Jim Morris | The Unbelievable True Story of Baseball’s Oldest Rookie
Jim Morris – Nothing is Impossible
Jim Morris’ life was so remarkable, they made a Disney movie out of it. This is the unbelievable true story of how one man made the big leagues at the age of 35.
You’re not smart enough. You’re not good enough. Why do you even try? Why don’t you quit now before you embarrass yourself and everybody else? You’ll never make it.
For 15 years, I watched my parents say the worst things they could possibly say to each other, throw things, hit each other. The next three years, I learned from my grandparents it doesn’t have to be that way.
I worked for my grandfather in the stores for three summers, and he taught me a lot. Every day pretty much, I got a lesson. Jimmy, you’re born with your name and you die with your name. What you do with it in between is a legacy you leave behind for everybody else. Who do you want to be?
These lessons from my grandparents added up over time. Eventually, I took those college entry exams that everybody loves to take, and the scores came back and my counselor stops me in the hallway. He’s got my scores in his hand. He goes, “Jimmy, what are you going to do with your life?” I looked at my counselor and I said, “I’m gonna be a baseball player. Everybody knows that.” He goes, “I hope so. You’re too stupid to go to college.”
Same period of time, I find out the person I love more than anybody in my life, the mentor, the person I held high up here on this pedestal, my grandfather, Ernest, was diagnosed with ALS. No grades, no scholarships, watching my grandfather get sicker and sicker.
I was playing a summer league game. After the game, this man came to talk to me. He goes, “I’m the coach at Ranger Junior College. I want you to come play baseball for me. I know about your dream. I know about your grandfather. I know about your grades. I’m gonna get you classes that you can pass,” which was important, “you’re gonna pitch for me during the week, and on the weekends during the Fall, you’re going to go home and spend time with your grandparents in the hospital every weekend.” I would pitch, and on the weekends, I would go home. I did that for 4-1/2 months. On the last Sunday in November of ’82, I kissed my grandparents good-bye at midnight. I had to get back for eight o’clock Monday class, told them I loved them. I got back to school at 1:00. At 3:00, my coach woke me up. He said, “You need to go home. Ernest has passed away. I’ve already talked to all of your professors. Don’t worry about it. Your finals will be taken care of when you get back. You go home. You take care of your grandmother. You take care of the funeral. She does not lift another finger.” So I did.
To this day, in Brownwood, there’s never been a larger funeral take place. People came from all over the country. Everybody got to say their good-byes to my grandfather, who lived for everybody else but himself.
No grades, no scholarships, nowhere to go. Call my mom. “Mom, I need a horrible mistake. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m quitting. I’m coming home. I’m done. It’s time to go out in the world and start teaching and coaching kids.”
That’s when I found myself at Reagan County High School in Big Lake, Texas. I inherited a baseball team that had won one game each year for the three years before I got there. The first thing I did as a head coach was I kept that one team on the schedule. “You’re going to respect this game. As long as you’re on my field, you’re playing for my team. We’re going to do things the right way.” Athletic director and head football coach at Reagan County High School pulled me aside one day to tell me, “If it’s ever close or they’re ever behind, they’re gonna find a way to lose. Their parents are losers. They’re losers. It’s just in their DNA. They’re not even gonna graduate from high school. They’re gonna work in the oil fields and gas fields like their dads and their granddads did, and there’s nothing you or anybody else can do about it. You have taken these kids as far as you can.”
The problem with that little talk was that two of my kids were behind the lockers changing. Before I get to my field, spread through my team like wildfire. The guy not only in charge of all the coaches, but all the kids, thought they were losers. I walked down the left field line. Not one kid’s looking at me. I started talking about hopes and dreams and setting goals. Then my catcher looked at me dead in the eye and he goes, “Why are you telling us to chase our dreams if you’re not willing to do it yourself? We think you still wanna play.” I said, “No, sir. I wanna stay married. Thank you very much.” “But, Coach, the way you teach us the game, we know your heart’s still in it. You teach us how to act and react to every situation that comes up. We know what the other team’s gonna do before they do it.”
What came out of the deal was if they want a district championship, which the school had never done in baseball, I had to try out again, but forget about the bet, but in the district championship game, we’re down by three runs in the last inning and history would dictate we’re not meant to come back and win that game. I watched this group of kids that nobody believed in, including themselves, come back to score four runs, winning. It is one of the best sites I’ve ever seen in my life. They’re hugging each other. They’re hugging the trophy. They’re hugging their parents. This kid on my team could even see tears in my eyes, and when he sees me, he starts giggling. Big, fat coach in the driver’s seat crying like a baby. Pats me on the shoulder, walks by, he goes, “We did our part. Now, it’s your turn.” I have to go do this. Every kid on the bus, “Coach, we did our part. Now, it’s your turn.”
I finally try out. My dad helps me find it. I made a promise to a group of kids that if they did something nobody thought they could do, I would try to do something I know I can’t do. Embarrassing, humiliating, I can’t do anything about that. I made a promise. I’m living up to it. Young guy catching me, he just graduated from high school, gives me a sign for a fastball. I lined up. I throw it as hard I can. I looked over the catcher’s head behind the screen. [inaudible 00:04:58]. I did not even throw hard enough to register. [inaudible 00:05:03] scout meets me in my car. He said, “Well, son, I don’t know. You’ve done your time off, but the first pitch you threw without warming up was 94. Everything after that went up to 98.” The last thing he said to me as I got ready to drive home was, “Don’t be surprised if you get a phone call.”
The kids were right. I didn’t embarrass myself. Drive an hour and 10 minutes home. Wasn’t one phone call. It was 12. We were not the first ones home. My ex-wife hangs up the phone, turns around and said, “So, where have we been?” My oldest daughter, who was four at the time, holds onto me every time she can, is holding onto my pants and she looks up at her mother and goes, “We’re not supposed to tell you.” She looked back at me and she said, “What were you thinking?” I said, “I’m a man. I’m not supposed to think.” She said, “What are you doing now?” I said, “The same thing I was going to do before. I’m good at coaching these kids. I trained for that. I’m successful at that. I win everywhere I go. That’s what I’m good at. This thing over here, this baseball dream, has never, ever worked. I’ve wanted to play since I was five. It’s never worked.” She said, “You better listen to the phone calls.”
They wanted me to come back in two days and throw again to see if I could actually throw that hard or if my arm had fallen off. I’m telling my kids they wanted me to come back and throw again. My kids go, “Coach, you told us if we ever had our dreams in front of us, you chase it no matter what.” Two days later, I go back and throw again. It rained so hard, they had to hand me a brand new baseball every pitch, sunk me up to my knee in mud every time. I landed 98 every pitch.
Our Big League general manager’s there. He goes, “You could smile. You’re gonna be in Texas tomorrow.” I just looked at him and I was stunned. I was like, “What?” He goes, “You’re in the Big Leagues.” I’m trying to process how, in three months, I’ve lost 60 pounds, I’ve gone from grading papers, science papers, and report cards to autographs and doing interviews, all because of a group of kids who when I pushed them, they pushed back. They got their coach to go to the Big Leagues, who couldn’t even believe in himself at the time.
My grandfather had this saying. Every day, I heard it for three years. “Remember who you are.” It took me until years later to get what he meant. Remember who you are is simple. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t have anybody see you do. It’s not what you do when you know people are watching that makes you who you are. It’s what you do when nobody’s watching at all. That makes you who you are. That’s character. That’s my grandparents. If you make it just about you, you’re never going to go anywhere. It’s when you make it about something bigger than you and be a mentor for somebody, be a dream maker, be a team player. Nothing is impossible in this world.