Dan Morgan was inducted into the University of Minnesota “M Club” Hall of Fame for athletic achievement on September 20, 2012. It had been over 35 years since his last baseball game for the Golden Gophers, yet he “is remembered as one of the Gophers‘ all-time great pitchers.”1 He was the only right-handed pitcher in the nation to be named First Team All-American in 1977, the last time Minnesota appeared in the College World Series. He stood 6’4”, and his “submarine” pitching style was devastatingly hard to hit, especially for right-handed batters. According to his “M Club” biography, “Morgan still ranks second in school history in career ERA (1.97), tied for sixth in wins (21) and is ninth in career strikeouts (198). He is also tied for fourth in school history in wins in a season (10, 1976 and 1977) and sixth in strikeouts (93 in 1977).”2 The “M Club” award was given posthumously; it had been over 16 years since his untimely death at age 40 in 1996.
Daniel Charles Morgan was born on February 9, 1956, in Superior, Wisconsin. He was the second of three children born to Art and Alice “Kay” (Williams) Morgan, and was of Irish, English, French and Slavic descent. After their parents divorced, Dan and his older brother Michael and younger sister Mary had limited contact with their father, who was a firefighter. Kay married Art Hargrave in 1965, and the children were joined by a fourth sibling, Kathy “Kate” Hargrave in 1966.
Located at the northwestern tip of Wisconsin, Superior is a Lake Superior port city with an industrial past. At the turn of the previous century, Superior was the state’s second-largest city and its population peaked at 40,384 in 1910. There were well over 30,000 residents during Morgan’s youth, and the city has maintained a size of just over 27,000 since the 1980s. Superior’s most famous sons in sports are Pro Football Hall of Fame members Bud Grant and Ernie Nevers. Morrie Arnovich, a 1939 All-Star outfielder for the Philadelphia Phillies, was a native son – Superior’s ball field is named in his honor – and National Baseball Hall of Fame shortstop Dave Bancroft called Superior home as well. The list of major league players born in Superior is short: Arnovich (1936-1946), Kris Benson (1999-2010) and Russ Ennis (1926). Nevers pitched in the major leagues from 1926 to 1928, but he was born in Willow River, Minnesota.
Morgan was a “straight-A” student from a family of modest income. His step-father was frequently absent because he was a cook for the Great Lakes Fleet, the freighters that carry taconite pellets from the Twin Ports of Superior and neighboring Duluth, Minnesota, to the steel mills of the lower Great Lakes. His mother provided in-home day care until she qualified for Supplemental Security Income due to a heart condition. The marriage to Hargrave had been annulled prior to his death in 1971 from cirrhosis of the liver. Morgan was 15 when his stepfather died, and he turned to his high school coaches for mentorship. There is a family story about a new pair of size 13 basketball shoes appearing on the doorstep for Morgan, purchased by a “guardian angel.”
In 1974, Morgan’s senior year of high school, he was under the tutelage of basketball coach Don Olson. The Superior Senior High School Spartans captured a state tournament berth for the first – and only, to date – time in school history. The school was created in 1965 when Superior Central and Superior East consolidated. The last team from Superior to have participated in the state tournament was Central in 1963. The Spartans faced Burlington in the opening round of the 1974 Class A tournament at the University of Wisconsin. Morgan, who averaged 11 points per game going into the tournament, tied Mike Stack as the team’s high scorers with 19 points each as Superior crushed Burlington, 71-55. Morgan contributed 11 points in the 69-54 victory over Green Bay Southwest in the semifinals that set up the state championship game against undefeated and heavily favored Milwaukee Lincoln. Stack hit a jump shot at the buzzer to send the game into overtime, tied at 61-61. Morgan had a crucial steal and scored three points as Superior steamrolled Lincoln 13-3 in the extra session to win the state championship, 74-67. Morgan finished with 13 points. It was the first state championship in boys’ basketball for Superior since Central won it all in 1936, and it capped off a remarkable winter sports season for the school as the hockey team also won a state championship.
His high school baseball coach was former minor league player Ron Orlandi. Superior enjoyed a streak of successful baseball teams during Morgan’s youth, as Central went to state in 1965, its last season, and the Spartans earned state tournament berths in 1966, 1969, and 1970 before Morgan joined the team as a sophomore in 1972, another state tournament year. Morgan had a 6-1 win-loss record as a 10th grader and was the starting pitcher in the state quarterfinals game against Madison West. The score was tied, 2-2, through 10 innings when he was relieved due to a state tournament rule stating a pitcher could not pitch more than 10 innings in a game. Superior lost, 7-4, in 12 innings.
His junior year, 1973, was his most dominant season as a prep athlete. He posted a 12-1 record and a 0.09 ERA with 151 strikeouts in 73 innings pitched, and he had three no-hitters. Superior again reached the state tournament in 1973 and this time Morgan got better run support in his quarterfinals start, an 8-1 win over Milwaukee Custer. He threw a one-hitter with 14 strikeouts. As a first baseman, Morgan got one of the team’s three hits in their 3-0 semifinals loss to Madison East.
In 1974, Superior lost the section championship game to Hudson by a score of 4-0. Morgan was the losing pitcher but none of the runs were earned. Hudson got seven hits; Morgan had only allowed nine hits all season prior to the game. In one of the two no-hitters he threw that season, a Duluth Morgan Park batter flied out to the outfield, “which is the first time this feat has been accomplished against Morgan in his four starts,” the Superior Telegram reported.3 He was 6-2 with a 0.52 ERA as a senior. Between 1972 and 1974, he posted a combined record of 48-8 – identical 24-4 records – for Superior’s high school and American Legion teams, and had 552 strikeouts in 374 innings pitched for the two teams.
Morgan was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 14th round of the 1974 Major League Baseball June Amateur Draft, and had scholarship offers from Arkansas, Minnesota and Wisconsin. He chose to attend the University of Minnesota to play for former major leaguer Dick Siebert. One American Legion game that drew a big crowd was played in Superior on July 1, 1974, as Morgan faced Hermantown (Minn.) High School’s Jerry Ujdur, who was pitching for the Proctor (Minn.) Legion team. Morgan and Ujdur would soon be teammates at Minnesota, and Ujdur went on to become a major league pitcher for Detroit and Cleveland. Superior won, 9-1.
The “submarine” pitching style was developed when he was 13 years old. A knee ailment prevented him from competing in sports for a year. “There was nothing to do except throw a baseball against a wall or play catch. That got boring so I tried experimenting with different stuff – and I was amazed how the ball did so many different things by throwing it from down so low,” he told the St. Paul Dispatch.4 Siebert equated the motion to that of Ewell Blackwell, a pitcher for Cincinnati in the 1940s. “That's the way he (Morgan) threw when I first scouted him, that's the way he threw when he came here and he's always thrown that way; I don't plan on changing him,” Siebert said.5
He was a two-time All-Big Ten Conference selection for the Gophers, and he played alongside future major league players such as Ujdur, Steve Comer, and National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Paul Molitor, the Gophers' other All-America selection in 1977. Ken Mauer, an NBA referee and cousin of Joe Mauer, was also a teammate. “During his All-America senior season in 1977, Morgan was nearly unhittable, posting an ERA of 1.56 in 94.2 innings and went a perfect 10-0 in 16 games with six complete games. This bested his previous year, when as a junior Morgan had gone 10-2 in 14 games with a 1.67 ERA in 79.2 innings pitched.6
In the 1977 College World Series, Morgan was the winning pitcher in Minnesota's only win of the tournament, an 11-inning, 4-3 victory over Baylor in the losers' bracket. Morgan worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the 10th inning when Fritzie Connally grounded out with a count of three balls and one strike, but then the game was suspended due to a rainstorm. Upon resumption the following day, Minnesota scored in the 11th and Brian Denman pitched a perfect inning in relief for the save. The resumed game took 12 minutes to complete.
The Montreal Expos selected Morgan in the 15th round of the 1977 Major League Baseball June Amateur Draft. He left Minnesota following his junior year to sign with the Expos, and earned a win in his professional debut on June 23, 1977, for the Jamestown (N.Y.) Expos of the New York-Pennsylvania League. He threw four innings of shutout relief with six strikeouts as the Expos defeated the Batavia (N.Y.) Trojans, 5-2. He led Jamestown, a short-season Class A club, in wins (8), innings pitched (79.0), and strikeouts (85) in 1977; he also made three starts for the Class AA Quebec Metros that year. Montreal had him on a fast track to the major league club, and sent him to Puerto Rico for winter league play. However, in an all-too-familiar story, the continuous pitching in professional baseball took its toll and he developed a rotator cuff injury that was not given the proper attention to heal.
He was back with Jamestown in 1978 and appeared in nine games before moving on to the West Palm Beach (Fla.) Expos, a Class A team, for 10 appearances. His statistics reflect the shoulder injury; he posted a combined 9.19 ERA for the two clubs. The 1978 season was his last in professional baseball.
Morgan returned to the University of Minnesota and graduated with a degree in physical therapy in 1981. He co-founded the Two Rivers Center, a sports orthopedics clinic located in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, with Donn Berkeland in 1981. He married Valerie Phelps in 1983; she also worked at Two Rivers. They were divorced in 1989. Morgan sold his interest in Two Rivers to Berkeland in 1991, and spent 10 weeks in New Zealand in 1992 studying spine physical therapy at the McKenzie Institute. He became a certified athletic trainer in 1993, the same year he became a faculty member of the McKenzie Institute. Morgan was inspired to become a physical therapist after his arm injury to assist others in the prevention and treatment of athletic injuries.
Morgan was a world-traveler. An avid bicyclist, he participated in many long-distance races and tours, including tours of western Montana, the “Ride the Rockies” race in Colorado, the Grand Canyon to Zion National Park, the Grand Canyon to the Mexican border, the Oregon coast, and a three-week tour of Belgium, France, Monaco, Italy, and Switzerland. While in New Zealand, he bungee-jumped off Skipper's Canyon Bridge in Queenstown. He scuba-dived the Great Barrier Reef and in the Red Sea. In 1993, Morgan and former Minnesota Twins player Tom Johnson traveled to Israel as instructors for a youth baseball clinic. He served as a divorce facilitator as a member of the Church of the Open Door, did mission work in Zagreb, Croatia, in 1994, and was active in the Prison Fellowship Organization in Richfield, Minnesota.
In February 1996, Morgan experienced flu-like symptoms. He was hospitalized within a few weeks and diagnosed with endocarditis, an inflammation of the inner layer of the heart. He had inherited a genetic anomaly, mitral valve prolapse, from his mother's side of the family. Morgan underwent open-heart surgery to replace the valve on April 11. While still on antibiotics, he was the best man in his sister Mary's wedding on April 27, but was soon hospitalized again due to an episode of syncope (fainting) while helping friends move into a new house. He was diagnosed with tachycardia, an abnormally fast heart rate, and put on medication. Dan Morgan died on May 31, 1996. He was at his home in Coon Rapids, alone, sweeping out his garage when he fainted. The cause of death was determined to be cardiorespiratory complications of mitral valvular disease.
Since his death, his legacy has remained essential to the spirit of Minnesota baseball. His teammates and the baseball program’s Dugout Club established the Dan Morgan Golf Open as a fundraiser in 1997. The event celebrated its 16th anniversary on August 14, 2012, and has risen over $125,000 in his memory.
Morgan’s sister Mary and brother Mike were present to accept his induction into the “M Club” Hall of Fame. Morgan’s friend, Jon Gallop, said, “It would mean so much to him and he’s so deserving of it. He represents the university, he represented them with class. He was a great player on the field but it was his way off the field that left people really in awe of him even more than his athletic prowess.”7
Paul Molitor said, “I’m very grateful to the university and the powers that be (that) have decided to… allow Dan to be recognized in the Minnesota hall of fame. I think the Minnesota hall of fame is about people who accomplished a great deal, but also who are tremendous people, and Dan fits both those criteria very well.”8
The Dan Morgan Memorial Scholarship Committee has awarded a scholarship to a Superior High School graduating senior student-athlete every year since 1997. The brochure for the scholarship describes Morgan: “He dedicated his life to sports, his career, family, friends, and helping others grow physically and spiritually. He did so with generosity, grace, and humor.”9
“Morgan Uncorks No-Hitter,” Superior Telegram, n.d.
Wong, Greg. “Morgan uses 'Submarine' to sink U foes,” St. Paul Dispatch, April 25, 1975
Duda, Marty, “U hurler baffles batters with 'underhanded' style,” Minnesota Daily, n.d.
Riggs, Jim, “Expos' 'Submarine' Arrives, sinks Batavia 5-2,” Jamestown Post-Journal, June 24, 1977
Duluth News Tribune
University of Minnesota “M Club” Hall of Fame, Class of 2012 DVD
Morgan, Mary. Email correspondence and interviews with author on several dates.
Gallop, Jon. Email correspondence with author.
3“Morgan Uncorks No-Hitter,” Superior Telegram, n.d.
4Greg Wong, “Morgan uses 'submarine' to sink U foes,” St. Paul Dispatch, April 25, 1975
5Marty Duda, “U hurler baffles batters with 'underhanded' style,” Minnesota Daily, n.d.
7University of Minnesota “M Club” Hall of Fame Class of 2012 DVD
9The Dan Morgan Memorial Scholarship Committee