Toronto Blue Jays' Jack Morris during the World Series 1992 - Game 5. (QMI Agency/FRED THORNHILL)
NEW YORK - Twenty years ago Tuesday the Toronto Blue Jays bus lurched to a stop in front of the visiting clubhouse in the tunnel inside dingy Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
On a workout day before the 1992 World Series, the Jays, 21 of whom had never played a Series game before, filed into the clubhouse.
Only Dave Winfield, Candy Maldonado, Alfredo Griffin and Jack Morris previously had played for baseball's championship.
One of the first through the door was right-handed pitcher Morris, who heard music on clubhouse manager John Holland's radio.
A Garth Brooks' song ...
"Hey guys," Morris yelled to his teammates "the name of this song is The Dance. We're here. At The Dance. Let's enjoy it."
And Morris cranked the volume like a teenager trying to annoy an older sibling.
Morris takes the mound Tuesday night at Detroit's Comerica Park to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 3 of the best-of-seven AL championship series.
"Looking back on the memory of
The dance we shared beneath the stars above
For a moment all the world was right
How could I have known you'd ever say goodbye."
"Music motivates me, good music -- bad music can bother me," Morris, now 57, said Sunday at Yankee Stadium where he was covering post-season play for MLB.com.
"In Atlanta, I wanted everyone to show who they are. The message was: We can do this."
The previous October, Kirby Puckett hit a walk-off homer for the Minnesota Twins, forcing Game 7 against the Braves.
Morris, then with the Twins, entered the media room after midnight. Usually, the next day's starter is made available to the media earlier in the day. But with the Braves leading 3-2 in a clinching situation nothing was arranged before the game.
Before anyone could ask Morris a question, he said: "Like Marvin Gaye used to sing: Let's Get it On."
In Game 7, Morris pitched a 10-inning shutout, 126 pitches in all, giving the Twins the 1991 series.
In Morris' first start with the Jays -- opening day 1992 -- he threw more than 126 pitches. It was a brisk 13C when the game began at Tiger Stadium. It was down to about 8C when Morris came out for the ninth with a 4-0 lead.
I remember thinking is this any way for the Jays to treat a high-priced free-agent investment who signed a two-year, $9.875-million US deal, with an option on a third year? Sending Morris out to work the ninth in chilly weather his first time out of the chute with his new team?
Morris allowed a solo homer to the Tigers' Cecil Fielder which was on its way to Saginaw but was blocked by the outfield wall.
Morris stood on the mound and smiled at the majesty of Fielder's drive.
With two out he allowed a homer to Bobby Higginson.
And on his 144th pitch he got Travis Fryman to bounce out, ending the game for a 4-2 win.
In the cramped visiting clubhouse he joked that some nights he'd "throw more than 200 pitches."
Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston, who had watched Morris play since 1982, took the opportunity to shake the pitcher's hand for his first win in a Toronto uniform.
"That was the thing about Cito," Morris said outside the broadcaster's booth at the big band box in the Bronx.
"After being across the diamond from him all those years, once you established that you could compete and win, he knew what you could do. Cito was a player -- managers need to remember where they were. Cito was like that.
"Cito had a calming affect," Morris said.
The opening-day outing was the most pitches Morris threw in his 34 starts in 1992. His next highest total was 126 on Aug. 11, pitching seven innings in a 3-0 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.
"And now I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance. I could have missed the pain
But I'd have had to miss the dance."
Morris won his 20th that season at the old Yankee Stadium, pitching four innings before the rains came and coming back out to pitch two more after.
"Candy Maldonado pulled a bottle of champagne out of his locker and said 'we have to have a toast,' that was awfully nice of him," Morris said.
Likely equipment man Jeff Ross rounded up the bubbly that day.
It was a bad day personally.
Later I wound up in the hallway with Morris ("Aha! Now is the chance to get in a good question," I recall thinking.)
So, I asked Morris if he pitched the two innings after the rain to get his earned-run average under 4.00.
He looked at me as if I had three heads, nine eyes and loop earrings hanging from each ear lobe.
He said: "You've seen me pitch long enough to know that ERA is not a big deal to me, I care about wins. We won, next question."
Following a dopey question like that I was done.
"Holding you I held everything
For a moment wasn't I the king
But if I'd only known how the king would fall
Hey who's to say you know I might have changed it all."
Before the Jays got to Atlanta they had to beat their nemesis, the Oakland A's, in the 1992 ALCS. Oakland had ousted the Jays in five games three years previous.
Morris started the 1992 opener, eventually giving up a leadoff homer to Harold Baines in the ninth as the Jays lost 4-3.
The Jays took a 2-1 lead into Game 4 in Oakland, then Morris allowed five runs in 3 1/3 innings at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Oakland had a 6-1 lead in the eighth. The Jays' Robbie Alomar led off with a double against Bob Welch. Alomar stole third, scoring on Joe Carter's single against Jeff Parrett. Dave Winfield singled and on came Oakland closer Dennis Eckersley.
John Olerud greeted him with a run-scoring single and Maldonado did the same, cutting Oakland's lead to 6-4. Eckersley retired Kelly Gruber and Pat Borders, before striking out pinch-hitter Ed Sprague.
An excited Eckersley fired an imaginary six-shooter into the Jays dugout and then blew the smoke away.
The Jays dugout exploded.
Devon White led off the ninth with a single and Alomar went deep to right, tossing his hands over his head in celebration. So did Jays fans from Langley, B.C. to Moncton, N.B., on Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.
Borders knocked in a run in the 11th and the Jays had a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
"Eck and I really had it out in the outfield the next day," Morris said. "I told him he was the best ... but why act like that? Why show people up?
"Eck said 'I have to let my emotions go, that's the only way I can pitch.' After that Eck was like Rickey Henderson.
"Rickey used to do things that would bug me when we played against him. When Rickey was on our team, I didn't mind."
Henderson and Morris were teammates for the final two months of the 1993 season as the Jays repeated as Series champs.
"And now I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I'd have had to miss the dance."
After 10 years of broadcasting Minnesota Twins radio games, Morris wasn't in the booth this season. He was in uniform with the Twins last month at instructional league and he has been doing pre-game and post-game shows with former major leaguer Darryl Hamilton during the playoffs for MLB.com.
"It's fun for me, post-season is the highlight of what we did," Morris said.
Morris lists names of those who were on that bus 20 years ago in Atlanta as if it was last night ... and some from the 1993 team.
Pat Hentgen: The young buck "taking it all in."
Setup man Duane Ward: "We had our differences in the clubhouse. He could dish it out but didn't like to take it. We're all healed now. Because of that I appreciate him more as a teammate."
Fellow St. Paul, Minn., natives Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor: Leaders in 1992-93 on the field.
John Olerud, who won the 1993 batting title, was sought out at a Jays reunion by Morris a few years ago: "I told John he's one of the best teammates I've ever had ... he had tears in his eyes when I finished."
Joe Carter: He was driving in important runs and "clowning in the clubhouse."
Jimmy Key: The left-handed start was a calming influence on Morris, even though they were "polar opposite." "He was a finesse lefty, I was a power right-hander ... but for some reason he could calm me down." Morris called Key one of the smartest pitchers he'd ever played with. Closer Tom Henke: The right-hander saw "every day as a good day. Henke could stir it up, teasing in the clubhouse, along with Todd Stottlemyre and Pat Borders. Then, Henke would sit back and watch."
And in centre field was a gazelle named Devon White: "(In other seasons) I had Gary Pettis behind me, a young Chet Lemon, Kenny Lofton and Puckett. No one compared to White."
Morris won four Series titles -- with the 1984 Tigers, the 1991 Twins and the 1992-93 Blue Jays.
"The most talented team I was ever with was the 1992 Blue Jays," he said.
But he still has an affection for the team with the stylized D on its cap,
"I'm so impressed with (manager) Jim Leyland, he never dogs people," Morris said. "People ask me in Detroit about (closer) Jose Valverde and all his actions on the mound. I tell them the greatest reliever ever throws the ball, gets the ball back from the catcher, starts over and throws another strike.
"That's why everyone respects Mariano Rivera so much."
"Yes my life is better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
but I'd have had to miss the dance."
Hall of Fame ballots are mailed in December to members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America with 10 years experience.
This is Morris' 14th year on the ballot and he's hoping to be elected in January.
In the past, any candidate to achieve 65% of the vote eventually has reached the required 75%. Morris was on 66.7% of the ballots this year, 48 votes shy. He had 19.6% of the vote in 2001.
While players are on the ballot 15 years, Morris' best chance to be elected is next January, when he's joined by first-timers Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Curt Schilling and Craig Biggio -- some with performance-enhancing-drug issues, some without.
The 2014 list of candidates includes Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine and Jeff Kent appearing for the first time.
Morris has an easier path in 2013 than next year.
The right-hander never reached 300 wins or 3,000 strikeouts -- winning 254 times, striking out 2,478 -- but he was an ace.
No one won more games during the 1980s than Morris, who had 162 victories, 22 more than the Jays' Dave Stieb. Every other pitcher who led a decade in wins is in Cooperstown.
Morris made more than 500 consecutive starts without missing a turn. He won 15 or more games 12 times, twice leading the AL in wins and three times winning 20 games.
Baseballreference.com lists six Hall of Famers -- Bob Gibson, Red Ruffing, Amos Rusie, Burleigh Grimes, Bob Feller and Jim Bunning -- among the top 10 pitchers whose careers were comparable to Morris'.
It's time for Morris to dance ... a dance of celebration.