COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Jack Morris took center stage on Sunday afternoon with more than 50,000 fans in front of him and a pair of St. Paul baseball legends behind him.
While it’s arguable which of the two made him more nervous on this particular day, Morris said he couldn’t be prouder to be joining Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor as St. Paul natives in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
“I’m thrilled to join them both in Cooperstown as the third hall of famer from St. Paul,” Morris said late in his induction speech.
The three were born within five years of each other and within a few miles of each other. Winfield, 66, Morris, 63, and Molitor, 61, each made a name for themselves growing up and playing ball in St. Paul. They were the best of the best, and whenever they stepped on the diamond, the rest of the kids in the neighborhood knew it.
“Think about that,” Molitor said, pausing as he thought about how crazy it is that the trio is now in the Hall of Fame “A very small geographical area that produced three players who are part of baseball immortality.”
Morris never played with Winfield as a kid, though he had definitely had heard of him. Winfield’s reputation as a dominant pitcher for Central High School preceded him.
“He used to stride halfway to home plate and he grunted like a dragon,” Morris said. “It scared the crap out of people. I remember watching him pitch a game in American Legion when I was a kid. I went to a game over at Dunning Field to watch him pitch, and I’m going, ‘That’s different. I haven’t seen that.’ ”
Winfield went on to star for the University of Minnesota, with Morris and Molitor holding down the ballfields back in St. Paul.
“We played against each other probably from when we were 12 years old on up,” Morris said of Molitor. “He was a great athlete. His reputation back when I was a kid was, ‘There’s the best player in our town right there.’ ”
They rarely played each other in high school games — Morris at Highland Park High School; Molitor at Cretin-Derham Hall. Most of their battles came during the summer American Legion season.
“You knew it was going to be something because he was different than anybody else at that time,” Molitor said, noting how Morris was always a bit of an unknown on the mound — with noted control problems. “I remember him hitting a kid on our team in the face with a pitch. It was one of the ugliest things I’d seen at that level.”
As both players grew up, they went their separate ways, Morris blazing his own trail at Brigham Young University and Molitor staying home to play for the University of Minnesota.
After that, Winfield, Morris and Molitor wouldn’t cross paths again until nearly 20 years down the road, as teammates with the Toronto Blue Jays.
In Toronto, Morris and Winfield played together in 1992, and Morris and Molitor played together in 1993. The Blue Jays won the World Series both seasons with the kids from St. Paul playing a major role in the success.
Now the trio will live together forever in Cooperstown.
“We are all very proud of it,” Morris said. “I’m the last guy to join the group. It means a lot to all of us.”