Few players have pitched in as many games for the Indians as Morton, yet I knew little about him. You probably don't know much either. Come and learn.
Starting/Relief Pitcher, 1914-1924
Height: 6'1" Weight: 175 lbs
Throws: Right Bats: Right
How Acquired: Contract bought from Waterbury (Eastern Association), June, 1914
Left Via: Release, June 11, 1924
#68 in Let's Go Tribe's countdown of the greatest players in franchise history.
Guy Morton was born on June 1, 1893, in the small town of Vernon, Alabama (as one of the first Major League players from his home state, and to that point the best player the state had produced, Morton was nicknamed "Alabama Blossom" during his career). In 1913 Morton began playing professional baseball for the first time, playing for the Columbus Joy Riders of Columbus, Mississippi, in the Cotton States League, a Class D collection of six teams in Mississippi, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida (along with the Joy Riders, the list of teams included the Swamp Angels and Lawmakers. Team names just ain’t what they used to be).
Morton played well enough there that in 1914 he moved up to Class B ball, playing for the Waterbury (Connecticut) Contenders of the Eastern Association, a team that included seven players who played in the Major Leagues at some point. Morton dominated the competition there, throwing 103 innings in just twelve games over the season’s first couple months, allowing just 17 runs and 64 base runners, for an ERA of 1.49 and a WHIP of 0.621. On June 16th he threw a no-hitter for Waterbury. Four days later, having had his contract acquired by the Naps (in their last year under that name) he made his Major League debut in Cleveland.
Morton’s time in Cleveland got off to an historic start, unfortunately for him. He lost his first 13 decisions, setting a Major League record for most losses to start a career (his streak is now #2 on that list, having been broken by Minnesota’s Terry Felton in 1982). Morton did manage to end the season on something of a high note by winning his final decision, giving him a record of 1-13. It would be easy to assume he was dreadful, but his ERA with Cleveland that year was 3.02. That was in the midst of the dead-ball era, so that mark isn’t as good as it sounds (his ERA+ was 94), but it certainly didn’t merit thirteen straight losses. Much of the blame falls on his teammates, who scored just 538 runs that season while compiling a record of 51-102, the worst in franchise history.
That winter, Nap Lajoie was sold to the Athletics, prompting the team to change its name to "Indians." They weren’t much better in 1915, but Morton was. He led the team with 240 innings pitched and also with a 2.14 ERA (142 ERA+). He finished among the league’s top ten in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, K/9 and shutouts (along with ERA+ and WAR). The highlight of the year was probably his August 24th victory over the Yankees, in which he came a lone single away from a no hitter. It remains one of the best pitching seasons in franchise history, comparable with CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee’s recent Cy Young winning campaigns.
Morton’s 1916 and 1917 were less eventful. He was more of a league average pitcher those two years (his ERA+ was 103 in both seasons) and he was used out of the bullpen almost as frequently as he started. In 1916 though, he did manage to make more history: On June 11th he became only the second player in American League history (after Walter Johnson) to strikeout four batters in one inning. He finished with 13 strikeouts that day, which was the most recorded by any pitcher in the Majors that year. On June 1, 1917, Morton again missed out on a no hitter on account of just one hit, in this case a Babe Ruth single.
In 1918, Morton returned to being a full-time starter. His ERA was 2.64 (in the Deadball Era that to translated to an ERA+ of 114) and he led the league with 5.2 strikeouts per nine innings (things have changed, a K/9 of 5.2 would have ranked 83rd among 88 qualified starting pitchers in 2012). Morton also managed to pitch another one-hitter of his career on May 3. The regular season was cut short by a month that year, due to the escalation of American involvement in the Great War. The Indians had been closing on Boston, but had to settle for 2nd place, 2.5 games back. Morton was again effective in 1919, with a 2.81 ERA (120 ERA+).
1920 was a big year for the Indians, as they won their first World Series. For Morton however, it must have been a frustrating season. He pitched pretty well through May, June and July, and on July 31 he threw his fourth career one-hitter (only Bob Feller pitched more such games for the Indians), beating Boston and putting Cleveland in 1st by three games. He had a rough go of things in each of his next four starts though, culminating in his allowing 12 runs on August 21 to the same Boston team he’d nearly no-hit three weeks early. At that point he was pulled from the rotation and he did not appear in the World Series.
Morton remained in the bullpen for most of 1921, but managed a 2.76 ERA (an impressive 156 ERA+, better than earlier figures because the Deadball Era was over by 1921). His strong play helped him work his way back into the rotation for 1922, when he once led the American League in K/9. Morton again shuttled back-and-forth between starting and relieving in 1923 and his effectiveness dropped. He worked exclusively from the bullpen in 1924 and had a hard time locating the strike zone, as he walked 13 batters in 12.1 innings. On June 6 he mopped up an 11-7 loss by pitching a scoreless 9th inning, but five days later he was released.
Morton pitched for Kansas City and Indianapolis (both of the American Association) during the remainder of 1924. He later spent five seasons in the Southern Association, first with Memphis (1925-1927), later with Mobile (1928-1929) and Birmingham (1929). Finally he played for High Point in the Piedmont League, a collection of six teams in North Carolina that served as a precursor to the Carolina League (even featuring the Durham Bulls).
By the summer of 1933 Morton was living back in Alabama, working for the Tennessee Valley Authority, a corporation established as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal and charged with modernizing the region. On October 18, 1934, at the age of 41, Morton suffered a heart attack and died at his home in Sheffield, Alabama, leaving behind a wife and young son, Guy Morton Jr., who would go on to play football and basketball at the University of Alabama and have a cup of coffee with the Boston Red Sox in 1954.
In 2001 The Indians named Morton one of the 100 greatest players in team history and in 2003 he was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
American League Ranks:
bWAR: 6th, 1915 (6.4)
bWAR Pitchers: 2nd, 1915 (7.0)
Wins: 10th, 1918 (14)
Losses: 7th, 1915 (15)
Win%: 3rd, 1916 (.667); 5th, 1918 (.636); 8th, 1922 (.609)
Strikeouts: 4th, 1918 (123); 6th, 1922 (102); 7th, 1915 (134)
ERA: 8th, 1915 (2.14)
ERA+: 6th, 1915 (142)
WHIP: 3rd, 1915 (1.038); 9th, 1919 (1.188)
Hits/9 IP: 5th, 1915 (7.09); 6th, 1919 (7.82); 10th, 1918 (7.92)
BB/9 IP: 7th, 1915 (2.25)
K/9 IP: 1st, 1918 (5.16); 1st, 1922 (4.53); 7th, 1915 (5.03); 7th, 1919 (3.91)
K/BB: 3rd, 1915 (2.23); 3rd, 1918 (1.60); 10th, 1922 (1.20)
Shutouts: 3rd, 1915 (6); 7th, 1922 (3); 9th, 1921 (2); 10th, 1919 (3); 10th, 1923 (2)
Games Finished: 10th, 1921-15
Cleveland Indians Single-Season Ranks:
- t-21st Pitching bWAR (7.0, 1915)
- t-34th Losses (15, 1915)
- t-11th Shutouts (6, 1915)
- t-27th Win% (.727, 1921)
- t-28th ERA (2.14, 1915)
- t-26th ERA+ (156, 1921)
- t-16th WHIP (1.038, 1915)
- t-43rd Hits/9 IP (7.09, 1915)
- t-8th HR/9 IP (0.042, 1918)
- 17th HR/9 IP (0.060, 1916)
- 28th HR/9 IP (0.070, 1914)
- t-38th HR/9 IP (0.084, 1921)
Cleveland Indians Career Leader (500+ IP for rates)
- 23rd bWAR Pitchers (17.4)
- 13th Innings Pitched (1629.2)
- 16th Games Pitched (317)
- 15th Games Started (185)
- 18th Complete Games (82)
- t-10th Shutouts (19)
- 30th Games Finished (80)
- 15th Wins (98)
- t-14th Losses (86)
- t-41st W/L Percentage (.533)
- 14th Strikeouts (830)
- t-11th Bases on Balls (583)
- t-16th Wild Pitches (35)
- t-35th Hit By Pitch (22)
- t-21st ERA (3.13)
- t-35th ERA+ (108)
- 31st WHIP (1.290)
- 29th Hits/9 IP (8.39)
- 48th BB/9 IP (3.22)
- 42nd K/9 IP (4.58)
- 47th K/BB (1.42)
- 16th HR/9 IP (0.149)