By Rick Hummel
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Matt Morris isn't pitching these days because he has grown tired of dealing with failure.
At 33, the former Cardinals ace says he's done playing after being released by the Pittsburgh Pirates a couple of weeks ago. Rarely has a pitcher who has won as many games (121) or had such a good winning percentage (.568) quit at such an early age.
In fact, Post-Dispatch research shows that for pitchers who won as many as 120 games and had a winning percentage of at least .568, this has happened just nine other times.
Three of the pitchers were Hall of Famers — Sandy Koufax, 165-87, who retired at 31; Catfish Hunter, 224-166, who retired at 33, and Addie Joss, 160-97, who retired at age 30 and then died the next year. More in Morris' class are Ramon Martinez, 138-88, 33 years old; Jim Maloney, 134-64, 31, and Jack McDowell, 127-87, 33.
In a telephone interview with the Post-Dispatch, Morris sounded convinced he would make this stick.
Asked what his next move was, Morris laughed and said, "I don't have any moves. That's the beauty of it. I'm moveless. I'm not looking for anything."
Morris didn't say never, ever, but he said, "I'm not building a mound in my backyard to make sure I get the ball down."
Before he was let go by the Pirates, he said they offered him a chance to go on the disabled list, move to the bullpen or even be an assistant to the general manager as one-time Cardinals teammate Alan Benes is in St. Louis.
"I had all these opportunities, but they just didn't make sense to me," Morris said. "I'm not ready to get back into baseball right now."
Other teams have called Morris' agent in recent weeks, but Morris has said he wasn't interested. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who was interested last year before the Pirates acquired Morris from San Francisco, said last weekend, "I wish our staff was set up differently where we could bring him in."
St. Louis might be the only place where Morris would reconsider his decision. And even that would be unlikely.
"The stress of where my career was to the downslope I was on was a pain in the butt," he said. "Just dealing with failure wasn't fun. I didn't want to keep doing it.
"I felt good. That was the problem. If I felt (poorly), that's one thing. Maybe that can be fixed. But mentally, I was not there. My heart just kind of moved away from the game. And once that happens, it's hard to get it back.
"There's been a lot of wear and tear."
La Russa said he understood the factors that must have influenced Morris' decision.
"The better the competitor that you are, the more likely it is that (a player would retire) when you can't compete to a certain level,"
La Russa said. "I think this totally fits Matt Morris as a competitor."
Morris, who never seemed to rebound from shoulder surgery he had after the 2004 season, made five starts for the Pirates this year, losing four of them and compiling an earned-run average of 9.67. He had given up more than two hits or walks per inning.
"I didn't want to end the way it did, abruptly like that," Morris said. "There are a lot of things I would change about the end. But I feel it happened for a reason. It might have been a blessing in disguise.
"I'm just enjoying myself now. I feel like the stress is gone. I can feel the joy of, like, I had a great career but it's time to move on and do something else, although I'm not going to be the type of guy who's going to sit at home and bother Heather all the time."
Morris and wife Heather had a baby girl, Harper, last fall, and Morris is savoring being a full-time dad.
Morris, a two-time All Star who is being paid about $9 million this year, didn't speak ill of his time with Pittsburgh or San Francisco before that. But he talked warmly of being on competitive, often championship teams nearly every year from 1997 to 2005 in St. Louis under
La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan. He especially enjoyed the rivalry with the Chicago Cubs.
"Those were some great times at Wrigley and at Busch," Morris said. "The intensity that Tony brought and maxed it out, whether it was Dusty (Baker) or whoever managing the Cubs. ... it was unbelievable being with those teams like that.
"It was a true rivalry, the Cardinals and the Cubs. But the Cubs started abusing me when I left (St. Louis) and then it wasn't as much fun."
Morris won 22 games for the Cardinals in 2001 and pitched on five playoff teams. Of his best memory with the Cardinals, he said, "I think it was the (Mark) McGwire ride. He put everybody on his back that year. I always think of him when I think back to St. Louis. It was an unbelievable ride."
Morris, then only 23, was in his second year as a big leaguer in 1998 when McGwire set the home-run record at 70.
La Russa wasn't surprised to hear Morris cite someone else's big year rather than his own as the highlight of his career.
"That shows you what a great teammate he was," La Russa said.