Morton recalls fondly his time with Pirates
CLEARWATER, Fla. — Charlie Morton still makes his offseason and spring home in Bradenton, Fla., where he owns a house. But instead of driving to Pirate City and McKechnie Field this spring, the southern homes of the Pirates, he's turning north, crossing the Skyway bridge that spans Tampa Bay, for an hour long, twice-a-day commute to train with his new club.
Morton said he wanted to be “a Pirate” repeatedly when he signed a three-year extension in December 2013. Pittsburgh is where he rebuilt his career and throwing motion, where he experienced dramatic highs and lows.
But injury and inconsistency — Morton posted a 4.81 ERA last season — and an $8 million salary all played roles in his trade to the Philadelphia Phillies in December. The Pirates received minor league right-hander David Whitehead in the deal.
As reporters caught up with Morton on Tuesday, the right-hander recounted fond memories of his time in Pittsburgh but also said the trade was personal for him.
“The thing about being with the Pirates for so long, and what we went through together, it becomes personal,” Morton said. “It has to be. That's the culture in the clubhouse. Things are personal. We are friends. We talk about being close-knit and family, and things like that.”
It was with the Pirates when Morton tore his right ulnar collateral ligament and underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012. He became close with former Pirates special assistant Jim Benedict during the rehab process.
It was with the Pirates when the coaching staff helped changed his arm slot and his pitch mix, going from an unsuccessful four-seam fastball pitcher to having one of the game's best sinkers in 2013 and 2014, when Morton helped the club end a streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons.
“It's hard. Coming from an organization where we went through so much really bad to good, a lot of success, the friends you make and have close relationships,” Morton said. “I don't think those relationships are going to change, but I will just see people less. It's part of the game.”
Morton spoke with former teammates and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle before Tuesday's game at Bright House Field.
“We talked for, gosh, it seemed like 10 minutes. We had a real nice conversation,” Hurdle said. “There were stretches where Charlie was so much fun to watch. I wish them all (former players) well and good health. They all played a part.”
Morton said he was surprised when he received a phone call from Pirates general manager Neal Huntington in December.
“(Huntington said) ‘It was the best thing for the organization.' What more can you do as a GM?” Morton said. “It's your job to make the team the best it can be. I don't take offense to it. … We're talking dollars and that's a valuable resource.”
It's not the first time Morton has received a call learning he had been traded.
In many ways, Morton said this training camp reminded him of when he was traded from the Atlanta Braves to the Pirates, along with Jeff Locke, for Nate McLouth in 2009.
The Phillies are young and in rebuilding mode. More than half of their clubhouse has turned over since last season and outside expectations are tempered.
“To me, challenges present opportunity,” Morton said.
Morton has also begun teaching the Pirate Way during pitchers meetings in Philadelphia.
“I pitch in. … I go hard in to lefties, I go hard in to righties. That's pretty much where I begin,” Morton said. “I think there is definitely going to be some emphasis on going in, working in more (in Philadelphia).”
While Morton was initially disappointed to be traded, his emotions mellowed as he reflected about what he learned and experienced with the Pirates.
“This offseason, just thinking about it,” said Morton of being with the Pirates. “I was really, really lucky.”