Being a nice guy is overrated.
A team’s ace pitcher doesn’t have to be a Dale Carnegie protege.
The exact opposite, in fact, is often what’s needed.
Bob Gibson had it.
“It” was the disposition of a hungry, caged lion.
Especially on the days that he was slated to pitch.
It was best to stay out of Gibson’s way on those days. Gibson was never really known as a congenial man–still isn’t, frankly–but he turned positively wretched when his turn in the rotation came up.
His teammates stayed far, far out of his way. Gibson, they said, walked around with a puss about as sour as under-ripe lemons. Then he went out and treated opposing hitters as if they went pee-pee in his Corn Flakes.
Jack Morris, one of the best money pitchers of his time–or anyone’s time, for that matter–also had “it.”
Morris was an angry man, especially when he played in Detroit. I ought to know. I followed Morris from the day he arrived from Evansville as a rookie in 1977, to the day he fled after the 1990 season as a free agent.
Morris was the Tigers’ Gibson: the unequivocal ace who was mad at the world–or at least at the Yankees, or the Orioles, or the Blue Jays.
There was plenty of hate in Morris to go around.
The writers weren’t safe. Neither were his teammates.
Morris reminded me of another high-strung Detroit athlete, Lions quarterback Bobby Layne.
Layne was known to kick his offensive linemen in the shins when they blew an assignment.
There was a line attributed to Layne, probably true.
It came as he entered the huddle prior to the game-winning drive in the 1953 NFL Championship Game.
“Alraght, fellas,” Layne drawled, “y’all block and ole Bobby’ll pass y’all raght to the champeenship.”
The Lions blocked. And Layne, true to his word, passed the Lions to the championship over the Cleveland Browns at (then) Briggs Stadium in Detroit.
Morris, when a Tigers player would boot a baseball, forcing “The Cat” to get four outs that inning, would glare at the offending teammate.
The teammate wouldn’t glare back. He knew better.
Morris’s will was never more on display than in Game Seven of the 1991 World Series.
He pitched 10 innings of shutout ball in the Metrodome, leading the Twins to victory over Atlanta.
Manager Tom Kelly didn’t dare remove Jack.
For my money, if I needed a baseball game won, I’d want Jack Morris on the mound.
The Tigers’ ace of today, Justin Verlander, is shucking the nice guy label, kind of.
“I’m not as nice anymore,” JV said recently, explaining his mood on the days he starts.
Verlander is on a roll right now, mowing down hitters and giving up runs begrudgingly and miserly.
He’s becoming angry on the mound now, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
I’ve seen the Verlander of old on the days he was slated to throw, and he was anything but mean.
Quite the contrary.
Loosey-goosey comes to mind.
Which was fine–then.
But after a miserable 2008, JV thought that walking on the dark side was worth a try.
Right now, his stuff is filthy and his mood is nasty.
It’s a combo that has worked for the Bob Gibsons and Jack Morrises of the world.
If you can’t beat ’em…