It may be the only time it happened that two players from Connecticut are on the same team in a World Series. Since our state is not the beneficiary of balmy temperatures all twelve months a year, like Florida and California, or even the majority of the year as in other locations, like Texas and Arizona, we have never been known to produce a large percentage of baseball pros. That’s why the joining of Charlie Morton and George Springer as two of the twenty-five members of the current Houston Astros roster is all the more remarkable.
Springer had the winning two-run homer in Game #2 against the Dodgers, which some think was arguably the most exciting and unusual game in World Series history.
Morton hurled five shutout innings, allowing only two hits, and was the starting and winning pitcher when Houston beat the Yankees in game #5 of the American League championship series.
A few weeks ago, during the semi-final playoffs between the Astros and the Red Sox, we wrote the Connecticut story of George Springer. We could have included Charlie Morton as well, but, frankly, he slipped under the radar. In fact, until World Series TV announcer Joe Buck mentioned that Morton grew up in Connecticut where his favorite team was the Yankees, relatively few baseball fans in our neck of the woods had ever even heard about him.
After all, aside from those from his hometowns of Trumbull and Redding, Morton was, at best, just an up and down major leaguer who toiled for four teams, Pittsburgh, Houston, Philadelphia and now Houston, all in the National League. He recently came into the national sports spotlight in the game against the Yankees that turned out to be Joe Girardi’s finale as the New York manager.
Charlie Morton “adopted” by Connecticut
Although Morton was born in Flemington, New Jersey, his family moved to Connecticut at an early age, and he was raised first in Trumbull then in Redding.
According to Dan Martin of Milford, a former Trumbull resident, Morton preceded him by several years in elementary school, Tashua School on Stonehouse Road, and then Madison Middle School on Madison Avenue, both in Trumbull. One of Martin’s teachers at Tashua told Martin of the wonderful impression Morton made on her while he was her student.
As a schoolboy Morton got an early start in organized baseball when, at the age of 14, he pitched in an AAU tournament in Kissimmee, Fla.
Joel Barlow High School
After the family moved to Redding, Morton was enrolled at Joel Barlow High School where he played baseball all four years. He was originally on the junior varsity when Coach Jeff Brown approached him in the school cafeteria. The coach told him “you’re going to play with us today,” Morton recalled.
“It was like I got called up,” he said.
Morton pitched the rest of his four years on the varsity, where the Falcons competed in the old South-West Conference. In his final year, he had a 1.18 ERA and 78 strikeouts and the team reached the CIAC Class M tournament. His fastball was timed then at 92 to 93 mph and scouts projected that in a few years it would reach the mid-90s. Throughout his senior year at Joel Barlow he averaged two strikeouts but one walk per inning.
“I’m pretty sure the first home run I ever gave up in my life, I gave up to a guy from Masuk, my freshman year,” he said. “At Masuk, it’s like 400 feet to left field – at least in my mind it is – and it was a bomb. I remember when we played Masuk, I felt like we were playing the Yankees.”
In his senior year from 20 to 30 scouts came each game to see him throw, measuring the speed of his pitches with radar guns. Baseball was certainly his goal by then. He even put a batting cage and mound in his basement to practice in bad weather.
The assistant coach at the time was Mike Santangeli, who is now the athletic director at the school.
Santangeli told Julia Perkins of the Connecticut Post recently (Oct. 22, 2017) “Morton was an exceptional player. He was just a really easy-going, great teammate. . . . just a really kind, polite, nice young man who could throw 92 mph.
“With all his gifts, with all his ability, he was always just one of the guys on the team. He never walked around with any kind of aura as far as wanting attention. He just wanted to pitch, be part of the team.”
Draft day in 2002
Late in his final year at Barlow the Major League’s amateur draft took place, and Morton was on edge.
“All my friends came over and my grandparents were there and my parents were there. I was just listening on the computer. The first round went by and the second round went by and the third round was going on. I knew there were a couple of teams that were really interested. I knew the Braves were one of them, so when the Braves’ pick came up in the third round, we were listening, and I think they said ‘From Joel Barlow High School in Redding, Connecticut, the Braves select Charles Morton.’ Everybody just started screaming. It was unbelievable.”
Many injuries, surgeries, and stints on the disabled list
The ten-year career as a pro that followed has been dominated by more than a fair share of injuries. They led to a pair of hip operations, Tommy John surgery and repair of a torn hamstring. Until this year he spent long periods on the disabled list and two of his seasons were cut short almost from the start.
After the Braves called him up to the majors he earned the win in his first game on June 14, 2008, an interleague contest in Los Angeles against the Angels. He allowed five hits and three runs in six innings in a 9-4 victory.
He played for the Braves the rest of 2008 before being traded to the Pirates in 2009, where he remained through 2015. During that time he fell to his low point when he started 2010 with a 1-9 record and an astronomical 9.35 ERA. It was the worst beginning for any pitcher in 10 years.
He went on the disabled list with shoulder fatigue, was demoted to the minors and spent most of the summer with Triple-A Indianapolis.
The following year, 2011, he showed great improvement in his first 10 starts, compiling a 5-2 record and a 2.51 ERA, the fourth best at the time in the National League.
“It was tough being here and struggling and not doing my job. When they sent me down it was kind of like a breath of fresh air because it was like, ‘You’re going to go down and you’re going to work on stuff and we’re going to change some things,’” was his reaction.
So Morton tinkered with his delivery and lowered his arm angle to about three-quarters instead of straight over the top.
He then pitched in the winter in the Dominican Republic. It was an educational experience.
“After games, kids were coming up asking us for water, whereas here they’re asking for an autograph or a ball or something like that.” (CT Post 6-5-11)
On June 3, 2009, the Braves traded Morton to the Pittsburgh Pirates. After the 2015 season he was dealt to Philadelphia and made four starts with the Phillies. Bad luck continued shortly after the start of the 2016 season when he suffered a torn hamstring and again was out for the year.
Philadelphia gave him an unconditional release leading to a big break as Charlie then signed a free agent contract with the Astros last November. He probably never believed that in a year he would be on a World Series roster.
Gained the spotlight this fall
This past October 16th Morton started Game #3 of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium. He lost it, however, giving up seven runs in 3.2 innings. But a few days later, October 21st, he was given the ball again by manager A. J. Hinch in Game #7 of the ALCS at Minute Maid Park. He rewarded his skipper, the team, and its fans by pitching five shutout innings with five strikeouts, sending the Astros to the World Series.
Santangeli, his former assistant coach at Joel Barlow, was probably conflicted as he followed that Astros-Yankees game on television. Although Santangeli is a Yankees fan he said “I’m so proud of him. We all are.”
Morton does not hide the fact that, like Santangeli, he also rooted for the Yankees as a teenager. He told the Houston Chronicle after the Astros defeated the Yanks for a World Series berth that “I really tried not to think about it (being a Yankees fan). I was just trying to focus on making pitches and having faith in the guys behind me. It was such a great team win.”
Pitched against the Dodgers before
Facing the Dodgers, as he is almost certain to do in this World Series, will not be a new experience for Morton. He had spent all the Major League portions of the previous nine years of his career, pitching in the National League, including 2011 when he went 10-10 with a 3.97 ERA with the Pirates. Now that he is on the Astros he is playing in the American League for the first time.
Charlie made 25 starts this season, had a 14-7 record, with a 3.62 ERA in 146 2/3 innings. By starting in the Astros’ third-to-last game of the regular season against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, the 6-5, 235 pound right-hander finished with $625,000 bonus money in addition to his $7 million base salary for the year, not too bad for a kid who grew up in Trumbull and Redding, Connecticut, or anywhere else for that matter.
The Astros have Morton under contract for next season for another $7 million plus bonuses. He can make up to $625,000 more for hitting each of the 15, 20, 25, and 30-start benchmarks in 2018.
The Connecticut Connection of Morton-Springer should continue
George Springer, who hit 34 regular season home runs, and the deciding one against the Dodgers in the second game of the World Series, will, of course, be back, and Charlie Morton has another year remaining on his two-year deal.
Together they should enable the Houston Astros to repeat as “Connecticut’s Team” in Major League Baseball.
This past summer Charlie Morton was selected by his teammates as the Astros’ nominee for the “Bob Feller Act of Valor Award.” It is given each year on Veterans Day to a player who actively supports servicemen and servicewomen. Morton was recognized for hosting veterans from the Wounded Warrior project at Astros games during each homestand.
In addition to Morton, others in the running for the award include Jacob deGrom (Mets), Mike Dunn (Rockies), Ian Kennedy (Royals), Corey Kluber (Indians), Jimmy Nelson (Brewers), Dave Robertson (Yankees), Craig Stammen (Padres), and Hunter Strickland (Giants).
The Award is named for Bob Feller, who won 266 games for the Cleveland Indians and was the first American pro athlete to volunteer for combat service the day after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor.
Connecticut fans will shortly have a rooting interest in another competition involving Charlie Morton.