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Baseball Playoffs : American: Detroit vs. Minnesota : Notebook : Free Agency Battle Still Bothers Jack Morris

October 08, 1987|ROSS NEWHAN | Times Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS — A few hours before Wednesday night's American League playoff opener, a man with a microphone asked Jack Morris what it felt like to be part of an organization with the rich heritage of the Detroit Tigers.

Morris, one of last winter's several unwanted free agents, a proven pitcher who returned to the Tigers through salary arbitration after the club rejected his contract proposals, smiled sardonically and said:

"I'd like to give you a lecture on loyalty, but I'll leave it at this: It's a bunch of crap."

The wounds remain and could be reopened after Morris throws his final pitch of 1987. He said he would like to end his career with the Tigers but has again heard nothing. He said he expects to be a free agent again but will leave negotiations--if there are any--to attorney Dick Moss.

"I didn't get a chance to relax as much as I should have last winter and I owe myself that," Morris said. "I'm not going on a full-scale grandstand tour again. It served its purpose."

Morris tried to sell his services to the Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies and the Angels but found no takers. The tour's futility, he feels, helped substantiate the existence of a conspiracy among the owners.

Will there be a viable market now that the arbitrator has ruled against the owners.

"Only if he penalizes them enough that they won't do it in the future," Morris said. "They broke the law. As I said at the time, now we know they're crooks. That first question has been answered. The second is, what do you do with crooks?"

The union Jack of last winter labors on another front tonight, facing the team he rooted for as a youngster growing up in nearby Highland Park, the team that was the first to receive his sales pitch last winter and a team that has never defeated the winningest pitcher of the '80s.

Morris, 18-11 during the regular season, has an 11-0 career record in Minnesota and is 8-0 in the Metrodome.

The key to his success in a hitter's haven? Morris listed good support, luck and a determination to take the Twins seriously--no matter where they were in the standings.

"I also don't look at this as a homer dome," he said. "I pitch in Cape Canaveral North. Tiger Stadium gives us more home runs than any park.

"I don't like the turf here, I admit that, but I've been successful in eliminating the negatives. I also grew up wanting to play for the Twins and I guess that when they didn't draft me, it subconsciously wanted me to beat them that much more."

Metrodome mystique: Are the Twins packing something extra in their home stadium?

Like, say, a "secret" center-field camera that enables them to steal signals from opposing catchers?

That rumor has been floating around since midseason, when Seattle Manager Dick Williams speculated about such a camera and a Kansas City sportswriter accused the Twins of using a dugout television monitor to steal signs from that camera.

Naturally, on the eve of the American League Championship Series, the rumor has resurfaced, and Wednesday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune questioned several Twins on the topic.

From .191-hitting catcher Tim Laudner: "That's scary, man, real scary. I'm hitting a buck-90 and we're stealing signals? How come nobody told me about the camera? You better ask some guy hitting .300."

From .332-hitting center fielder Kirby Puckett: "If someone told me what was coming, I couldn't hit it anyway. If someone told me what was coming, I wouldn't believe it either. No way. You're thinking curveball and here comes a fastball right at you. Don't believe it, man. Don't believe it."

From .285-hitting first baseman Kent Hrbek, who doesn't quite take the rumor completely seriously: "You see, in my helmet I've got a little TV, one of those Watchmen. When they show the center-field camera, I know automatically what's coming.

"I also have a stereo system in my earflap and I can hear the games on the radio. Sometimes (Twins radio announcer) Herb Carneal will say, 'I think a fastball might be coming,' and then I know."

The Twins do have a TV monitor in the corner of their dugout, but according to Manager Tom Kelly, it is supposed to be turned off during games. But even with it on, Kelly told the Star Tribune, "How are you supposed to (steal signs)? You're supposed to look at the monitor, run down the dugout and scream, 'Here comes a fastball!' All in a second? That's absurd."

Was Bill Madlock, the former Dodger who has become a significant factor in the Tigers' success, surprised by his former club's retention of Tom Lasorda and Fred Claire in their current capacities?

Madlock said only that Dodger problems go beyond management.

"You've got to have the horses," he said. "You've got to be able to keep turning over players from within the system." The acquisition of Eddie Murray, Rickey Henderson or both would help, Madlock said, but not at the expense of losing Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser or Bob Welch.

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