The Tragic Death of “Big Ed” Morris
If ever a last-place team could have a â€œstopperâ€ in its pitching staff, then “Big Ed” Morris would qualify.
Morris, who earned his nickname by being 6-foot-2 and roughly 185 pounds, was 19-15 with a 3.53 ERA in 1928 for the cellar-dwelling Boston Red Sox (57-96). He appeared in 47 games with 29 starts. Of his 18 relief appearances, 15 times he finished off the game.
In regards to being that â€œstopper,â€ nine times Morris stopped a losing streak of at least three games with a win or save (he was credited with five saves). It goes up to 10 if you want to count two-game skids.
Morris had a good fastball and was regarded as giving â€œpromise of being the sparkplug that would stir a usually dormant motor into a speeding monster that might give Beantown folk a pennant contender.â€
But Morris slipped a bit in 1929 to 14-14 with a 4.45 ERA as Boston again finished last (58-96). Arm trouble â€“ supposedly from a fight with Detroit police â€“ plagued Morris in 1930 and he appeared in just 18 games, starting only half of those.
In 1931, he was just 5-7 with a 4.75 ERA in 37 games (14 starts), but reminded people of his once-promising future and gave hope to a comeback in 1932 by tossing a complete game in his final appearance of the season against the St. Louis Browns, allowing two runs on four hits and five walks while striking out seven.
Indeed, Morris was in the Red Soxâ€™s rotation plans for 1932. He was all set to join the club for spring training in Savannah, Ga., but first some locals in Brewton, Ala., wanted to throw Morris, who was from Foshee, Ala., and lived in Flomaton, Ala., a little going-away party.
A fish fry was scheduled for Feb. 29 at a cabin along the Conecuh River. What happened at the event which ended the party â€“ and Morrisâ€™ life â€“ is a bit shaky.
We know that Morris knocked down Joe White, an â€œoil station operatorâ€ in Brewton. Reports at the time stated that upon knocking White down, Morris tripped and fell. With both men in a prone position, White then took out a knife and stabbed Morris twice in the chest near the heart.
Later reports claimed that White thought that Morris, who was married with two children, was making a pass at his wife. White took umbrage and confronted Morris, who then attacked White.
Morris supposedly drove himself to a hospital in nearby Century, Fla., while White was arrested, although no charges filed as police waited to find out the condition of the Red Sox hurler.
Initially, the report was that Morris had only a slight chance to survive. But a March 2 story from the UPI stated that Morris, while in critical condition, â€œhad a chance to recoverâ€ according to doctors. An Associated Press story painted an even better prognosis, saying physicians gave Morris an â€œeven chanceâ€ to survive.
But it was just false hope. Morrisâ€™ condition actually took a turn for the worse the night of March 2. Doctors tried to save Morrisâ€™ life by giving him oxygen on the morning of March 3, but it was to no avail. Morris died March 3 as a result of the stabbing.
White had been placed in jail, but was released on bond. Upon word of Morrisâ€™ death, Brewton Sheriff G.S. Burns once again arrested White and charged him with first-degree murder (although a later story would say he was charged with second-degree murder).
The justice system moved a little faster in 1932 and it wasnâ€™t long before White was on trial. Here, a different version of the events was laid out.
It was claimed that it was not Joe White who argued with Morris, but a man named Joe Nolan, with White trying to â€œact as peacemaker.â€
White said that the group â€“ which comprised of six men â€“ were sitting around a campfire when suddenly Morris, without warning, began â€œpummeling White with his fists,â€ knocking White to the ground where Morris then began to kick him. White grabbed a knife and â€œreaching upward from the ground where he lay, slashed Morris near the heart as the latter bent over him.â€
So whereas originally people said Morris had fallen and then was stabbed by White, now the claim was Morris was upright.
And every witness backed up Whiteâ€™s story.
White was found guilty, not of murder but for first-degree manslaughter. He was sentenced to three years in prison, but quickly said he would appeal the decision and posted a $2,000 bond for his release.
The judge in the case did not set a hearing for the appeal and White reportedly never spent even one day in jail.
Heller, an Orioles fan, is the author of “As Good As It Got: The 1944 St. Louis Browns” and has been contributing to Seamheads since June 2009, writing mostly about the Browns. Heâ€™s had numerous newspaper jobs, working as a writer, editor, or web producer for the Cincinnati Post, Bengal Report Magazine, Cincinnati Enquirer, Sportsline.com, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. His work has also appeared in the Washington Post, Philadelphia Daily News, and Detroit Free-Press.