Thursday, September 8, 2011

#244 - Carl Morton

Here's Carl Morton with yet another somber face in Atlanta. Carl sported this expression on many of his cards and I remember reading way back an article in which the author suggested Carl had an issue with depression and given his photos it wouldn't surprise me. It's too bad because he was in the midst of the best run of his career and was probably the best Atlanta starter for three years outside of Phil Niekro. You'd think that would get at least a smirk.

Carl Morton was a big talented kid out of Oklahoma. When he finished high school he went to the University of Oklahoma where he did double duty as a starting pitcher and an outfielder. He also played summer ball in the Basin League, the Western Canada and Upper Plains States league where other major leaguers-to-be included Don Sutton, Duffy Dyer, Chuck Dobson, and Del Unser. In '64 Carl was an all-star outfielder for the league (Merv Rettenmund was another one) and that fall he was signed by the Braves for $60,000 as a free agent. In A ball in '65 and '66 he was almost exclusively an outfielder, hitting roughly .240 with a combined 26 homers. In '67 he moved to the mound where things got better, posting ten wins in A ball that season and going 13-5 with a 2.72 ERA in Double A in '68. That October he was selected by the Expos in the expansion draft and for them he would put up an 8-6 record with a 3.52 ERA in Triple A sandwiched between a few starts in Montreal.

In '70 Morton and his 18 victories won NL Rookie of the Year as well as TSN Rookie Pitcher of the Year. In a big, exciting year for Carl he sort of defined his pitching style. His three pitches included a fastball, slider, and change-up and he provided a lot of drama since he generally had a bunch of base runners in his games (in '70 he led the league in walks). In '71 and '72 those qualities impacted him in a negative way as he went a combined 17-31 as his ERA popped a bit and he walked as many guys as he struck out. He also incurred manager Gene Mauch's wrath for wearing his hair longer that Mach liked. So after the '72 season Montreal sent Carl back to the Braves pretty cheaply for Pat Jarvis, a pitcher past his prime.

In '73 Morton revived in Atlanta, winning 15 while lowering his ERA half a run and picking up his K to walk ratio. He added a win each of the next two seasons as he joined Niekro as a pretty effective one-two punch in the rotation. He posted winning records both years even though his control issues were again coming to the surface. In '76 his record tanked to 4-9 as his luck seem to give out and after the season he was part of the group sent to Texas for Jeff Burroughs. For the Rangers Carl wouldn't make it through spring training and he would be picked up by the Phillies that May for whom he would pitch Triple A. Although he threw pretty well at that level - 9-13 with a 3.32 ERA - he was released. In '78 he caught on with the Pirates but that didn't last and he was done. Carl went a combined 87-92 with a 3.73 ERA, 51 complete games, and 13 shutouts. He only hit .156 but did whack seven homers and 42 RBIs.

After playing Morton returned to Tulsa where he finished his degree at Tulsa University. He'd hoped to get into broadcasting but I don't believe that ever happened. In '83 he was out jogging with his son when he collapsed from a heart attack. He passed away later that day in a hospital. He was 39.


Carl has an interesting middle name and I believe it's a family one. He gets some pretty good star bullets and, like Bill Sudakis, is another bowler. The most unusual bit of trivia regarding him is a bit dark: both he and Thurman Munson, the AL's Rookie of the Year, died in their thirties.

These two guys played for '69 expansion teams, but in different leagues:

1. Morton and Dave May '75 to '76 Braves;
2. May and Tom Matchick '71 Brewers;
3. Matchick and Bob Oliver '70 Royals.

Tom Matchick was a utility infielder who played most of his career with Detroit in the late '60's and won a ring with the '68 Tigers. In the early '70's he moved around a bit and finished things up in '72 with Baltimore.

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