Sunday, May 4, 2014

Card #33: Jerry Morales

Who Can It Be Now?
Julio Ruben Morales Torres was born on February 18, 1949, in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico.   He attended Teodoro Aguilar Mora High School, and he appears to be the only player to make the major leagues from that school (though the school did produce two very late round draft picks in the late 1990s and early 2000s).

Morales signed at the age of 17 with the New York Mets organization as an "international" free agent.  He was very young for each of the leagues he played in for the Mets even though he stayed in A-ball for three seasons through the 1968 campaign.  

The 1968 offseason was remarkable in that major league baseball expanded by four teams that offseason.  The American League added the Kansas City Royals and the Seattle Pilots while the National League expanded to put the Expos in Montreal and the Padres in San Diego.  The two leagues were still separate legal entities, so the Padres and Expos selected only players affiliated with National League teams in the Expansion Draft that offseason. Despite the fact that Morales had just turned 20 years old and had not played any higher than the Single-A Carolina League, the Padres selected him with the 16th pick (out of 60) of the Expansion draft.  

The Padres pushed Morales to Double-A that year, and he responded well to the challenge and was rewarded with a September call-up in 1969.  He made the Padres out of Spring Training in 1970, but struggled mightily with skipping Triple-A and was sent down midway through May.  Morales spent most of 1970 and 1971 in Hawaii at Triple-A.  Even in 1971, he was about 4 years younger than the league average in the Pacific Coast League, so his .272/.335/.415 year in 1971 gave hope again for the future.  So, the Padres again called him up to the big club in September of 1971.  

But, come 1972, Morales made the Padres out of spring training and this time he stayed for the whole season.  After 1973, though, the Padres decided that they wanted Glenn Beckert and Bobby Fenwick more than they wanted Morales, so they traded Morales to the Chicago Cubs for his first tour of duty there.  

The North Side of Chicago was good for Morales.  Setting aside some of the statistical anomalies -- such as the 2 steals versus twelve times caught in 1974, for example -- the four seasons in which Morales played in Chicago in the mid-1970s were his best.  Those seasons were the four seasons in which Morales played the most games in his career. Morales played all three outfield positions and liked playing with Jose Cardenal and Rick Monday there, as the clip linked here has him saying.  

He was also named for the only time to the National League All-Star team in 1977, leading one blogger to call him one of the five worst-ever all-stars in Chicago history -- but, as the 1982 Topps card points out, he even scored a run in that game.  Another Cubs blogger disagreed that Morales was such a bad guy, even listing him among the 100 Greatest Cubs of All-Time.

The Cubs thought so much of his All-Star appearance that the sent him to the St. Louis Cardinals for Hector Cruz and Dave Rader.  After an unexceptional year in Busch, Morales had to call the moving vans again to move on to Detroit for his one season in the American League in his career.  The Tigers also got Senor Smoke -- Aurelio Lopez -- in exchange for a minor leaguer and Bob Sykes.  

1979 with the Tigers was the last time that Morales received regular playing time in the major leagues.  He struggled both in 1978 and 1979 at the plate, with OBPs below .290 both years.  This once again made him expendable, and the Tigers saw an opportunity to get a malcontent from the Mets -- Richie Hebner -- so Morales headed back to New York 11 years after he left the organization.  Mets fans seem to remember Morales fondly despite the fact that he only played one season in Shea, as evidenced by the comments on the Ultimate Mets website, though getting rid of Hebner seemed to be one user's main concern.

After one season of appearing off the bench in New York, Morales returned to Wrigley for the final three seasons of his career.  He appeared fairly regularly during the strike-shortened 1981 season for the Cubs.  By 1982, however, he was relegated to pinch-hitting and spot-starting duties behind Mel Hall, Gary Woods, Steve Henderson, Keith Moreland, Jay Johnstone, and Leon Durham, among others. 

Morales's career as a player ended after a 1983 season in which he hit just .195 in 63 games over 87 at-bats.  

Frankly, there is not much about Morales available that hasn't been said before.  So, I'll use this story about Morales as sort of a TV/radio moment of his.  It's all I've got, frankly, unless Morales's nephew who posted on the Ultimate Mets site wants to give me something more...

I'm borrowing from another card blog here -- 1974 Topps, to be exact.  The story goes that when Morales was a Met in 1980, he was on the postgame show with Ralph Kiner.  Kiner reminded Morales that when Morales was a Padre he never appeared on the postgame show.  The reason for this, it was said, was that Morales could not speak English well enough to be comfortable on the show.  Then Morales learned that he would be paid to appear on the show, and suddenly he became a much better English speaker.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
A guy like Morales falls through the cracks of baseball's history fairly easily.  He was never a star despite being an All-Star, and teams never hesitated to trade him for someone else.  His early career was spent mostly on terrible teams.  Only the 1977 Cubs -- which finished 81-81 -- and the 1979 Tigers -- who finished fifth in the highly competitive American League East with an 85-76 record -- gave Morales an opportunity to play for a non-losing club.  And, both of those teams traded him immediately after those seasons.

So, I have no recollection of Jerry Morales at all personally.  

This is not to say that Jerry Morales has not had an impact on the game of baseball.  First and foremost, his impact on Puerto Rican baseball was far higher than his impact stateside. As the book Puerto Rico's Winter League: A History of Major League Baseball's Launching Pad notes, Morales had a successful, consistent 18-year career in the Puerto Rican winter league for Caguas.  He even tied for the league lead in home runs in the 1973-1974 season with 14 even though he was the lead-off hitter.

After he retired from the Cubs, he immediately accepted a position with them as a roving hitting and outfield instructor.  Even though he was only coaching in the minor leagues, he continued as a player in the Puerto Rican winter league through the 1984-1985 season with Santurce.  

Once he finished as a player everywhere, he coached in the Cubs organization through 1986. He scouted for the Dodgers from 1987-1990, and then his career goes silent for us until 2002-2004, when he was hired to be a coach for the Montreal Expos.  He made a return appearance with that franchise as first-base coach for the Washington Nationals from 2007-2008 and then coached again at the age of 60 for the St. Lucie Mets.  

Perhaps his nephew or someone else who knows where Mr. Morales is these days can fill us in on how he is (hopefully) enjoying his retirement.

No comments:

Post a Comment