When the Yankees were in Minnesota, albeit briefly this weekend, Jack Curry tracked down Jack Morris to catch up on old times. The two Jacks talked about 1996 when Jack Morris was almost a Yankee but backed out of the deal at the last minute. Morris, 41 at the time, now says he regrets that decision because he probably would have helped win himself a fourth World Series ring.
I don’t remember the dealings for 1996, and so I thought I’d dig up some archival materials on the dealings between Morris and the Yanks. When the 1996 season rolled around, Morris had been out of baseball for a year. He had a career record of 254-186 with a 3.90 ERA but had flamed out in Toronto and Cleveland in 1993 and 1994 respectively.
At the age of 41, Morris went to the St. Paul Saints to pitch in the independent league. On July 15, 1996, Currey reported that the Yanks were scouting Morris. At the time, the right-hander was 5-1 with a 2.17 ERA, and with David Cone out and Dwight Gooden aching, the Yankees were looking for some back-end help for the starting rotation. “That’s a real long shot,” GM Bob Watson said of landing Morris.
Over the next few days, the Morris rumors increased. On July 20, Morris and the Yankees appeared to be headed for a deal. The financials of the deal were in place, but Morris and the Yankees were haggling over Minor League starts. The veteran wanted to make just one Minor League start before being activated while the Yanks wanted him to make two.
“Jack feels he’s pitched in front of the Yankees for the last 20 years,” Morris’ agent Jim Barrons said. “Either the Yankees feel he can do it or he can’t. He doesn’t think pitching at Columbus will help that.”
The next day, Curry reported that the deal had fallen apart. According to Curry, Watson said “he was not thrilled with Morris’s fastball or his location on pitches.” Barrons claimed that then-Assistant GM Brian Cashman spoke about the dispute over the Minor League stint and not Morris’ fastball velocity which at the time was just 89.
In the end, Morris never made it back to the Big Leagues. The 1996 Yankees acquired Dave Weathers and Cecil Fielder at the deadline and managed to patch together a World Series-winning rotation anyway. No wonder Morris now regrets his decision to push for just one Minor League start.