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Injury-plagued Morris endures with Grace

Published Mar. 13, 1998|Updated Sep. 12, 2005

Hal Morris knew he'd be somewhere other than Cincinnati this year. Grace led him to Kansas City, with a detour to the outskirts of Orlando.

Grace is Hal and Megan Morris' daughter. She arrived _ all 1 pound, 14 ounces of her _ on Nov. 28, about 3{ months ahead of schedule, while daddy was contemplating where his career was going to take him.

He would not be returning for a ninth season with the Reds; he knew that. Not with Eduardo Perez _ younger and with more power _ ready to take over at first base; not with his $3.1-million contract (meaning Cincinnati could not offer him less than $2.48-million in arbitration); not after a one-homer season cut in half by shoulder surgery.

It didn't take long for Morris and the Royals to come to a meeting of the minds.

Kansas City needed a designated hitter. The Royals, last in the American League Central the past two seasons and coming off their worst season since 1970, had lost designated hitter Chili Davis to the Yankees through free agency.

And Morris well, with Grace in the hospital near their Orlando home, he wanted to be close to Megan and her as long as possible. On Dec. 22 he signed a one-year contract. Grace, their first child, went home the first week in February weighing close to 5 pounds.

"I'd been talking with other clubs," Morris said, "but I knew the Royals were interested in me and I was interested in them, too, for several reasons. But the big one was the opportunity to spend an extra six weeks at home helping Megan with the baby before the season started.

"I suppose I could have gotten more money somewhere else; I don't know for sure. But there comes a point in time when you're fortunate enough to make enough money to be financially secure, and your happiness and peace of mind and your family's happiness become foremost. You can't put a price tag on that, and you shouldn't try to."

His Achilles' heel

Morris said in December that he'd be willing to play for a lot less if it meant playing for a contender, but that after his performance last season he wasn't in a position to be selective.

Only once in 10 big-league seasons has Morris played as many as 140 games. Six times in the past six seasons he has spent time on the disabled list. "My Achilles' heel has been my health," he said. "I know when I'm healthy I can play."

In 1990, his first season with the Reds, he batted .340 in 107 games and .417 in a five-game playoff with Pittsburgh. His sacrifice drove in the World Series-clinching run as Cincinnati swept Oakland.

Morris carries a career .305 average into this season. But 1997 was, statistically, one of his poorest. "I've got a lot to prove, mainly to myself," he said. "Last year was very disappointing. I want to show that I can still play."

"I think we can take advantage of that," Royals manager Tony Muser said. "I think he's happy we're giving him the opportunity. And from what I've seen of him I think he can bat .300 and give us some run production. We're not looking for 30 home runs (Davis' total last season); we're just looking for him to put the ball in play."

Muser said he plans periodically to play Morris at first base and in the outfield. "I don't want him to think he's just a DH; that'd be a complete turnaround from what his role has been in the past. Take that away from him, it's like cutting half the guy's heart out."

Gurgles and burps

For two months, Hal and Megan Morris' life was a constant commute to see Grace, staying for several hours in the morning, several more in the late afternoon and evening. The hospital became a second home and classroom as they learned about premature babies, about the medications and procedures that keep them alive and well. About coping.

"We gained a lot of perspective from other families at the hospital, some of them in far more grave situations than we were in," he said. "There was so much uncertainty. It started even before the baby was born. You don't know if there are going to be any neurological problems, if she's even going to survive. The fear of something being wrong, something going wrong, I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

"After a week, maybe 10 days, we knew there was no cerebral hemorrhaging; that was the big concern. It was about a month before we knew for sure that she was out of the woods. Her immune system still isn't fully developed, so something could still arise, but Megan and I feel blessed that she's doing as well as she is."

The Royals train about 15 minutes from the Orlando home the Morrises have occupied for three years. At month's end they leave to start the season. Morris said he's not sure when his wife and daughter will join him in Kansas City; maybe May, maybe later, depending on how Grace is progressing. But he said Megan promises she'll videotape the baby every time she gurgles or burps.

"Something like this completely reprioritizes everything in your life," Morris said. "It's made baseball much easier to deal with. My perspective has changed totally. I'm not going to put as much pressure on myself as I used to. That emotional roller coaster I used to ride, that's over.

"In the whole scheme of things, baseball's just a game. I don't have any more bad days. Every day's a great day. And at the end of the day I just want to get home and see Grace."

_ Times researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.

HAL MORRIS

Career highlights

His 32-game hitting streak (Aug. 7, 1996-April 3, 1997) was Reds second-longest this century behind Pete Rose's 44-game streak in 1978, and longest in majors since Benito Santiago's 34-game streak in 1987; one of 15 players with a 30-game hitting streak since Joe DiMaggio's 56-game streak in 1941; selected by Yankees in eighth round of 1986 June free agent draft; traded Dec. 12, 1989 with pitcher Rodney Imes to Reds for pitcher Tim Leary and outfielder Van Snider.

Avg. G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB

1997

(Cin.) .276 96 333 42 92 20 1 1 33 23 43 3

Career .305 940 3255 451 994 201 18 72 443 283 449 44

Personal

HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 6-4; 210.

BATS/THROWS: Left/left.

BORN: April 9, 1965, Fort Rucker, Ala. RESIDES: Orlando.

SCHOOL: Played three years at Michigan, All-Big Ten in 1986, Academic All-Big Ten in 1985-86.

FAMILY: Wife Megan, daughter Grace.

ACQUIRED: Signed as free agent, Dec. 22.

_ BRUCE LOWITT

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