SABR

Cy Morgan

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

There have been 36 major leaguers nicknamed Cy, and only one of them had the first name Cyrus (Cy Malis). There were three Cyrils and one Ceylon. The most notable Cy was, of course, Cy Young – and there were four Cy Youngs, though the actual first names of the four Cy Youngs were Denton, Charles, Harlan, and Irving.

Two of the Cys were Cy Morgans, and one of them was one of the Cyrils – Cyril Arlon Morgan, who pitched for Fred Mitchell’s Boston Braves in 1921 and 1922. The other Cy Morgan is the subject of this biography, Harry Richard Morgan.

A newspaper article from 1910 confusingly said Morgan was not a real Cy, declaring that “the custom in base ball … seems to be to give the nickname to real farmers, as in ‘Cy’ Young’s case, for instance, while the degree of ‘Rube’ is bestowed upon only make-believe farmers. Morgan is a real farmer, all right.”i

Harry was the fifth of seven known children born to the former Alwilda Brookes and her husband, William G. Morgan. William was a native of Wales, born to two Welsh parents. Alwilda’s parents both came from Pennsylvania, as did she. William Morgan worked as a carpenter in Pomeroy, Ohio, at the time of the 1880 census. It is in Pomeroy where Harry was born on November 10, 1878. His older brothers were William, Charles, and Harry; following him were Howard, Pearl, and Albert. Twenty years later, father William was still working as a carpenter. Pomeroy itself is about 70 miles north/northwest of Charleston, West Virginia, and had Harry not become a ballplayer, he might have gone into foundry work of one kind or another. In fact, during the time of his registration for the military draft at the time of the First World War, he was working in a foundry at Belmont, Ohio. In 1920 he was working as a heater in a tin mill, still living with his mother and his sister Pearl, a clerk in a steel mill, and their younger brother, Mattie (Albert), an ironworker doing bridge work.

But Harry Morgan did become a ballplayer. First he played locally for the Martin’s Ferry, West Virginia, team, and then is said to have played for the Wheeling Laundry Club in the West Virginia city in 1900. After playing more semipro ball in Charleston, West Virginia, earlier in 1901, he began his career in Organized Baseball playing for the Ilion, New York, team in 1901, according to his Sporting News obituary.ii He reported for duty on June 1.iii The first statistical record we find on Morgan shows him in 1903, appearing in 38 games in the New England League for the Fall River, Massachusetts, club, and it’s sparse. We have no won-lost record, and we see a batting average of .159. One game in particular stood out – he’d come on in relief during a 7-7 game against Manchester and took it to the 14th inning, when he struck out the side on nine pitches, then got on base himself and was driven in with the winning run.iv

Martin’s Ferry was the hometown of Dick Padden, who played for the St. Louis Browns from 1902 through 1905, and Wheeling native Jesse Burkett had played for the Browns from 1902 through 1904. That was said to have helped Morgan decide to sign with St. Louis.

There was at least one remarkable game for Morgan in 1903, against Manchester, in which he struck out all three men he faced on nine pitches – in the 14th inning.v  Before the season, he had married Idela May Burt, on January 20, 1903.

A week later, Sporting Life reported, “Pitcher Morgan, of Fall River, has blanked Lawrence, Nashua and New Bedford in the last three games he has pitched.” In the same issue – August 15 – it was reported that the Browns had purchased his contract (though his name was rendered as Ezra Morgan, as it frequently was over the years). By the beginning of September, he had five New England League shutouts to his credit. It was said he might “develop into a second Barney Pelty. … [Browns manager Jimmy] McAleer knows him well, as does Madden, and both prophesy a brilliant future for him.”vi (Pelty was a Browns pitcher known for his excellent curveball.)

McAleer used Morgan in two September games for St. Louis, his compete-game debut on the 18th and in relief in another game. He was charged with the loss in both, allowing six earned runs (and six that were not) in 13 innings of work. Morgan also pitched in a postseason city series against the Cardinals.

Morgan started the 1904 season with St. Louis, but was again 0-2 in 51 innings. In mid-June the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association secured the rights to him for the rest of the season and he was 12-9 in 184 innings – heavy use for a little more than half a season. St. Louis reacquired his contract after the season, and by the end of the year, McAleer announced that Morgan had mastered the spitball.vii

It was in 1905 that we find the first reference to Morgan being called “Cy,” when he pitched in a preseason game against the Cardinals. Again he began the season with the Browns and notched his first two wins in the big leagues, but he was 2-5 after 77⅓ innings of work, and in mid-July the Browns turned him over to the Indianapolis club. He was 7-8 for Indianapolis – one of those wins (on July 25 against Columbus) he won 1-0, thanks to his own home run in the bottom of the eighth. Once more he was picked up by St. Louis after the season.

Morgan returned to the American Association in 1906, and spent the full season with St. Paul, his third American Association team in three years. He became a 20-game winner, with a 22-12 season. Come September, St. Louis bought his contract back yet again.

In mid-August the Boston Americans wanted to change up their pitching staff. They sold pitcher Frank Oberlin to the Washington Senators and bought Morgan’s contract from the Browns on August 1. He had been 2-5 with St. Louis in 55 innings of work with a 6.05 ERA. He hadn’t been a fan favorite. A newspaper report from 1911 said that McAleer “was certain that Morgan had the stuff to stick in fast company, but the [St. Louis] fans refused to be convinced of the fact. Just as soon as Morgan would step on the rubber, the crowd would get after him, and it would not be very long until he was on the way to the clubhouse. It became evident to McAleer that Morgan would never do as a St. Louis player, and he was sold to the Boston Americans.”viii

The change of scenery may have done some good; Morgan was 6-6 for Boston, but with a 1.97 earned-run average– two points better than new teammate Cy Young’s 1.99 ERA. The Bostons were a better team in 1907 than in 1906, but still finished 59-90. Two of Morgan’s wins were 1-0 victories over his old team: the August 18 game in St. Louis and the October 3 game in Boston, a victory that ended Boston’s 18-game losing streak.

For the next five seasons there was no shuttling back and forth to the minor leagues. In 1908 Cy was 14-13 for the newly named Boston Red Sox, with a 2.46 ERA. The Red Sox probably couldn’t have been much happier about the former Browns castoff. His 14 wins were second on the team, only to Cy Young’s 21.

Morgan wasn’t afraid to confront even as august a ballplayer as Ty Cobb. After he had the temerity to strike out Cobb twice in the same game, the Georgia Peach took exception. It happened on August 14 in Boston. Ty and Cy “mixed it up on the grounds … although, after it was over, all of the players agreed that no blows really were struck, they admitted that only physical force had kept them apart. Morgan had struck Cobb out in the third inning, with the bases full, and had repeated the stunt in the seventh. As Cobb started out into the field he passed Morgan and addressed to him a foul remark. Morgan was twenty feet away, but he dropped his glove and dashed forward with fists upraised. Cobb saw him coming, and he also sprang forward. Stahl [Red Sox first baseman Jake] and Coughlin [Tigers third sacker Bill] saw the impending trouble, and before the crowd gathered all four of them were mixed up. Umpire [Billy] Evans also took a hand and got the men separated. There are hard feelings between the Boston players, who say Cobb has treated them unfairly in rough playing.”ix

Cobb may have been incensed at being so badly fooled by a new pitch Morgan was said to have developed – a “freak bender” more effective than his spitball. Morgan called his new pitch the “follow ball.” He now had two different curveballs working from almost the same delivery. “The ball is held like a straight drop, which goes off the ends of the fingers, but in the delivery the pitcher, with a sidearm motion, snaps his hand around and the ball leaves the second finger as in the manner of throwing an incurve. The ball twirls around like a floater, but carries with considerably more speed. When the ball reaches the plate it takes a tremendous drop. Morgan’s second follow ball discovery is even more mystifying than the drop ball. This ball is of the in-drop variety and has a two-foot break at the plate. The only time Morgan used the follow ball in a game was on Detroit’s last visit here. With the bases full and Crawford and Cobb coming up Morgan faced a situation that would have sent most twirlers on an aerial flight. But he struck out both men with the new curve.”x

Morgan had other talents as well. In Sporting Life’s “American League Notes,” readers were informed that “Bostonese say that pitcher Ezra Morgan, of Taylor’s ‘Red Sox,’ is a better minstrel man than catcher Charlie Dooin, of the Phillies. He is an end man with the Hi Henry Minstrels, has a fine baritone voice and much natural humor.”xi

There had been a couple of big personal losses for Morgan in 1908. His father died in February and his three-months-old baby died at the end of June.xii

Morgan had a hard time, or some hard luck, getting going in 1909. He was 2-6 after his first 12 appearances, though his earned-run average was just 2.37. Two of the losses were 1-0 games, there was a 3-2 defeat and one by a 4-3 score. His two wins were both against Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics and Mack biographer Norman Macht writes, “Mack figured if they couldn’t beat him, they might as well trade for him.” Macht adds that the Red Sox weren’t happy about Morgan’s continuing to experiment with new pitches “or his attitude on defense. When a ball was hit to the first baseman, Morgan stood and watched instead of covering first base.”xiii

Apparently Morgan was a little moody as well: “During the long train rides, Morgan might entertain his teammates with song and dance routines, but he woke up mean and grouchy. One morning in a Chicago hotel he thought the service was too slow. He picked up all the silverware on the table and threw it into an electric fan.”xiv

On June 5 the Athletics did get Morgan, for $3,500 and pitcher Victor “Biff” Schlitzer, who was 0-3 at the time. Morgan had been too “erratic, having too many wild pitches and proving unsteady at critical times in the game. Lately he had been falling off in his work instead of improving, and has not been showing the proper interest for a team hustling for everything in sight.”xv

Biff was 4-4 for Boston, but Cy was 16-11 with a 1.65 ERA for Philadelphia. The Athletics finished just 3½ games behind the first-place Tigers. Schlitzer spent the next four years in the minor leagues before a brief reprise in the Federal league in 1914. Though Cy Morgan showed up for spring training out of condition in 1910, he rectified that and was 18-12 for the Athletics that season, with a 1.55 earned-run average. His ERA was even more impressive in that he had given 135 batters a free pass to first base, leading the league in bases on balls (117) and batters hit by pitch (18). And the Athletics won the pennant by 14½ games over second-place New York.

On September 17 Morgan was slightly injured while traveling with teammates on his way to Bennett Park in Detroit. The horse-drawn bus in which they were riding was struck by a “big interurban car.” It was a narrow call: “But for prompt action on the part of the motorman, serious injuries would have resulted. He put on his reverse, while the driver checked his horses. The car glanced off the front of the bus, smashing part of it and scaring the players into loss of 10 years’ existence. Morgan leaped to the street in his cleated shoes, and slightly strained his ankle, while the others got out the door and windows without injury.”xvi

The Athletics won the 1910 World Series over Chicago, four games to one. Morgan did not pitch in the Series – in fact, no one did other than Jack Coombs and Chief Bender. With five complete games between them, Coombs was 3-0 and Bender was 1-1, though Bender’s ERA was almost a full run and a half better than Coombs’. Mack didn’t feel he needed any other pitchers, not even for an inning in relief. After the season Morgan turned to vaudeville in Martin’s Ferry, and was added to the Keith’s theater circuit for a quite satisfactory $300 per week.xvii

Come spring training, Morgan wrote some articles from Hot Springs for the Baltimore Sun.

In 1911 the Athletics repeated as world champions, over the New York Giants. This time, Eddie Plank got in on the action, but Mack never felt the need to ask anyone else to pitch other than Coombs, Bender and Plank. During the regular season, Morgan had been 15-7 with a 2.70 ERA. He started 30 games. Perhaps his most impressive relief outings came on August 19, 1911, when he came into a scoreless game (Plank had got himself ejected) and threw seven innings of relief, for a 3-1 win in 13 innings in Chicago. He again kept batters from digging into the box that season, leading the American League with 21 hit batsmen, and for the second year in a row hadn’t allowed a home run. In his ten years and 210 games, he allowed only 18 homers.

After the 1911 World Series Bender, Coombs and Morgan launched a vaudeville skit in Atlantic City and then brought the show to Keith’s in Philadelphia.xviii The show may not have been tasteful by today’s standards; there is reference to Morgan singing “coon songs” and giving “an imitation of an Irishman telling stories in negro [sic] dialect.”xix The Philadelphia North American, though, told of the opening night at Young’s Hotel in Atlantic City when Bender, Coombs, and Morgan were in the lobby waiting to cross the boardwalk to the pier where their show was to be staged. The hotel manager had just registered a guest from the South, who saw the three men when he went to head for his room. “He immediately wheeled about and returned to the desk, bringing his fist down with a bang. ‘See here, I won’t stop at a place like this,’ he thundered. … The Southern man used entirely different words, but the substance of them was that he wouldn’t linger in a caravansary that had among its guests a person of color. ‘Why that man’s an Indian,’ smiled [the manager]. ‘He’s Chief Bender, of the World’s Champion Athletics. The best is none too good for him.’ The Southern man looked as cheap as cold potatoes. He inquired for the bar and asked Manager Walsh to accompany him.”xx

Morgan reportedly did some motion picture work as well.xxi

The year 1912 started well – with a one-hitter against Washington on April 12 – but Morgan pitched in only 16 games, throwing 93⅔ innings, with a record of 3-8 and a 3.75 ERA. On July 15 he was released to the Kansas City Blues. Connie Mack called him in that morning and said, “I told you if you didn’t win yesterday that you would be hunting another job. That is what I meant. Now you better start looking for another berth and be sure you deliver the goods.”xxii

Morgan decided he would not go west, and said he could make more money pitching for independent league clubs near his home in Martin’s Ferry.xxiii He let it be known that he wanted to buy his release from his contract, and meanwhile worked as a special policeman in the Pennsylvania coalfields. But in 1913 he ultimately reported to Kansas City and pitched well for the Blues, appearing in 29 games with a 15-8 record, winning ten games in a row at one point. He also got hit with a $25 fine for using “bad language” in a game and refusing to promptly leave the field when ejected.xxiv

In late August Morgan’s contract was sold to Cincinnati for a reported $10,000, yet he was damaged goods by this time and the Reds later complained. He threw all of 2⅓ innings in one game, giving up four earned runs. They were his last innings in the majors. Morgan himself agreed that his badly strained arm had been in bad shape for five weeks before the transaction, and that the Reds knew it. Cincinnati had put up only part of the purchase price in cash and sought relief from the National Commission.xxv Morgan was ordered returned to Kansas City, with Cincinnati getting its money back.xxvi He himself was not fully satisfied, and he wrote Cincinnati team president August Herrmann (who also happened to be the president of the National Commission) that he sought payment from Cincinnati for 35 days’ salary (at $13.88 per day) for a total of $485.80.xxvii

Morgan’s arm recovered enough for him to pitch for the Blues in 1914, but he was 6-10 with a 5.08 ERA. In late July he was given his unconditional release and thought about taking a job in the Federal League but wound up by August 1 pitching for Denver in the Class A Western League. He was 5-7 for Denver with an even-higher 5.42 ERA.

Morgan’s last year as a pitcher came in 1915, when he worked for the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association. He was 4-1 in seven games, but was released on May 21, perhaps because of the 29 walks and 26 hits he’d allowed in 24 innings. The Pels may have felt Morgan was living on borrowed time and luck. He was soon picked up by Wheeling, and then almost immediately by Dallas, where he reversed the won-lost figures with a 1-4 record in the Class B Texas League. It seemed as if he was all over the place. Another report had Morgan pitching a complete game for Muskogee in June. He’d also gone to Tulsa, but hadn’t succeeded there. By August, however, he had found another calling, accepting work as an umpire in the Western League. This work endured and Morgan started a second career. He worked for 23 years umpiring in the minor leagues – the Western League, the Southern Association, the Sally League, the Piedmont, Southeastern, Eastern, Mississippi Valley, and New York-Penn Leagues, until 1938, the year he hit 70, when he retired from baseball. Ten of those years were spent as chief of umpires in the Piedmont League and umpires Morgan helped train included prominent major-league arbiters Cal Hubbard and Larry Goetz. While umpiring in the Texas-Oklahoma League, he said, he had written his old Browns batterymate Branch Rickey about an up-and-coming infielder named Rogers Hornsby.xxviii

Morgan took a position with the Patuxent River (Maryland) Naval Air Base. During the Second World War he worked as a guard on docks in New York.xxix

A couple of years before Morgan’s death, a lengthy newspaper article said that he was getting by on his monthly Social Security check, thanks in part to a generous landlord, but at age 81 was without a pension from baseball.

Morgan died in Wheeling, West Virginia, on June 28, 1962, though he’d been reported dead as early as 1931, when another Morgan died in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Morgan’s player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

i Unattributed newspaper clipping dated September 15, 1910, and found in Morgan’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

ii The Sporting News, July 14, 1962. The newspaper misspelled the village name as Ilino. The information regarding earlier baseball comes from an unattributed newspaper clipping in Morgan’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Wheeling Laundry work is confirmed by the Philadelphia Public Ledger of July 18, 1915.

iii Sporting Life, June 8, 1901.

iv Undated Wheeling, West Virginia, newspaper article from approximately 1960, in Morgan’s Hall of Fame player file.

v Sporting Life, August 3, 1903.

vi Sporting Life, September 5, 1903.

vii Sporting Life, November 14, 1904.

viii Unattributed newspaper clipping dated 1911, and found in Morgan’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

ix Sporting Life, August 22, 1908. See also the Washington Post, August 15, 1908.

x Sporting Life, September 5, 1908.

xi Sporting Life, January 25, 1908. That August Morgan let it be known he would indeed go on tour with a minstrel show after the season ended. See Sporting Life, August 15, 1908.

xii Washington Post, June 24, 1908.

xiii Norman Macht, Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007), 445.

xiv Macht, Connie Mack, 445-6.

xv Boston Globe, June 6, 1909.

xvi Sporting Life, September 24, 1910.

xvii Sporting Life, December 10, 1910.

xviii Macht, Connie Mack, 546.

xix Sporting Life, January 6, 1912.

xx Sporting Life, November 25, 1911.

xxi Washington Post, December 17, 1912.

xxii Unattributed newspaper clipping datelined Philadelphia on July 15, 1912, and found in Morgan’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

xxiii Sporting Life, July 27, 1912.

xxiv New York Times, May 16, 1913.

xxv Sporting Life, September 23, 1913.

xxvi New York Times, September 17, 1913.

xxvii Letter to August Herrmann dated December 2, 1913, found in Morgan’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

xxviii Undated Wheeling, West Virginia, newspaper article from approximately 1960, in Morgan’s Hall of Fame player file.

xxix The listing of leagues in which Morgan umpired, and his post-baseball work all appear in his obituary in The Sporting News, July 14, 1962.

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