Jim Morris is a former baseball player for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and is best known for entering his rookie season at age 35. He retired from baseball in 2001, and proceeded to write his life story The Oldest Rookie. His book was adapted for a recent Disney movie, entitled The Rookie, which featured Dennis Quaid as Morris.
Raised in the football-crazed town of Brownwood, TX, Jim Morris's dream had always been to play professional baseball. As a young man, Morris could throw and hit hard, but was unable to develop his talent because his high school in Brownwood had no baseball team. Instead, Morris was forced to make do with football, because the coach at his school believed a baseball team would take the focus off football. Despite a lack of baseball experience, Morris's innate ability was rewarded with a scholarship from Ranger Junior College. After gaining some of the experience and exposure he needed, Morris was quickly snapped up by the Milwaukee Brewers. It seemed to Morris as if his improbable dream was about to come true.
Until reality hit. His Brewers farm club roommate informed Morris that less than 1% of minor league players actually get called up to the big leagues, and it wasn't uncommon for players to spend up to ten years in the minor leagues just waiting to get called. Morris's stint in the minor leagues was nothing short of depressing. He disliked being away from his family, the pay was lousy, and he spend night after night playing games in near-empty stadiums. Then the injuries hit.
Throwing 110 pitches a game had taken its toll on Jimmy Morris, and in January 1986 he had to get a damaged elbow tendon surgically replaced with an ankle tendon. He continued to play baseball until the next year, when he blew out his shoulder in the middle of a pitch. Following an operation on the shoulder, Morris was released by the Brewers. Figuring he would have to forgo a career in professional baseball, Morris sought other employment. He enrolled in college and got a job at the Texas Youth Comission. By this time he had also married his wife, Lorri. The only involvement Morris had with baseball was pitching batting practise for a university team. Only one attempt was made to recruit him, by the Chicago White Sox, but it fell through due to Morris's injured arm. After that, Morris gave up baseball completely.
Morris's life took on a new direction. He and his wife had their first son, Hunter, and Morris got a job teaching science at Reagan County High School. But he couldn't abandon baseball completely. Along with his duties as assistant football coach, Morris was named coach of the Reagan County Owls baseball team, who had only won three games in each of their past three abysmal seasons. In order to avoid hurting his arm, Morris developed a smoother throwing technique while pitching to his players in batting practise. They still complained he threw too fast. What Morris didn't realise was that at 34 years old, he was throwing better than ever.
In March of 1999, Morris was giving his team a typical scolding about their
negative attitude. He urged his students to have dreams, and to follow those dreams. In the middle of his pep-talk, the Owls' catcher fired back that he was in no position to tell them to follow their dreams when Morris had an incredible pitching arm yet wasn't following his own dreams. As a result, the catcher proposed that if the Owls won district, Morris would have to attend a major league tryout. In a decision that would change his life, Morris agreed.
So life went on. And Morris's team won in their district. Holding up his end of the bargain, Morris attended an open tryout for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, with his three kids in tow. Despite being about twice the age of everyone else in attendance, Morris was allowed to pitch. And when he did, it was 94mph, and the scout thought the radar gun was broken. The next pitch was 96mph. Then 95mph. And the next twelve were 98mph. To be sure, Morris was made to throw fifty pitches whereas everyone else had thrown 30. To be extra sure, Morris had to return two days later and throw 50 more pitches. The next thing Morris knew, he was in Florida playing for the minor league Durham Bulls.
On Friday, September 17, 1999, two Durham Bulls were called up to the Devil Rays. One was Steve Cox. The other was Jim Morris. His first game would be against the Texas Rangers in Arlington, where his family would all be able to attend, although Morris figured it was unlikely he would actually play. Or so he thought-- in the eighth inning Morris was called to take the mound, where he stuck out Royce Clayton in four devastating pitches. The next night, Morris gave Devil Rays fans something else to cheer about when he struck out three players in a row whose combined salary totalled $16.1 million: Jim Edmonds, Mo Vaughn, and Tim Salmon.
The next season, Morris was officially added to the Devil Rays' roster as a "situational lefty". His mental toughness honed from years of minor league play and devastating pitches resulted in a very successful season. Unfortunately, it wouldn't last. The new Devil Rays' pitching coach decided it would be a good idea to have Morris pitch in practise. His fragile arm became overworked, and tendinitis soon set in. In November of 2000, the Devil Rays released Morris, and the L.A. Dodgers signed him. While with the Dodgers, Morris wrote his book, but he was soon forced to retire due to his tendinitis without ever having played as a Dodger.
Jim Morris went 0-0 with a 4.80 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 21 major-league games with Tampa Bay.