Charlie Morton on Baseball and Life

A recent Sunday Notes column published here featured the title Charlie Morton Is Different (and Better). While those words referred to his pitching identity, they could just as easily refer to his personality. The 33-year-old right-hander is about as far away from Nuke LaLoosh as you can get. Thoughtful and articulate, he is anything but a cliche-spouting dumb jock.

His career has been a roller coaster. Prior to this year’s breakout with the Houston Astros, Morton had compiled a record of 46-71 and a 4.54 ERA in nine up-and-down seasons with the Braves, Pirates, and Phillies. Injuries played a big role in the inconsistencies. Along the way Morton had multiple surgeries, including Tommy John, and repairs to both hips.

And then there’s his psyche. Morton has been guilty of getting into his own head, which has resulted in frustration and a tendency to get “too finicky about things like my mechanics and my approach.” Admittedly not serious enough in his early years of pro ball, he eventually found himself taking things too seriously for his own good.

An integral part of the Astros’ win over the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS, Morton is scheduled to start Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday. He talked about his evolving approach to the game — and to life — at the conclusion of the regular season.

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Charlie Morton: “Between injuries and not pitching well, and getting older… your perspective changes. You try to enjoy your time. You try to enjoy the cities you go to, you try to enjoy your teammates, you try to finish up your last few years on a high note.

“I realized something. I realized that I hadn’t been looking for things to enjoy. There are a lot of ups and downs in this game — I include injuries in that — and I never really made a conscious effort to appreciate all of the things I was getting to do. Instead of having days where you’re… kind of cynical, like you’re waiting for something bad to happen. Not unhealthily, but… I don’t know.

“I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t doubtful about being able to find a job somewhere. But at the same time, you just don’t know. There are a lot of unknowns.

“Back around 2007, I was in Double-A and had a talk with our pitching coach, Derek Botelho. He was like, ‘Hey, Chuck.’ At the time, I was basically teetering. I was a guy that had good stuff, and the Braves still had some belief in me, but they’d stuck me in the bullpen. The year before, I’d had a five-something [ERA] in High-A.

“So he pulled me aside and was like, ‘You’re going to get to the big leagues, you just have to decide you’re going to get to the big leagues. What do you want to do? How are you going to do this?’ I think he saw that I wasn’t really being a professional. I wasn’t taking everything seriously enough.

“From then on… a light switch went on and I started to be a professional. I became more serious about the game, and with that I became harder on myself. I’d beaten myself up before, but it was even more after that. I had a professional structure — I had a routine — but I took everything hard. I took it way too hard, actually.

“Sometimes I still take things too seriously, but at the same time, that’s allowed me to be more steady. If you don’t wake up every day as a professional, and treat the day as a professional, you don’t really become one. Taking things so seriously has been a problem for me, but it’s also helped.

“Guys talk about having a bad outing. For them it’s, ‘We’re going to flush that one and get over it in 12 hours.’ They set a time limit. But for me, it would linger. It would be two days, three days, four days, maybe until my next outing.

“Now I try to relax more between starts. I have a wife and three kids. I try to spend as much time with my kids as I can. I try to be a good dad and a good husband.

“My wife would sometimes have to tell me not to dwell so much on a bad outing. That kind of changed after we had kids, and when I started to figure out what I was doing on the mound, once I had an idea about my identity as a pitcher.

“Going out there to pitch and not feeling like you know who you are… that’s a burden. You don’t know what your strengths are. You just know you have plenty of weaknesses.

“Most guys will tell you that you never completely figure it out, and I sure haven’t. But when I dropped my arm slot… that was the biggest thing for me. I used to be straight over the top and would try to power the ball through the zone. I would force the ball in there. Ray Searage and Jim Benedict pulled me into a meeting and said, ‘Hey, keep your head still, drop your slot a little bit, and let your arm work around your body.’ I started throwing sinkers, and realizing I could challenge guys and get them out. I’m a little different this year, but that was an important thing for me.

“Other things are important to me. There’s a lot out there besides baseball. Way more. Baseball has given me a tremendous opportunity… and my parents gave me a tremendous opportunity by helping me get here. My mom was constantly driving me around to games, to tryouts, to pre-draft workouts. My dad would come home from work and play catch with me.

“When I graduated high school… all I knew was that I had an opportunity in baseball. I was a terrible student. I didn’t understand the seriousness of it. It’s kind of like what I said about being a professional. I wasn’t putting the work in. Looking back, it’s a huge regret of mine. It’s probably the most embarrassing thing of my life.

“I have no idea what comes after baseball. I appreciate everything the game has given me, but the reality is, there’s a lot more out there. There are a lot of ways to help people. There are a lot of ways to be involved. I’d like to do something.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Mollycoddle
Member

This is a great example of how his coaches, his wife and children are parts of a baseballer’s success. And guys like Derek Botelho are behind a lot of successful professionals in every field.