From the time he started his collegiate baseball career with Ohio University, John Morlan was one of the top pitching prospects in the game. He had been drafted in 1965 (8th round by the Reds), 1967 (1st round by the Pirates, and 1968 (4th round by the Indians), but passed on signing each time in favor of finishing his college career; a decision that paid off when he was the 5th overall pick in the 1969 draft by the Pirates. The right-handed starter finally embarked on his professional career with the ambition of being the next great pitcher in the major leagues.
Morlan scuffled during his first minor league season in 1971, posting a 5.50 combined ERA at two different levels. He rebounded and truly blossomed by 1973, going 11-5 with a 2.09 ERA for the Pirates’ Triple-A team in Charleston. His excellent production earned him a promotion to the Pirates, whose pitching staff was in flux because of the sudden and inexplicable decline of Steve Blass. Morlan got into a total of 10 games (7 starts) with the Pirates in 1973 and acquitted himself nicely. His record was a pedestrian 2-2, but he had a 3.95 ERA, more than respectable numbers for a prospect his age.
The Pirates shored up their starting rotation for 1974, aided in large part by the acquisition of young Ken Brett. It was a move that by necessity pushed Morlan to the bullpen, where he became the Pirates’ long man. He ended up appearing in 39 games in relief for the National League East Division champions, posting a 0-3 record and 4.29 ERA. His effectiveness was diminished by a lack of control. Although he only allowed 54 hits and 2 home runs in 65 innings, he struck out 38 while walking 48. He did not appear in the playoffs and never again appeared in a major league game.
Morlan pitched at Triple-A for Pittsburgh through 1977, but with limited success. He compiled a 14-20 record during that time but was never needed at the major league level. The Pirates were annual contenders every season during that time and grew to have a loaded pitching staff with few significant holes.
Although the rising star of John Morlan never crested in the way he had originally hoped after he left college, his time in the majors was more than a majority of first round draft picks can claim. More information about Morlan’s career statistics is available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/morlajo01.shtml. He recently shared with me some memories of his time in baseball and obviously has no regrets about his time in the game.
John Morlan Questionnaire:
What was the strangest play you ever saw in baseball?: The funniest thing I ever saw in baseball was in Triple-A in Charleston, West Virginia. Our manager Joe Morgan got thrown out of a game after he gave the umpires the lineup card at home plate! Joe was still mad about a call the umpires made the night before.
Who was your favorite coach or manager?: My favorite manager was Joe Morgan; an honest and true baseball man. He helped me greatly!
Who was your toughest out?: My toughest out was always when somebody was in scoring position. Tony Perez comes to mind. The Big Red Machine was the team to beat.
If you could do anything about your playing career differently, what would that be?: The thing I would do different is try to relax more than I did. There’s a lot of pressure to perform at that level.
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