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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Interview: Russ Morman tried to fill bigs role, be that guy

Russ Morman on field
Fresno hitting coach Russ Morman at Chukchansi Park. (G21D Photo)

Russ Morman autographed 1990 Omaha Royals card
Teams start the year with only 25 guys on a team.

Russ Morman knew that, through injury or performance, those 25 guys wouldn't stay the same through the year.

"Really, that was always the thing," Morman told The Greatest 21 Days. "You know that they can't play with 25 guys through a year. It just doesn't happen. So, if you're not one of those original 25 guys, you want to be the guy that, when they have to make a roster change, that you can possibly fill that bill or that role."

"It's pretty cut and dry in terms of, OK, if I want to be that guy," Morman added a short time later, "I have to perform at a particular level, because if I'm not, I get brushed over, I get looked over."

For Morman, he worked to perform at that level for the better part of 17 seasons. And, in nine of those, when the big club made a roster change, Morman got the call.

Those calls never saw Morman get in more than 49 major league games in any one season - in his last he got in just four.
Fresno's Ryan Lollis comes around to score July 27, 2012, at Chukchansi Park. Lollis' hitting coach at AAA Fresno is Russ Morman (G21D Photo)
Still, though, he kept getting called back.

Morman spoke with The Greatest 21 Days in late July at Fresno, Ca.'s Chukchansi Park, where Morman serves for 2012 as the AAA Fresno Grizzlies' hitting coach.

Part 1: Playing A Game | Part 2: That Guy

With Fresno, Morman works with players, ensuring they're performing at the level that will get them their call up to the bigs in San Francisco. Morman is also coaching at the same level that he played at in 15 different seasons.

Morman's first year at AAA came in 1985, with 21 games played at Buffalo in the White Sox organization. He returned there to start 1986.

By early August, Morman got his first call to the majors and it came in the middle of a slump.

Playing outfield one night as the slump continued, Morman recalled walking back in to the dugout and getting a message from his manager: He was headed to Chicago.

"I was shocked, I really was," Morman said. "Because, if you were going off of what I had done the previous week, you'd think there's no way he's going."

But the body of work was there. And, three years after being taken by the White Sox in the first round of the draft, Morman was in the majors.

Morman then went and broke out of that slump, picking up three hits in his debut, two of them in the same inning. He was the second player to do that in his debut. Morman was surrounded by reporters afterward for his accomplishment.

Fresno Grizzlies congratulate each other during an inning July 27 where they scored four runs. Fresno's hitting coach is Russ Morman. (G21D Photo)
He even soon found himself in front of Al Michaels - the same guy who, six years earlier, Morman and millions of others watched make the famous Miracle on Ice call in the 1980 Lake Placid games.

Morman remembers seeing the message light on his hotel phone. Michaels wanted to interview Morman on Monday Night Baseball. "For me to get the opportunity to sit and chat with him was out of this world," Morman recalled.

Morman ended up staying with the White Sox for the rest of the season, getting into 49 games in all. He hit .252, with a total of four home runs.

Then, for 1987, it was back to AAA. Morman didn't get back to the majors at all that year. Morman just continued working to get back.

"You get there, you get a little taste of it, and it gets taken away," Morman said. "You want that chance to go back and perform at that level. Of course, it's not given to you, you have to earn that right as a player to even be thought of that way."

It was that carrot Morman kept chasing.

As the years went by, Morman continued doing that. And he kept earning the right to be thought of like that.

He returned to the White Sox for 1988, getting into 40 games. He then got 37 games in 1989. He moved to his hometown Royals for 1990, getting into 12 games that year and 12 more the next.

Chukchansi Park, home of the AAA Fresno Grizzlies. Russ Morman, who played at AAA for parts of 15 seasons, serves as Fresno's hitting coach for 2012. (G21D Photo)
After two more seasons spent all in the minors, Morman returned to the bigs for each of the next four seasons, with the Marlins. In those four seasons, though, Morman never got into more than 34 games.

His last big league time came in 1997, the year the Marlins won the wild card, and the World Series. With the team in contention late, there was little room, or need, for Morman. And he'd had a good year at AAA, too. He hit .319.

He finally got his call in September, getting into four games. About being a part of the stretch run, Morman said, "that was so cool."

In what turned out to be his last major league start, the day after the Marlins clinched, Morman hit his final major league home run.

Morman played two more seasons in the minors before thumb and shoulder injuries finally forced him to end his playing career. Before an MRI shut him down for good and sent him off to surgery, though, Morman made one last pinch hit appearance for AAA Calgary, and, Morman recalled, hit a home run.

His playing career over, Morman has now gone on to his new one as a coach. He's been with the Giants since 2010, serving as hitting coach his first year in the organization at AA Richmond. For 2011 and 2012, he's been back at AAA, at Fresno.

Morman ended his playing career with a total of 207 games played in the majors over nine seasons. Helping him get there for those 207 games was his time spent back in the minors, at AAA. There, Morman played in a total of 1,249 games over 15 seasons.

Regarding his philosophy of making sure he was ready in those AAA games, Morman didn't want to miss that next chance.

"When you think of it that way, yeah, it's disappointing not being on the 25-man roster," Morman said. "But, also knowing that there's not 25 guys that play the whole year and injuries do occur in this sport, things happen and hopefully you're the guy who gets the next chance to help a team win."

Part 1: Playing A Game | Part 2: That Guy

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