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Whether it was the alacrity with which he was put into the big leagues, or the amount of pressure placed on him as a young star, Morgan never lived up to the potential his high school years prophesied. But as opposed to many young stars who leave the majors as soon as they fizzle, Morgan stayed in the league for years, joining Rickey Henderson, Jesse Orosco, and Tim Raines as one of four players to play in a big league game in the '70s, '80s, '90s, and '00s.
While he employed an effective two-seam fastball at his peak, and continually hit 90 with his heater well past his prime, Morgan's sinker also induced a high number of groundouts. Despite having above-average stuff, the righty only recorded three winning seasons through 2000. And although he played for a record number of clubs, the hard-luck Morgan advanced to October with just one of them, the 1998 Chicago Cubs.
Just a couple of days after he was drafted out of high school by the Oakland Athletics in 1978, Morgan made his professional debut in the majors, losing 3-0 to the Baltimore Orioles. After another two losses, Morgan was sent down to the minors. The following year, Morgan recorded a miserable 2-10 record with a 5.96 ERA, and ended up spending the remainder of the season and the following one in the minors. In November 1980, the A's traded the 21-year-old to the New York Yankees.
After a year with the Yanks, Morgan was shipped with a young Fred McGriff to the Blue Jays for two middling players, the first of many bad trades conducted by the Bombers' front office that decade. Shoulder injuries disabled him and he spent over a year with the Jays' Syracuse farm club before being snatched by the Mariners in the Rule 5 draft. The righty recorded a whopping 34 losses as a regular starter for Seattle over 1986-87 before being shipped to the Baltimore Orioles in December 1987, and then to the Los Angeles Dodgers in March 1989.
Morgan finally began to grow as a pitcher with the Dodgers. Encouraged by pitching coach Ron Perranoski, who changed the grip he used for his fastball, Morgan suddenly began to pitch effectively in the first half of 1989, his first year in LA. Morgan posted his first winning season in 1991, when he went 14-10 with a 2.78 ERA for the Dodgers, and was named to the All-Star team for the first and only time in his career.
Morgan signed with the Chicago Cubs in December 1991 and in his first season in the North Side enjoyed his best year in the bigs, going 16-8 with a 2.55 ERA in '92. But the next season Morgan reverted to his pre-Dodger form, and in 1994 floundered at 2-10 with a 6.69 ERA.
For the remainder of the decade, Morgan wouldn't spend more than a year and a half with any one team. But though he also suffered through a number of injuries that his advancing age wrought, he usually bounced back to show flashes of brilliance that made him so desired as a high school phenom. Clubs could always make use of Morgan; dependable as a spot starter, he could adapt to any role. After the Cubs traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals in a package deal that brought over Todd Zeile, Morgan made his way to the Cincinnati Reds, the Minnesota Twins, and the Cubs again, all in the span of four years.
Before entering the books for his record number of clubs, Morgan actually saw his name enter the annals for an even more dubious honor. On September 7, 1998, Mark McGwire hit Morgan's 1-1 heater into the stands for his 61st homer of the year, tying Big Mac with Roger Maris.
Morgan made the Texas Rangers out of spring training in 1999, setting the record for most professional franchises played for in any sport. With the Rangers he recorded double-digit wins (13) for the first time since 1993, and also pitched adequately in middle relief. In January 2000, Morgan added a little padding to his streak when he signed with his twelfth club, the Arizona Diamondbacks. With the D-Backs, the 40-year-old Morgan started four games and saved five, going 5-5 over 60 appearances.
Morgan returned to the Diamondbacks in 2001, but pitched poorly, throwing fewer than 100 innings for the first time since 1994. Plagued by injuries throughout the season, Morgan's years seemed to have finally caught up to him. (AG/TF)