I'll tell you what, I don't know if I'm good enough to play in the conference. This Big Ten looks pretty good.'" As it turned out, the infielders in question were more than Big Ten good. They were a combined 28 major league seasons good. "I was sitting there watching Barry Larkin and Chris Sabo," Morris said with a laugh. "To have seen Barry tak- ing balls as an 18-year-old was unbe- lievable — his ability, his athleticism, his quickness." Morris carried ability of his own. The Munster, Ind., prep stood ready to attend Davidson College, his dad's alma mater. He had been accepted and given a housing assignment. But as his senior year and summer all-star games played out, he began dreaming at a higher level. Still, Michi- gan offered no scholarship. "My dad and I had sent video of me playing to Coach [Bud] Middaugh the fall before," Morris recalled. "He was familiar with who I was. But I walked on. They were hands down the best team in the Midwest. It turned out to be the best move in my life." It's a move that led to two Big Ten championships in three years in Ann Arbor, and 13 seasons of his own in the majors. Still, in a program running off eight Big Ten titles in 10 years, break- ing in wasn't easy. His first fall in Ann Arbor, Morris didn't hit on the field with the regulars. He joined other walk-ons in a batting cage down the third-base line at Ray Fisher Stadium. Eventually, he saw the field in prac- tice games, an enormous boost. "We had such great players," Mor- ris noted. "It was the best pitching I would see until we got to the region- als." His freshman goal, on a team that wound up winning the Big Ten cham- pionship? Make the traveling squad. He did far more than that. In his first Big Ten start, at Purdue, Morris blasted a pair of home runs. "Then I started to play a little bit more," he recalled. "When I went to Michigan, our first baseman, Ken Hay- ward, had been All-Big Ten [and was in three of four Michigan seasons]. He was a great player. "He had first base locked down, but they started finding other ways to play me." Morris established himself even more after the season. Playing in the summer Adray League — against ag- gregations from Eastern Michigan, Wayne State, Detroit, etc. — Morris stood out. "I think I led that league in hitting," he noted. "Danny Hall [a Michigan as- sistant and later Georgia Tech's head coach] stayed up there and coached us, which was a big benefit to all of us. He's such a great coach. Danny getting to see me play on a daily basis, he realized they might see something in there." They saw plenty, both from Mor- ris and the Wolverines. Michigan won 16 games in a row to open his sophomore campaign, paced by some torrid hitting. That 55-victory squad featured three hitters whose 1985 av- erages still rank in the top 10 ever at U-M for a single season. Morris' .421 average remains fifth — and his slugging percentage, .863, second — while Hayward (.432) and Mike Watters (.417) also joined the .400 Club. The Wolverines tied for first in the Big Ten East that year, but didn't win it, finishing third in the conference tournament. They lost 12-10 to New Orleans in the first game of the NCAA South Regional in Starkville, Miss. But they battled back through three straight wins in the losers' bracket — the last against a loaded Mississippi State team — to force a repeat contest for the championship. The Bulldogs featured Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, Bobby Thigpen, Jeff Brantley and others who would go on to the majors. A nicked-up U-M squad (including injured ace Scott Kamieniecki) ran out of pitching and lost 19-8. "That experience rivaled any other I had, and that includes playing in the major league World Series," Morris said. "It was an extraordinary experi- ence, down there in Starkville, Miss. "That place sat 5,000, and there might have been 14,000 or 15,000 peo- ple at those games. It was just unbe- lievable baseball. You think about the guys on that field, there were some great baseball players out there." Morris' junior year brought a mes- merizing rookie to Ann Arbor, one- handed Jim Abbott embarking on a dazzling pitching career. "Watching Jim pitch was always memorable, every game he threw," Morris said. "We had a good club and won the Big Ten." They did so by scoring 31 runs in three games during the Big Ten Tournament, outslugging Wisconsin (12-11) and Minnesota (10-7, 9-5). But after they bowed out of the NCAA Mideast Regional in two games, Mor- In three seasons at U-M, Morris batted .373 and helped the Wolverines capture a pair of Big Ten championships. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN PHOTOGRAPHY   WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Hal Morris Went From Walk-On To World Series Champion

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