Charlie Morton arrived in Houston ahead of the 2017 season as a mystery to so many. Unless you are a true die hard fan of baseball, odds were fairly good that you had never heard of him. Charlie Morton (CFM, Ground Chuck, Uncle Charlie), leaves Houston after the 2018 season as an Astros and Houston sports legend.
From a pure statistical basis, it is hard to use the word 'legend' for a man that only pitched in Houston for two seasons, for a franchise with a pretty deep history of really good starting pitchers. Despite it being a much shorter stay than we all wanted, the fact is simple, Charlie Morton will forever be talked about as a legend in our wonderful city.
Charlie Morton is the perfect example of what the Astros have become since Jim Crane bought the team and put Jeff Luhnow in charge of taking the franchise to a place it had never been before. Baseball laughed at the Astros a lot in the early days of the Luhnow era. The laughs disappeared after the 2015 season that saw the Astros end a ten year postseason drought. Those laughs, at a much lower level this time, returned to an extent when the Astros signed Morton to a two year deal ahead of the 2017 season for a total of fourteen million dollars.
I like many, did not completely understand the line of thinking when we first heard about the deal. How is it a good idea to give a guy who had never made thirty starts in a season, had a career ERA over four, who is coming off of a horrific hamstring injury that ended his 2016 season after just four starts, a guaranteed two year deal worth fourteen million dollars? I was right to question it, you were right to question it, baseball was right to question it. There was not a single soul that could have ever imagined he would be on the mound for the Astros in game seven of the World Series almost a year after signing that contract to come to Houston.
Ahead of that infamous 2017 season, we did our yearly broadcast at Astros Fan Fest and one of the players that joined us just happened to be Charlie Morton. From the moment we started the interview, we knew he was different than most athletes. He talked about his surprise to get the offer and how aggressive the Astros were in their pursuit of him. You could feel how humble and grateful he was that he was there. He instantly became a guy you knew were going to root hard for. Give it a listen below.
Charlie Morton's two year run in Houston defines who the Astros are today. A cutting edge organization that knows how to value both data and the human relationship. It's a beautiful marriage of two things that for so many old school thinkers in baseball do not think should be mixed together. The Astros see things in the numbers that lead them to pursuing particular players. The list of guys that have come through Houston in the Luhnow era is lengthy. From the early days when Collin McHugh was a waiver claim thanks to his way above average spin rate on his curveball, to the bigger additions of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, the Astros have used their data and ability to connect with them personally, to make so many perform at levels that even the best of the best have never performed at before.
When I arrived in West Palm Beach for our annual Spring Training training trip, the Astros first spring in their new spring facility that they split with the Washington Nationals, there was a different feel in the air. It was not only due to the beautiful new place to train, that also happened to be in a much better part of the state than their old facility in Kissimmee, it was the sudden influx of veteran leaders that made it just feel different. They had the confidence before the 2017 season, but walking in the clubhouse for the first time, you could just sense that it was at a much different level than before.
Charlie Morton was the quiet, fatherly like figure and you could feel the importance of his presence from the jump. While his quiet leadership was something that benefited the club, it would not have mattered if he went out there and performed like he had for the majority of his big league career.
I was there to see his first start of the spring on our last day there in West Palm Beach before we returned home. I was very eager to see what type of impression ole Uncle Charlie could make on me and Astros fans as he took the mound that day. From the jump, it was wow kind of stuff. The ball just flew out of his hand as the radar gun read 97, 98, or 99 after every single fastball he threw. While this dropped my jaw to the floor seeing him blow that kind of smoke up there, doing it with what appeared such ease, I was not ready to completely buy in, knowing that they were not exactly sure that the radar gun at the new ballpark was giving the most accurate of readings.
Turns out, that radar gun was pretty darn accurate as Morton went on in the 2017 with his average fastball velocity sitting at a cool 96 miles per hour, the highest average velocity on his fastball of his career, a number that he would top in 2018 as it averaged 96.6 miles per hour. While watching him pump heaters in an Astros uniform for two seasons was just downright amazing, watching him throw the most disgusting curveball I have ever seen was much more fun, for myself.
Morton bought into everything the Astros laid out in front of him while he was here, without a doubt aiding to the best two seasons of his big league career. From tweaking the mechanics a bit, to ditching the two seamer for more four seamers up in the zone, to using that wicked curve more than he ever had before, the Astros got the absolute best anyone could have imagined out of Charlie Morton during his two year run.
While we as Astros fans will always remember all of that wicked stuff he brought to the mound every time he took the ball, we will remember him most for his lack of fear in any situation. A career of failures and injury that could have been over long ago, you could always sense how much he appreciated his ability to go out and do what he did while in Houston, like he never had before.
To begin to wrap this thing up, to truly say thank you to Charlie Morton for what he did for the team and city we love, we have to look back at what made Houston's love for him, now and forever, even more special than what he was able to accomplish on the mound.
Charlie Morton is the definition of humble. Charlie Morton is the definition of fearless. Charlie Morton is the definition of dedication. Charlie Morton is the definition of all that is great in this world.
Whether he was being brutally honest about himself.
Or trying to find some way to explain how he suddenly threw the ball harder than he ever had before.
Always honest, always humble, always a guy that we and his teammates rooted for.
In his two years here he became one of us. He knew how much the Astros run meant to this city and he always made sure to let everyone know how lucky he was to be part of it.
Thank you, Charlie Morton. Truly a gem in every aspect, you will forever be a legend in the City of Houston. We will all still be pulling for you from afar...just maybe take it easy when you have to face the Astros moving forward.