By Trey Williams
Science Hill Hall of Famer Charlie “Moose” Morris isn’t eager to toot his own horns.
Morris, who started in baseball and football for the Hilltoppers and lettered in basketball and track & field, is as comfortable discussing his pop-ups as he is recalling walk-off home runs.
Morris could punish a baseball, or for that matter, a bat.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Science Hill senior did both at the state tournament in Chattanooga in 1961. In the losers’ bracket final against Hillsboro, Morris tied the score with a three-run home run beyond left field, a “tremendous clout” according to Chattanooga Daily-Times sports writer Jim Ryan.
Science Hill went on to lose the game, but Morris has a more vivid recollection of a loss to Christian Brothers the day before. He got a good pitch to hit with a runner on second, but not only failed to solidly connect, he didn’t advance a runner on second base to third.
“The pitch was tailor-made,” Morris said Sunday. “It was outside and belt-high. If I’d got it in the middle of the bat, it very easily could’ve went out of there.”
Instead, he popped it up.
“I popped the ball up to second base,” he said. “I hit it nine miles high. And it made me so mad that I flipped that bat over and I hit it right in the middle of home plate and snapped it in two.”
Turning lumber into toothpicks didn’t sit well with normally mild-mannered coach John Broyles, who was in the twilight of his career.
“Coach Broyles went ballistic,” Morris said. “I’d broke one of his bats. Boy, he went crazy. And everybody was trying to calm him down. Oh, he got mad at me. …
“Oh, yeah, he was very, very mild mannered. But now he was a penny-pincher. He took care of his equipment.”
All was well before they’d checked out of the hotel.
“I’ll tell you how mild-mannered he is,” Morris said. “After we got back to the hotel, he come up to our room and he said, ‘I’ve got to apologize to you.’ I said, ‘Coach, you don’t need to apologize to me.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I do, because after I’ve had some time to think about it, you were only trying to do the right thing and I know you were mad at yourself.’
“They love to tell that story – the ones of us who are still living – about me breaking that bat. Oh, I was mad. I was so mad I could have chewed it in two, much less, snapped it.”
During the course of his high school career, Morris’ baseball teammates included Ken Campbell, brothers Steve and Graham Spurrier, Tom Hager and Lonnie Lowe.
Morris led Science Hill with 11 home runs as a senior. Two of those came in the state tournament, which caught the eye of St. Louis scout Mercer Harris.
Three months later, he’d led the Johnson City Cardinals in home runs with 13. He hit his 12th in the final home game of the season, a walk-off solo blast to left field at Cardinal Park (TVA Credit Union Ballpark) against Morristown. Future ETSU baseball coach Charley Lodes played shortstop for Morristown.
Morris’ game-winning home run was witnessed by many friends and family. He was more pleased that he made a catch in left field – “I wasn’t known for that,” he said – and subsequently threw a runner out trying to tag and score to help get the win for 16-year-old reliever Mike Jones, who’d signed when he was 15 earlier that year thanks to special permission granted by commissioner Ford Frick.
“It was a good moment for me too,” Morris said. “But it was really special because it was Mike. He was just a kid. Of course, I wasn’t much older than him.”
Morris led the Cardinals in home runs, RBIs, runs and walks. When Johnson City’s season ended, Morris spent the final weeks of the minor league season with Tulsa. He began in Billings, Montana the following year, and finished in Brunswick, Georgia.
As he continued to find good sliders and curveballs to be a chore, his career ended in Spring Training in ‘63. He ended up working in the railroad industry.
Morris’ chosen path was understandable. But he would’ve been in organized sports longer, as it turned out, had he played football.
He started at right tackle as a junior and at left tackle as a senior for the ‘Toppers, and he turned heads making holes.
“I’d signed to play football for Star Wood at ETSU, but my first love was baseball,” Morris said. “It was a lot of fun. I hit a grand slam off of Mel Stottlemyre in Harlan County, Kentucky. I played with guys like Tony Oliva and Jim Wynn.”
Morris helped shut out Elizabethton in football his junior and senior seasons. Those games were something former Cyclones quarterback Roy Huskins couldn’t forget nearly 50 years later.
“With me being the quarterback at Elizabethton,” Huskins said, “I got to know Charlie a whole lot better than I wanted to – facemask to facemask.”
Morris was proud to play for Kermit Tipton.
“We had excellent coaches and good players,” Morris said. “We had two really good running backs in Booney Vance and Fred Deneen. Bill Bailey was a fine player.”
Bailey recovered a botched punt in the end zone late for the game-winning score in a 13-7 win against Greeneville at Memorial Stadium during the homecoming game on Oct. 21, 1960.
Science Hill coaches were confident they had a formation to block a Greeneville punt and worked on it all week. But all it’d led to before Bailey’s heroics, Morris said, were two or three roughing the punter penalties.
“And if there were three, two of ‘em were probably mine,” Morris said. “On that last on, Ed Johnson, the guard beside me said, ‘Charlie, if we don’t block this punt, we will be a running until this time next year.’ We went after him, and so help me, the good Lord was just looking over us. He dropped that football and kicked at it and missed. And when he missed, Ed Johnson knocked him plum out the backside of the end zone, turning a backwards flip. And (Bailey) recovered it.”
Morris might move from the line to middle linebacker in goal line and short-yardage situations.
“They’d put him in the middle and Charlie would plug the iso,” Huskins said. “If I had to describe Charlie as a football player in one word it’d be ‘determined.’ You could block him and block him and he was still going to get to the ball.”
Huskins later coached at Dobyns-Bennett and in Winston-Salem. He became acquainted with Emory Hale and Paul Brewster, assistants when Morris was at Science Hill.
“Coaches always said Charlie gave effort and was coachable,” Huskins said. “Paul Brewster thought a lot of Charlie. Paul gave a whole new meaning to ‘serious-minded.’”
Morris cherishes memories from what he said was a golden era and a much-simpler time. His Little League team (Leon Ferenbach or Johnson City Press-Chronicle) lost one game all season, and he said the setback to Ben’s Sports Shop came when four players were on vacation. He hit a home run in Little League when fellow Hall of Famer Wayne Burchfield was catching and future NFL official Jack Vest was umpiring.
“We had some wonderful coaches in Little League,” he said. “Ben Pollock was my coach. You had Jim Mooney, Madison Brooks. Of course, daddy was in it. And Humpy Campbell. Arthur Lady was Madison Brooks’ assistant.
“And I played for great coaches from the seventh grade all the way through high school. We were really fortunate to have coaches like Kermit Tipton and John Broyles and Coach (Bill) Wilkins (basketball). I loved playing for the Hilltoppers.”