Let’s sing the praises of Charlie Morton the Astro

This being the beginning of the special time in the year, and because it seems to me to have been insufficiently noted or appreciated, let’s begin with the inspirational tale of Charlie Morton, dauntless but improbable World Series hero. It’s wonderful.

If there were a Profiles in Courage Award in baseball, he would be a lock. Few have stood taller on the mound than the battered, weary, but implacable 34-year-old Morton did in Game Seven, when he slammed shut the door on the Dodgers with four innings of impeccable relief, mixing an unhittable curve with iron will, just as he had done to finish off the Yankees in the ALCS.  It’s something no pitcher had ever done – win two sudden-death Game Sevens in the same post-season.

“‘Big deal,” you say, “a mere footnote.” But when something happens in baseball that’s never happened before, we pay attention. Moreover, you must consider the ordeal Morton had experienced over an agonizing 10-year struggle to reach his historic moment, wandering from Atlanta to Pittsburgh to Philadelphia before landing in Houston.

For openers, he had three major surgeries, one on each hip plus the dreaded Tommy John ulnar-nerve transplant, and countless trips to the DL for related miseries.  In 2016, he pitched four winless games for the Phillies, tearing his hamstring so badly in April that he was in rehab the rest of the season. In nine years, he won 46 games, never posting a winning record and hanging on by his nails mainly because people respected his character. Still, when Houston – out of nowhere – handed him a two-year, $14 million deal ,many of the same folks snickered. It seemed so inexplicable.

Whoever made that call, it testifies heavily to the brilliance of the Houston front office, which has turned a perennial doormat into a powerhouse in four years. After going 14-7 with a 3.62 ERA and roughly 10 whiffs per nine innings pitched, Morton, in the post-season and healthy at last, essentially saved Houston’s shaky pitching staff which had brinked on collapse near the end. He was valiant, an old-fashioned baseball story like something from a Mark Harris novel. You don’t find jewels on scrap heaps anymore, except in fiction.

Well educated and articulate, Morton seemingly is handling his new-found fortune well, neither reveling excessively in it nor bemoaning what he endured along the long way. How did he ever stay the course? In his post-game comments, he attributed it to a keen sense of “professional responsibility,” by which, he explained, he means: “It’s not glorious. But it’s my job to approach each situation professionally and I try to do that.”

Eureka! We have a modern athlete who quietly asserts that what mainly sustains him through endless travail is simply a sense of “professional responsibility.” How very refreshing! We may never hear from Charlie Morton again, but he has made his mark in the game’s annals, I’d say.

Of injuries and the NFL

A recent headline in a New York tabloid screeched “Game of Life and Death: Future of football looks bleak.”  If you’re keeping score on the NFL weekly injury report (at best, an incomplete document) you may be nodding in agreement.  Totals in the first half of the season again reached an all-time high – up 33 from this point last season.

You could form the nucleus of a couple of all-star teams merely from this  sampling of perhaps the top 10 players wasted for the entire season:

Esteemed QBs Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, the Giants’ Odell Beckham, KC’s Eric Berry, and the Vikes’ Joe Thomas, and arguably the game’s two best defenders, J.J. Watt and Richard Sherman. The Patriots dearly miss mainstays Don’t’a Hightower and Julian Edelman.  

On and on goes the drumbeat, with the costs soaring. In the end, damages awarded for injuries will cripple the NFL. It’s become inevitable. Yet the owners, obsessed with their immediate profits, do nothing to address long-term consequences.  They’ll regret it.

Baseball awards: Right on

MLB’s award season proved predictable. No real surprises unless you fancy a Kershaw over a Scherzer, though there’s hardly a dime’s difference.

Hereabouts, partisans are ruffled not so much by Corey Kluber denying local pet Chris Sale the AL Cy Young as by doing so by a veritable landslide. Was the dogged Indians righty that much better than our prize lefty? Probably not. But it illustrates how much we here overrate our lads.  Sale was not as good as he looked while burning through mid-summer piling up all those strikeouts. This he swiftly verified when the going got tough at the end. All of which the rest of the league saw more clearly. It’s that simple.

As for the MVPs:  Like it or not, Giancarlo Stanton was inevitable in the year of the long ball, with no clear alternative. Happily, reason prevailed in the AL.  Anyone but Jose Altuve winning was unthinkable, and the campaign in behalf of Aaron Judge was dumb. But the admirable young Goliath makes a superb Rookie of the Year pick. No question!

Bobby Doerr: Mr. Respected

A last word on Bobby Doerr. It’s pleasing when someone notable passes on after a long and much blessed life, and when you can personally verify that all the nice things being said of him or her are richly deserved. This is thunderously the case in the death of Robert Pershing ‘Bobby’ Doerr, every inch a Hall of Famer on and off the field.  

He lived 99 years and may never have raised his voice, certainly not in anger. Touching was the respect he commanded in baseball’s rowdy culture. You didn’t cuss around Bobby, nor take the Lord’s name in vain. His dignity was never forced nor feigned. It came as natural to him as drawing his next breath. There are many heroes in sports, but few exemplars. Bobby Doerr was an exemplar.