John Morris has written a touching, funny, wonderful memoir about his 11 years in professional baseball. From end-less minor league bus rides to muffing his first big league fly ball, Morris recounts a career that began as a first-round draft choice of the Royals in 1982 and ended 11 years later when he finally gave into the pain of a second serious back injury.
He was only 32 when he retired, and like hundreds of others, had trouble giving up the game he'd played virtually his entire life. But while working as a minor league instructor for the Angels, he hit upon a workable therapy: turning diaries from his playing days into a full-fledged book.
"Instead of getting up at the crack of noon," he jokes, "I was up at 6 a.m. doing something with my mind."
He received more than 40 rejection letters before Diamond Communications agreed to publish "Bullet Bob Comes to Louisville and Other Tales From a Baseball Life."
"I found myself complaining and becoming bitter about the game after that ugly labor dispute of 1994," he said. "Then I started thinking about all the neat things that had happened to me and started jotting them down. It was a way for me to recapture my love for the game. I did it for very selfish reasons initially."
Morris will bring you to tears as he recounts attempting to play while his father fought terminal cancer. He returned from his dad's funeral a few minutes before the start of a game at Busch Stadium and was summoned into manager Whitey Herzog's office.
"Johnny, I'm gonna leave it up to you," Herzog told Morris. "I've made out two lineup cards. One has you starting and the other has you on the bench in case you're not ready yet. Whatever you decide is fine with me."
Morris responded: "Whitey, I just flew 1,000 miles this morning to get here. I'd love to play today."
Morris had the first and only four-RBI game of his career that afternoon and recalls: "Everyone in baseball needs a mentor. Whitey Herzog was mine. He was just amazing."
There's a heart-tugging essay about his mother's fight against breast cancer and fond remembrances of Herzog and an assortment of other baseball characters. There was the day he got his first at-bat against Nolan Ryan. It lasted four pitches: one 100-mph fastball near his head and three straight pitches taken for strikes.
There was also the day the Cardinals soaked a talkative rookie with peanut butter and chocolate syrup; the day Phillies reliever Roger McDowell stored Morris's clothes in the clubhouse freezer; and the day the Cardinals pursuaded pitcher Joe Magrane to do a photo shoot for GQ (they'd hired the photographer themselves and laughed as Magrane changed into an array of wardrobes on a sweltering day at Busch Stadium).
The title of the book comes from the day that grouchy Hall of Famer Bob Feller showed up for a Louisville Cardinals game and invited fans to come out of the stands and take a few cuts. Players became so enraged at Feller's attitude that outfielder Steve Braun went back into the clubhouse, changed into street clothes and walked out to take a few cuts. He hit three Feller offerings over the fence as his teammates cackled.
"I wanted to give fans a better understanding of what goes on in a player's career," said Morris, who now runs a health-care business in Florida. "I wanted to write about the stuff they don't have access to, what goes on in a player's day-to-day life. I wanted to try and take them there."
What a Surprise
Despite his brilliant no-hitter last week, Cardinals rookie Jose Jimenez has a 6.41 ERA. According to Stats Inc.'s David Pinto, he would have to lower it by a full run to avoid having the highest ERA by any no-hit pitcher in the year he threw the no-hitter. The current record holder is Scott Erickson of the Orioles, who threw a 1994 no-hitter with a 5.44 ERA while with the Minnesota Twins.
Jimenez had given up 55 runs and 73 hits in the 57B innings before tossing the no-no. He also became the first Cardinal to throw a complete game this season. In his first start after the no-hitter, he allowed four first-inning runs against the Astros and took the loss in an 11-3 decision. . . .
The Reds were 14-18 and in last place in the National League Central on May 14. Six weeks later, they've won 30 of 43 games to rush from last to first. One of many things that has gone right for the Reds is left-hander Ron Villone, who made his first career start on June 8. In his last two starts, he has allowed two singles and no runs in 15 innings to defeat the Astros and Diamondbacks.
"All I know is that I'm going out there with confidence and feeling strong," he said. "The feeling is so good that I know what it tastes like, so I have to remember it every single time."
The Reds are going so good that when Manager Jack McKeon benched the National League's leading hitter, Sean Casey, his replacement, Dmitri Young, homered for the first run of a 2-0 victory.
He's a Find
The Padres were criticized for swapping Greg Vaughn a season after he'd hit 50 home runs, but they're not about to second-guess themselves after watching shortstop Damian Jackson the last few weeks. He covers more ground than Barry Larkin, has made good on 20 of 26 stolen base attempts and is one reason the Padres strung together 13 straight victories through Thursday.
"Our reports were that in a footrace Damian was stride for stride with Kenny Lofton when they were with the Cleveland Indians," Padres General Manager Kevin Towers said. . . .
Pirates catcher Jason Kendall has 21 steals and appears on his way to breaking his record for steals by a National League catcher. He set the record with 26 last season. The major league record is 36 by Kansas City's John Wathan in 1982. "I don't see why I can't break [Wathan's] record but I don't worry about it," Kendall said. "It would be something cool to do but it's not like it's at the top of my priority list. By no means am I a Tony Womack or an Eric Young or somebody like that. I'm not going to steal 80 bases. And I'm not going to take off just to take off. When I'm out there, I kind of just go on instinct.". . .
Cardinals draft pick Chris Duncan -- the son of Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan -- allowed his dad to do most of the negotiating after the June draft. When the two sides couldn't finish a deal, Chris, 18, met with Cardinals General Manager Walt Jocketty to complete negotiations.
Another Bad Bullpen
The gut-wrenching defeats are starting to mount up for the Braves. The latest came this week when the bullpen allowed leads to slip away in back-to-back losses in Montreal. Lefty John Rocker allowed five ninth-inning runs on Tuesday, then righties Kevin McGlinchy and Rudy Seanez were torched for five eight-inning runs on Wednesday.
"I'm sitting in the outfield thinking, what is going on," Braves center fielder Brian Jordan said. "We've got a mental block or something. We're not being aggressive out there."
Rocker had allowed two runs in 25B innings and had converted 16 of 19 save chances before the Tuesday blowup. Afterward, he broke a bottle in his locker and snapped at reporters. Despite great stuff, some in the Atlanta organization have wondered if Rocker has the makeup to deal with the sometimes difficult days of being a closer. . . .
Paul Snyder, who spent 42 years with the Braves as a catcher, minor league manager and scout, announced his retirement last week. He's only 63 and says he wants to spend more time at home. While he was in charge, the Braves drafted or signed Dale Murphy, Bob Horner, Steve Bedrosian, Gerald Perry, Jeff Blauser, Ron Gant, David Justice, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery, Chipper Jones, Javy Lopez and Andruw Jones. Most of Atlanta's top prospects, including pitchers Jason Marquis, Jung Bong and David Cortes, are Snyder acquisitions. . . .
The Rangers had a tremendous June. Despite playing 20 of 28 games on the road and making two trips to the Pacific time zone, they went 15-13 and built up a six-game lead in the American League West. Their 4.10 ERA for June was the third-best in the American League. It was good enough that the Rangers won four times when scoring three or fewer runs.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Matchups to Watch
Yankees at Mets
Friday through Sunday
The Yankees took two of three games from the Mets in the teams' first interleague matchup in early June. The Mets, thanks in part to a a home run by Mike Piazza handed Roger Clemens his first loss since June 1998 in the final game of that series. For the Yankees, their offense begins with shortstop Derek Jeter (.377 batting average, 110 hits, 68 runs). The Yankees' pitching is topped by Clemens (8-2, 4.52 ERA) and David Cone (8-3, 2.60). The Mets have power, led by Piazza (16 home runs, 45 RBI), Robin Ventura (15 HR, 63 RBI) and rookie Benny Agbayani (11 HR, .706 slugging percentage).
Reds at Indians
Friday through Sunday
Cincinnati, winner of 10 straight to take over first place in the NL Central, is a much different team than it was when Cleveland swept the Reds at Cinergy Field three weeks ago. Since that time, the Reds have won 13 of 17 games, including seven straight on the road. The game matches the hitting prowess of Reds first baseman and former Indian Sean Casey (.382, 16 HR, 52 RBI) and Cleveland's quartet of Manny Ramirez (.338, 20 HR, 84 RBI), Roberto Alomar (.331, 10 HR, 54 RBI), Omar Vizquel (.338, 17 stolen bases) and Kenny Lofton (.320, 6 HR, 23 stolen bases).
Astros at Diamondbacks
Arizona, second place in the NL West and loser of eight of 10, tries to right itself against Houston, second place in the NL Central.
Red Sox at Braves
While Boston will have to face Atlanta's top-notch starting pitching, the Braves may not have to face Pedro Martinez (15-2), who pitches every fifth day for the Red Sox.
BY THE NUMBERS
Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera has retired the first batter in 29 of his 30 appearances. He hasn't allowed a home run this season and has given up only nine in his last 269C innings over the past four seasons.
Pittsburgh's Jason Kendall is the first catcher to steal at least 18 bases in three straight seasons.
The Indians, Astros and Dodgers are the three major league teams to have had the same five-man pitching rotations all season.
Pirates right-hander Greg Hansell went 1,087 days between victories. Before getting a victory in relief against the Phillies last Monday, his most recent victory had been May 29, 1996, against the Twins.
Reds shortstop Barry Larkin led the majors with a .430 batting average in June.
"That's an error when a 100-pound pig jumps out of my ear."
-- Phillies Manager Terry Francona, disputing an error call on a ball Doug Glanville hit off the foot of Pirates pitcher Kris Benson.
CAPTION: John Morris, sliding home for St. Louis during his 11-year major league career, retired at 32.
CAPTION: Robin Ventura has hit three grand slam home runs this season.