Kevin Morton (TRADING CARD DB)

Kevin Morton

This article was written by Bill Nowlin

Kevin Morton (TRADING CARD DB)Left-hander Kevin Morton’s time in the big leagues was brief but showed considerable promise. A first-round pick of the Boston Red Sox in June 1989, he debuted in the majors just over two years later with a complete-game 10-1 five-hitter at Fenway Park against the Detroit Tigers. He won six games in the four months he was with the team, but he never made it back to the majors.

Over the five years that followed, he pitched in the minors for the Red Sox, Royals, Mets, and Cubs, finally ending his quest with the Sinon Bulls in the Chinese Professional Baseball League in 1996.

Kevin Joseph Morton was born in Norwalk, Connecticut, on August 3, 1968. Kevin was the youngest of four in his family, with brothers Michael and Chris and sister Cathy. Their father John Morton was a truck driver for Vallerie Trucking, and their mother Lillian worked at a local bank.

Kevin graduated from Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk in 1986 and moved on to Seton Hall University, where he majored in Communications – and became a teammate of another Norwalk native (and future Red Sox player) — Mo Vaughn. Despite coming from the same town and living about a mile apart from each other, Morton and Vaughn played for different teams in Little League and went to different high schools, Vaughn attending a prep school.1 They were teammates, however, in American Legion ball.

Kevin said he hadn’t even had a winning record in high school, but under the leadership of Seton Hall coach Mike Sheppard he added speed to his fastball and developed more confidence.2 The coach was in his 17th year at Seton Hall, yet Sheppard freely said, “Morton is one of the best left-handers I’ve ever had.”3

The 1987 Seton Hall team won the Big East championship in 1987. Others on the team with Morton and Vaughn were John Valentin (who also became a Red Sox player) and future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio.4 In May 1988, Morton was one of the pitchers named to the Big East Conference first team.5 He played that summer in the Cape Cod League for the Hyannis Mets. In May 1989, he was named the conference’s Pitcher of the Year.6 He was 27-5 in his time at Seton Hall.

Norwalk is in the part of Connecticut normally in New York Yankees territory, and Morton was a Yankees fan when he was younger. He hadn’t been a rabid partisan and readily acknowledged, “I had other interests. Sports wasn’t everything to me. I knew I couldn’t put all my eggs in one basket.”7

The Red Sox had three picks in the first round of the 1989 draft. They selected Greg Blosser with the first, Mo Vaughn with the second, and Kevin Morton with the third, the 29th overall pick, a supplemental selection that became available as compensation for the San Diego Padres having signed Boston pitcher Bruce Hurst. Morton threw left-handed, but batted from the right side.8 He stood 6-feet-2 and was listed at 185 pounds. He was signed by scout Matt Sczesny, who also signed Vaughn. Morton said 25 teams had contacted him during his junior year, but not the Red Sox. “I really liked their approach. Some of the teams were a little annoying. Boston was very low-key, and I appreciated that.”9

He was first placed with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox where he pitched in two games without giving up a run. Then he moved to the Low-A Elmira Pioneers (New York-Penn League), where he worked 24 innings in three games with 32 strikeouts and six walks and a 1.88 ERA before rapidly being promoted to the Single-A (Carolina League) Lynchburg Red Sox. “You could tell after two innings here that he was out of place,” said Elmira manager Mike Verdi. “I think he could be in the big league in two years. He goes two or three speeds with every pitch he throws. He throws like a kid who’s been around three or four years. He just outclassed this whole league while he was here.”10

With Lynchburg, his ERA was 2.35 in nine starts with 68 strikeouts in 65 innings. The Sporting News ranked him the seventh best prospect in all of baseball.11

In 1990, Morton was advanced to Double-A, pitching not far from home for the New Britain (Connecticut) Red Sox under manager Butch Hobson. Another Nutmeg State native (and future Hall of Famer), Jeff Bagwell, was on that team.12 Morton got in a lot of work – 163 innings in 26 starts. It started poorly – pulled after 2 1/3 innings, having given up seven runs, in a game in which he was disadvantaged by starting and stopping due to weather. His second start saw him throw eight shutout innings, 6-0, in front of a “massive” home crowd of 817 at Beehive Field.13 He struggled in his next couple of outings, then had a game where he allowed Hagerstown but one hit in seven innings. He righted himself with the help of pitching coach Rich Gale, but under more media scrutiny as the season wore on, he started to falter once more.14 He also suffered a lack of run support.

The media attention was considerable. During the summer of 1990, the Boston Globe ran a once-a-week brief update under the heading “Following the phenom” reporting what Morton had done. This could only have added pressure, but Morton handled it well. “I embraced it,” he said in a December 2021 interview. “You can channel it in different ways. You embrace it because that’s what you worked for at that point in your life. You aspire to try to get to the highest level in your profession.”15

He didn’t win a game between July 15 and August 25, but on the 25th he pitched a seven-inning 1-0 perfect game against the Reading Phillies in the first game of a doubleheader at New Britain’s Beehive Field. Eric Wedge was his catcher.16

Sportswriter Peter Gammons said that scouts felt Morton had an “average fastball (85-88 m.p.h.) above-average change and curveball, outstanding instincts but with serious stamina problems. But no one questions his heart.”17 More than once, someone in the Red Sox organization expressed the philosophy that – phenom or not – he needed time to develop. The team deliberately kept him at Double A all year.

In 1991, Morton joined the PawSox, pitching for Triple-A Pawtucket under Butch Hobson, who had himself been promoted. In 16 games over the first couple of months, he was 7-3 with a 3.49 ERA.

Though both Matt Young and Dana Kiecker suffered injuries, the Red Sox hesitated to call up Morton, again not wanting to rush him and to provide time to develop. Then Tom Bolton got hammered badly, and Mike Gardiner had to go on the disabled list. Finally, the Boston team optioned Daryl Irvine to Pawtucket and called up Morton. (Mo Vaughn had had his own debut just a little more than a week earlier, on June 27.)

Apparently, Morton wasn’t the kind of pitcher to be rattled. “You can’t be intimidated,” he said, adding – referring to Mo Vaughn – “Before he went up, Maurice and I talked about that a lot. If you get up there and you’re scared, you’re going to play scared.” Asked about facing the Tigers, he said, “They’re not batting 1.000, are they? They’re capable of making outs, too.”18

Morton’s debut came as Boston was in second place in the AL East, just 4 ½ games behind Toronto. The first time he’d ever seen Fenway Park was the day before, July 4. He retired the first eight batters he faced, then gave up a groundball single to Milt Cuyler. The Red Sox offense had scored four runs in the first two innings. Jack Clark drove in seven of Boston’s 10 runs. Vaughn drove in two. Rob Deer doubled for Detroit in the first, but Morton struck out three Tigers. He didn’t let the ball out of the infield in the sixth. Cecil Fielder pounced on one unfortunate pitch and homered into the left-field net to lead off the seventh. It was the only run scored off Morton, who worked a complete game, striking out nine while walking just one, allowing a total of five hits. The only other Red Sox pitcher to have thrown a complete game to that point in the season was Roger Clemens, who had four. The last time a Red Sox pitcher had thrown a complete game in hisdebut was back in 1977, when Don Aase did it. Manager Joe Morgan asked after the game, “How in the name of God did they ever hit him in the minors?”19

Morton lost his next two outings, giving up three runs in 5 2/3 innings in a 3-1 loss in Minnesota, then was hit for six runs in just 2 1/3 innings when the Twins were back in Boston five days later. There was a brief unsuccessful relief outing, but he won his second game against the visiting Texas Rangers, 11-6, on July 30. He’d given up four of the runs. He won one and lost one in August, the loss a 1-0 defeat against the Angels in California, in which he’d given up only two hits in seven innings. One of the hits was Dave Winfield’s seventh-inning solo home run. The other had been to leadoff batter Luis Polonia back in the first.

Morton added three wins in September, includinga 7-2 win at Yankee Stadium, where he’d gone to see games while growing up. Some of the Yankees whined afterwards that he didn’t have such great stuff, to which Joe Morgan responded, “I’d like to have that kind of bleep and win every night. He never said he was Lefty Grove, did he?”20

He lost his final two starts, ending his first season in the majors with a 6-5 record and a 4.59 ERA. He had struck out 45 and walked 40, giving up nine homers.

His first year proved to be his only year in the big leagues.

In 1992, he had a rough spring training (0-2, 17.55 ERA) and was optioned to Pawtucket.21 He had a difficult year for a team that played near-.500 baseball (71-72), but Morton was part of the problem in Pawtucket. He was 2-12. His ERA was 5.45. His strikeouts were down to 71 in 138 2/3 innings.

What went wrong? “After I faltered in spring training, I did not perform well enough. I never got back on track that year. I just lost track, mentally. I made no excuses. Never did.” Asked to elaborate, he said, “I was still somewhat young. I think the year after … quite honestly … I wasn’t focused. I was distracted. Like a lot of guys are when they go down. What I’ve learned is the mental capacity of the game parallels in importance the physical attributes at that level, when you move up the food chain. And if you’re not strong enough and focused enough, the game waits for no one. You know, I was just not focused the following year. As you can see, I had a terrible year.” He added, “I talk to a lot of guys now – I won’t mention names, but it’s funny, when you look back, it’s like buying a stock. You wish you should have, you would have when you could have … but …”

In retrospect, perhaps he could have benefitted from a full year or year-plus at Triple A instead of just the few months.

There were a number of inquiries from other teams – trade talk – after his 1991 season. One story was that the Houston Astros had accepted Jeff Bagwell the year before, in the August 1990 trade for Larry Andersen because the Red Sox wouldn’t let them have Morton.22 There wasn’t as much talk in 1992 and the Red Sox dropped him from the 40-man roster in October.

The Red Sox placed him on waivers, and he was quickly claimed by the Kansas City Royals. He went to spring training with the Royals but was outrighted to their Triple-A team in Omaha in early April. The Royals had brought in a lot of young pitchers. Morton, still relatively young at age 24, was dropped to Double A and played 1993 for the Southern League’s Memphis Chicks. He worked in 20 games, nine of them starts, with a 4.81 ERA and a 3-6 record.

In 1994, he moved up to Triple A and had a better year, pitching for the New York Mets’ Norfolk Tides, but the stats (5-8, 3.74) were not sufficient for the Mets to retain interest. The number of walks increased significantly; though he struck out 75 (in 137 innings), he walked 67. He just wasn’t the same pitcher he had been.

He started 12 of 28 games for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs in 1995 but was 1-7 (4.79) with 49 strikeouts and 42 walks. A back injury required surgery. Morton wasn’t ready to call it quits, though. He tried twice more, in 1996 and 1997.

In 1996, he pitched in Taiwan for the Sinon Bulls of the Chinese Professional Baseball League. It was a good team, he says, one that featured a number of former Taiwanese Olympians. He was there for about a half-year. Available statistics show him having faced 34 batters over the course of three games, with a 7.04 ERA. Three of the batters homered off him. He walked three and struck out three.

He still was not ready to give up and signed with the expansion team Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the spring of 1997.23 They had him pitch in Mexico but not for long. Back problems persisted. In both Taiwan and Mexico, he experienced cultural differences – he even witnessed a bank robbery in Mexico – but “I just didn’t perform. I guess I got real about the situation. If I can’t get guys out when I’m physically ailing…?”

In the offseasons, he had done some personal instruction. “I still do,” he said at the end of 2021. I still keep involved in the game that way a little. Part-time. I work with select kids down here. It keeps me involved.”

After taking off a year, Morton landed a job at Conair Corporation, a large international company based in Stamford, Connecticut. More than two decades later, he still works for Conair. He finished his degree in his spare time, but his time in baseball helped him get the job. “I knew a few senior management people personally. Local guys that I had run into through the years. I was educated, most importantly. That helped. They took a shot with me, and I’ve been there 23 years.”

Conair is a developer, manufacturer, and marketer of health and beauty products and kitchen and electronic appliances. They have a diverse portfolio of brands, among them Cuisinart. Morton has worked in various capacities there, beginning in new product development. As of 2021, he is a director of marketing for Conair Men’s personal care items.

Kevin Morton and his wife Dana met while both were in high school, though they went to different schools. They have two children – a son and a daughter. Dana Morton works as a teacher in the Norwalk public schools. Their son has been playing baseball for the University of Connecticut, a highly regarded baseball program.

Morton still offers instruction. He is on the staff of I.S.T. Sports Headquarters (Integrated Sports Training) in Norwalk.24

He does feel that his grounding in baseball helped him in business. “The real world is not as black and white as baseball – you either hit .300 or you didn’t, or you got somebody out or you didn’t. In general, the numbers spoke. But it’s similar in that you’ve got to have resiliency, perseverance, got to be able to communicate, got to be a team player. The game prepares you well if you step back with perspective.”

Last revised: February 25, 2022

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Donna L. Halper and Norman Macht and checked for accuracy by SABR’s fact-checking team.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and SABR.org.

 

Notes

1 Jack Cavanaugh, “The Hottest Prospects in Boston Are a Couple of Guys from Norwalk,” New York Times, August 4, 1991: CN1.

2 Nick Cafardo, “Slow rise to the top,” Boston Globe, March 11, 1990: 60.

3 Ed Barmakian, “Vaughn looms first-round pick in June 5 draft,” Newark Star-Ledger, May 23, 1989: 72.

4 Kevin Coyne, “Biggio’s Big Moment,” Seton Hall Magazine, December 4, 2015.

5 George Smith, “UConn’s Nagy named Big East’s top pitcher,” Hartford Courant, May 17, 1988: E3. Charles Nagy was named Pitcher of the Year, and Mo Vaughn was named Player of the Year.

6 “Specyalski picked for all-Big East team,” Hartford Courant, May 16, 1989: D3B. Morton was 11-2 (1.67) in his junior year at Seton Hall, with 100 strikeouts in 97 innings.

7 Cafardo, “Slow rise to the top.”

8 The only time he is seen batting in professional baseball was when he was part of the New York Mets system in 1995, when he went 6-for-19 (all singles), a .316 batting average, and when he was 0-for-3 in 1996 with the Iowa Cubs.

9 Cafardo, “Slow rise to the top.”

10 Steve Fainaru, “Lefty prospect Morton getting straight A’s,” Boston Globe, July 23, 1989: 85. Lynchburg manager Gary Allenson said his fastball was in the 80’s, which Fainaru noted was “fairly uninspiring” but, quoting Allenson, “Any time you can get your breaking ball over the way he does, it adds a couple miles an hour to your fastball.”

11 Nick Cafardo, “Gorman’s position: He won’t take fifth,” Boston Globe, February 25, 1990:24.

12 SABR’s Smoky Joe Wood Chapter in Connecticut published a 2019 book about Jeff Bagwell – Jeff Bagwell in Connecticut – A Consistent Lad in the Land of Steady Habits (Karl Bill Nowlin and Len Levin, eds. Cicitto, /latest/sabr-digital-library-jeff-bagwell-in-connecticut/

13 Viv Bernstein, “Morton leads Britsox to third win in a row,” Hartford Courant, April 17, 1990: E3.

14 Viv Bernstein, “Left-handed hope,” Hartford Courant, August 12, 1990: E12A.

15 Author interview with Kevin Morton on December 3, 2021. Unless indicated, all otherwise-unattributed quotations from Morton come from this interview.

16 Dom Amore, “Perfect performance for Britsox’ Morton,” Hartford Courant, August 26, 1990: E1.

17 Peter Gammons, “When it’s all on the line, call Stewart,” Boston Globe, September 9, 1990: 50.

18 George Kimball, “Morton armed, ready for call,” Boston Herald, July 3, 1991: 78.

19 Dan Shaughnessy, “Boston finds long-awaited left-hand man,” Boston Globe, July 6, 1991: 25.

20 David Cataneo, “Morton miffs, stiffs Yanks,” Boston Herald, September 14, 1991: 56.

21 Joe Giuliotti, “Boggs back to leadoff as experiment ends,” The Sporting News, April 6, 1992: 68.

22 Peter Gammons, “A’s starting to bash back at Canseco,” Boston Globe, October 4, 1992: 58.

23 Gordon Edes, “Do you hear some Valentin trade talks?” Boston Globe, March 15, 1997: 79.

24 http://www.integratedsportstraining.com/Default.asp?org=integratedsportstraining.com Accessed December 5, 2021.

Full Name

Kevin Joseph Morton

Born

August 3, 1968 at Norwalk, CT (USA)

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