“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”
Walter Edward Morris was born December 7, 1899, in Foshee, Alabama, a small unincorporated rural community close to the Florida line near the end of the panhandle.
Ed grew to be a physically imposing man and came to be called “Big Ed.” According to official baseball records, he stood 6 feet 2 inches tall and tipped the scales at 185 pounds, an impressive size for that time.
Before embarking on a career in Organized Baseball, Ed played sandlot and semipro ball in the border area and also served in the Marine Reserves. He was pitching for the town team in Century, Florida when he was discovered and signed by the Bradenton Growers of the Class-D Florida State League. Apparently Ed also did some pitching for Palmer College, a small private institution in nearby Defuniak Springs, Florida that closed during the Great Depression.
He has been characterized as occasionally overbearing and cocky by his own family in addition to being labeled an eccentric and a “hard-boiled guy”. He was also known to over-indulge when it came to alcohol. Apparently he was no stranger to a good rumble either.
Despite his strong arm, Ed labored in the minor leagues for eight years before finding success with the Red Sox. He developed a reputation for wildness both on and off the mound – a pitcher with more talent than motivation.
Big Ed began his professional career in 1920 with Bradenton and moved up to the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Class-A Southern Association the next year. He got a trial with the Chicago Cubs of the National League during the 1922 campaign.
He was back with Chattanooga in 1923. He split the 1924 season between Chattanooga and the Nashville Volunteers, also of the Southern Association.
In the spring of 1925, he got a trial with the Cincinnati Reds, but was returned to Nashville before the season began amid complaints that the Volunteers had attempted to dump a sore-armed hurler on the Reds. The 1925 season would be a turning point in his career. He became the ace of the Nashville staff. After several years in professional baseball, Ed discovered that his uniform shirt was too tight around his muscular right shoulder, impeding his delivery. So he ripped the seams of his right sleeve to allow more freedom of movement.
Still with Nashville in 1926, he was 16-13 with a 4.53 ERA. The next year, 1927, he pitched for the Mobile Bears, still in the Southern Association but much closer to home.
In 1928 he got another big-league chance, this time with the struggling Red Sox who’d finished last in the American League in five of the previous six seasons. The 28-year-old rookie recorded his first victory on May 3rd with an impressive four-hitter over the powerful Philadelphia Athletics.
His 1928 campaign would be the best of career by far. Though he didn’t join the starting rotation until May, he sported a 17-11 won-lost mark with an excellent 3.13 earned run average after an August 25th victory over the St. Louis Browns. It was only the Sox’ 124th game of the year, so he seemed a cinch to join the elite 20-game-winners circle with more than a month to go in the season. But he mysteriously lost his effectiveness and dropped his next four starts before winning his final one of the year. He also made five relief appearances in the final weeks of the campaign, winning one game in that role to finish a game short of 20 wins. During this time his ERA jumped 40 points to a final mark of 3.53.
Despite his late season slump, Ed finished with the sixth-highest victory total in the American League. More impressively, he accounted for 33% of the Red Sox’ meager 57 wins, by far the highest percentage among the league’s hurlers. He also ended up in the American League top 10 in adjusted ERA, strikeouts, and fewest hits allowed per nine innings. A victim of poor offensive support, his teammates failed to score more than three runs in 11 of the 13 losses he suffered as a starter.
He was a candidate for the American League Most Valuable Player Award (MVP) and finished tied for 15th place, but he was the second-leading vote-getter among the league’s hurlers behind 23-game-winner Waite Hoyt of the Yankees. Although the Rookie of the Year Award hadn’t yet come into existence, Ed was arguably the top rookie in the American League in 1928. Big Ed was definitely the top rookie hurler in the majors. He was selected as the right-handed pitcher on The Sporting News Rookie All-Star Team.
In 1929 Big Ed’s performance fell off and he began experiencing arm problems as the Red Sox again finished in the American League cellar. He captured his 13th victory in 24 decisions in the Sox' 118th game of the 1929 campaign, but won only one more game before his season came to an abrupt close after a tough 2-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers on September 12th – the Sox 139th game. For the year his 14 victories again led the staff, but he also lost 14 times and his ERA rose to 4.45, well above the league average.
In the off-season prior to the 1929 campaign, Sox management had become concerned over reports that their new ace was doing quite a bit of pitching down in the Panama Canal Zone. But Big Ed assured the brass that he was only down there as a coach and teacher. Yet, after the disappointing year, he attributed his decline to training too hard in preparation for the season.
In preparation for the 1930 season, Big Ed briefly flirted with another off-season activity for keeping in shape – professional boxing. Along with teammate Bill Barrett, Big Ed applied for a boxing license. Unfortunately, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis short-circuited his heavyweight championship ambitions.
Possibly due to the loss of projected boxing revenue, Ed was a salary holdout when the Red Sox 1930 spring training camp opened. The team had more than doubled his salary from $3,500 to $7,500 after his tremendous rookie campaign and Big Ed felt another nice pay increase was due despite a decrease in effectiveness as a sophomore. The Sox had relocated their preseason training camp to Pensacola, so Ed decided to drive down and watch an early workout and ended up signing for a modest $500 raise. He began the season in the bullpen capturing a quick victory in his first relief appearance (three scoreless innings against the Yankees) before suffering a pair of losses. He got his first start on May 6th, yielding four runs in five innings in a loss to the White Sox. Big Ed seemed to be hitting his stride when he threw a brilliant two-hitter to beat the St. Louis Browns five days later, but he was ineffective in his next two starts.
Big Ed’s next start came almost two weeks later on June 4th and resulted in a 5 to 4, 10-inning complete-game triumph over Cleveland. He followed that effort up with a well-pitched 1-0 loss in Detroit on June 8th before missing another three weeks of action.
It was rumored that Ed injured his throwing arm in a fight with two Detroit cops during the 1930 season. Although an exact date is not known, this is a likely time frame for that to have occurred.
Although he initially pitched well in his return, arm miseries again cropped up and continued to plague him until he was shut down for the year in mid-August. For the 1930 season, he pitched only 18 times (nine starts). His won-lost record was a disappointing 4-9 although his 4.13 ERA was better than the league standard of 4.65. One positive aspect of the 1930 campaign was that Big Ed, never known for his work with the stick, hit .316 with a robust .526 slugging average.
The Red Sox again held spring training in Pensacola in 1931, and Big Ed showed up with his very own pitching prospect to bolster the Boston staff. A few weeks into spring training, it was reported that Morris was rounding into shape slowly. When the season began he found himself in the bullpen where he performed surprisingly well. He earned his first start of the season against the Yankees on April 25th and held the Bombers to four hits and two earned runs before leaving with the score tied and two outs in the eighth inning. He pitched a good game against the Senators in his next appearance a week later, holding them to a pair of runs in seven innings, although he again failed to get the decision. Though he still hadn’t cracked the victory column he had an excellent 2.01 earned run and was starting to look like the Big Ed Morris of old when a vicious batting practice line drive broke his toe. He returned to action after more than three weeks on the shelf to win three straight starts after an initial loss. A 7-1 complete-game victory over the Tigers on June 13th, raised his won-lost record to 3-2, accompanied by a 2.12 earned run average.
Big Ed’s success was short-lived however. He was ineffective in his next four starts and was consigned back to the bullpen after yielding five runs to the Philadelphia A’s in one-third inning of work in the first game of a July 4th doubleheader.
This unfortunate start was likely to have occurred in the wake of yet another colorful Big Ed Morris escapade that is thought to have taken place during the 1931 season. According to the story, the veteran pitcher came across a temporarily unmanned elevator in the St. Louis hotel where the team was staying and proceeded to hi-jack the car. Upon returning to his post to find the car missing, the operator summoned a pair of house detectives who began chasing after Morris in another elevator. Big Ed would stop the car at every floor just long enough to bellow out a loud rebel yell. When the detectives finally caught up with him, they “wrestled him to the ground, wrenching his shoulder in the fracas.”
Pitching mostly in relief with an occasional start the rest of the way, Ed finished the season with a 5-7 won-lost mark and mediocre 4.75 ERA.
As winter began giving way to spring in 1932, Big Ed was eagerly looking forward to the start of a new baseball season. The previous year, with little help from him, the Red Sox had risen to the dizzying heights of sixth place after six straight cellar finishes He was determined to make a big comeback and reclaim his spot at the top of the rotation. As the clubs prepared to head south for spring training,
Red Sox hurlers were due to report for preseason training camp in Savannah, Georgia on March 2nd, so some of Ed’s friends planned a fish fry/peanut boil as a going-away party for him the day before he was scheduled to leave. The party was held on or near a body of water on February 29, 1932, a Leap Day. Quantities of prohibition era alcohol were present. The guest of honor was stabbed twice in a scuffle with a Brewton service station operator named Joe White during the festivities. Ed ended up in the hospital in Century, Florida and died on Thursday, March 3rd as a result of the stabbing.
The cause of the brawl and role of the combatants is also a matter of some conjecture. What seems a very plausible account has Morris urinating in the community pot of boiled peanuts, a stunt that the rest of the party didn’t really appreciate. Another version claims that argument occurred because White thought Morris had made a pass at White’s wife. In the differing versions Morris is variously portrayed as the instigator as well as an innocent bystander.
Initially, doctors at Century Hospital had given Morris an even chance to recover. On March 2nd it was reported that he was holding his own and doing as well as could be expected. But his condition worsened that night and he died early the next day, March 3, 1932. His funeral was held March 4th in Flomaton and he was interred at Hall’s Creek Baptist Church in the nearby Pine View Community.
Soon after Ed Morris died, White, who was originally released on bond, was re-arrested and charged with murder. He was sentenced to three years for manslaughter, but the conviction was subsequently overturned on appeal.