Baseball’s loss turned out to be fast pitch softball’s gain back in 1963 when Stu Morrison was cut from the Cloquet High School baseball team.
As it turned out, Morrison turned to fast-pitch softball and turned the negative into an 18-year career that will culminate with his induction into the Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame on Oct. 29 at the Monterey Ballroom in Owatonna.
“Believe it or not, I was an outfielder then and I was just too small,” recalled Morrison of the day he was cut. “The year I graduated, I was all of 5-foot-9 and about 145 pounds, and the year after I graduated I grew three inches and gained 75 pounds.”
After being cut his sophomore year in baseball, the burly Morrison turned his attention to fast pitch softball and played for the Scanlon Volunteer Fire Department in what would be the start of a pretty special ride.
While playing for Scanlon, Morrison saw Craig Pollard pitching and thought it was something he could do so he decided to give it a try. That move turned out to be the best decision possible as Morrison became one of northern Minnesota’s most dominant pitchers in the late ’60s through the early 1980s.
Following a three-year stint playing for Scanlon, Morrison was approached by Morrie Veilleaux, who was coaching a team in Wrenshall. From that point on Veilleaux coached Morrison. Along with the help of a number of local players, they transformed him into a giant on the mound.
“Morrie had access to the Wrenshall school back then,” Morrison said. “In the winter we must have put in four nights a week pitching for two or three hours at a time. And we did that for quite a few years.”
After playing for teams such as Sonny’s Mileage and the Hub Bar, Morrison eventually found his way to the Viking Steak House, a team loaded with great local athletes in need of just one more superstar pitcher.
“That was a very good group of guys and players,” Morrison said. “It was just a fun group of guys to play ball with.”
The 1974 Viking Steak House team included the likes of Hall of Fame catcher Jerry Pollard, his brother Craig Pollard, Bob Ames, Bruce Plante, Don Hanson, Hall of Famer Kenny Joyce, David Joyce, Mick Singpiel, Dick Hunter, Arv Burton, Rich Cook, Walt Benko and other players who formed the nucleus of a powerhouse Class A team.
“That team was a Class A team playing in the Class AA Duluth league,” Morrison said. “We went on to win the state Single A tournament and we won the Northern Regional Class A title in 1974.”
Morrison pitched all but two innings in that 1974 regional tournament and was named the Most Valuable Player. However, the season ended after the regional championship because, for a number of reasons, there was no national tournament that season.
The following year the Viking Steak House made it back to the regional tournament where they were undefeated going into the championship round of the double elimination tourney. In the first game of the finals - and with another pitcher throwing - Viking Steak House lost 1-0 in 12 innings. Viking Steak House then led 3-0 in the final game before Morrison suffered a meniscus tear and was taken off the field. Before the dust cleared, the Green Terrace team out of Winona came back to score five runs and win the game 5-3.
Despite that setback, things continued to go well for Morrison who then moved on to Twins Bar in Duluth and - along with Donnie Olson - subsequently brought that team to the regional tourney in 1976. In 1981, it was Morrison helping his Duluth Perkins team win the state tournament by pitching his Perkins squad into the semifinals before being injured again. This time it was Butch Carey stepping up to pitch the final game, giving the team the state championship.
Throughout the years there were numerous accolades and MVP awards for Morrison, who threw hard and worked equally as hard on his craft.
“I did work hard to try and learn new pitches,” suggested Morrison. “I didn’t throw as hard as Bobo Johnson, but I guess I was known as a hard-throwing pitcher.”
Not only could Morrison pitch, but he was also a feared hitter at the plate, providing power to go along with a .285 career batting average. During his playing career he was considered one of the top two pitchers in Class A in the state and in the region every year.
Over the course of his 18-year career, Morrison played in 13 state tournaments and had so many no-hitters that they are too numerous to mention, but one of those no-hitters had a unique twist when fellow Hall of Famer Kenny Joyce had to fill in for an injured regular catcher and caught a game in which Morrison struck out 23 batters. Ironically, a seven-inning game has only 21 outs, but twice during the game Joyce dropped the third strike, allowing Morrison to pitch to two more batters and striking those out as well. Joyce also caught another Morrison no-hitter before the regular catcher was able to return to the playing field.
“I was working at the mill and they told me about a kid who was throwing hard,” recalled Joyce. “At first I didn’t know why they made the backstops so high but I found out when he started throwing the ball over the backstop. It took us about five years, but he was one of the top two pitchers back then and he could throw hard. He threw harder than anyone in the area at the time and even the guys on the top Twin Cities teams like Whittaker Buick didn’t throw as hard as he did.”
In fact Joyce said Morrison was so dominating it allowed the team playing defense behind him to relax and not worry about mistakes.
“He was so dominating that he’d have about 15 strikeouts a game,” Joyce said. “That means you only need to get six outs on defense and that allows you to relax and realize that when you needed the strikeout in a crucial time he would get it.”
Morrison also pitched for other powerhouse teams Perkins and Mr. D’s.
Towards the end of a playing career that was cut short due to knee injuries, Morrison gave back to softball by volunteering his time to help develop young pitchers for the Esko High School girls program and also helped in the development of the U-18 boys program in Cloquet after his playing days.
“I loved helping the kids,” Morrison said. “The girls have come a long way since softball started and it is great to see how some of these kids can throw.”
Morrison will be honored along with 14 other inductees at the Hall of Fame banquet Oct. 29. Anyone wishing to attend the banquet can buy a ticket by going to the Minnesota Sports Federation website at www.msf1.org?p=11929 and downloading a form to mail or by calling 952-405-6936. The deadline for ordering tickets is Friday, Oct. 21.