What kind of a grade would you give Hal Morris 31 games into his first real American League season? Put it this way: With the Kansas City Royals he is batting better than his grade-point average at the University of Michigan.
"He had about a 3.75 grade-point average in biology," said his father, Bill, a pediatrician in Munster, Ind. "He was in the library until midnight every night when he was there, and playing ball."
Hal Morris was a pre-med student. He was going to follow in his father's footsteps. Baseball was going to be, well, fun while it lasted. It has lasted far longer than he imagined it would.
Morris, a 1983 Indiana All-Star at Munster High, was a walk-on at Michigan. "My junior year I got to play a lot and did all right," he said.
More than all right. He hit the books as well as the ball. In 1986 he was All-Big Ten. In 1985-86 he was academic All-Big Ten.
In 1986 the New York Yankees drafted him in the eighth round. He still had a way to go to get his degree in biology, but baseball was beckoning.
"It was something to do in the summer," Morris told the Kansas City Star. "I gave myself two or three years to get a read on everything. Realistically, I didn't think I'd be playing baseball that long.
"But then you get to Double A, and some of the guys you've been playing with start trickling up to the big leagues. I said, "Wow, I might be able to play up there.' "
What about college? He asked his father for advice.
"He said, "Sign with the Yankees. It'll be a good summer job. Then go back to Michigan in the fall and complete your work,' " Morris said. "And I did the first two years after I signed, and the third year I was in the big leagues."
After playing 15 games with the Yankees in 1988 and 15 more in '89, he was traded to Cincinnati. In 1990 Morris batted .340 in 107 games. In 1991 he came within one hit of winning the National League batting title. He needed to go 4-for-4 or 4-for-5 at San Diego to pass Atlanta's Terry Pendleton (.319); he was 3-for-4 and on deck when the game ended.
Morris, 32, brought a career .305 average into this season. But 1997 was one of his poorest: a .276 average and career lows of one home run and 33 RBI.
Fortunately for Morris, the Royals lost designated hitter Chili Davis to the Yankees through free agency. They signed Morris to a one-year contract.
"I've got a lot to prove, mainly to myself," he said during spring training. "Last year was very disappointing. I want to show that I can still play."
Morris has split his time three ways: as leftfielder, first baseman and DH. Wednesday at Toronto he hit his first AL home run.
"I do that every 12 months or so," he said after teammates presented him with the ball.
"From what I've seen of him, I think he can bat .300 and give us some run production," Royals manager Tony Muser said. "We're not looking for 30 home runs (Davis' 1997 total). We're just looking for him to put the ball in play."
That he has done, batting .405, second best in the American League. He has put college on the back burner.
"I'm 10 hours short of a diploma," Morris said. "I plan on taking another correspondence course this season, and I have to take a couple of labs, probably at the University of Central Florida." He and his family live in Orlando.
Then Morris plans to pursue an MBA. "I'm not going to stick around, bouncing from team to team," he said. "I'd like to play three or four more years and then go out on my own terms."
_ Information from other news organizations was used this report.