College World Series history made for LSU with Morris' walk off for 1996 title
The video footage has been replayed each June and is now familiar to most college baseball fans.
For LSU fans, those sounds and images touch them deep in their soul. Any Tigers fan old enough to remember and young enough to recall knows where they were when Warren Morris drove a low inside pitch over the right field wall to beat Miami (Fla.) 8-7 in the bottom of the ninth and win the 1996 College World Series championship.
Morris knows because they all want to tell him their story. Not a week goes by without someone describing how they leapt off the couch and banged their head on the ceiling fan when the ball cleared the fence.
Or how they slipped out of a wedding reception to watch the final inning.
Or dozens of other anecdotes.
He enjoys hearing their recollections of the only home run he hit that season, reliving it through their eyes and voices.
Now the vice president of a bank in Alexandria, Louisiana, Morris is married, and his three daughters -- 10-year-old twins and a five-year-old -- love watching dad’s younger self deliver the game winner.
“It’s a great moment and something that I’ll always remember, maybe even the highlight of my sports career,” said Morris, 41, who played nine years of professional baseball, including three in the major leagues for the Pirates, Tigers and Twins.
“If nothing else it brought a smile or happiness to some people. I’m honored to be a part of their memory.”
There was a runner on third base and two outs when Morris swung at the first pitch and hit a line drive that ignited a celebration across the bayous and parishes of Louisiana, and created a dogpile of Tigers at home plate. The blast also wrote a cinematic ending for a star second baseman who had lost much of the 1996 season to injury.
Morris’ right wrist started bothering him during the Fall of 1995 as he participated in U.S. Olympic Trials, playing for his LSU coach Skip Bertman. Morris visited a doctor, who prescribed rest and anti-inflammatories.
Morris skipped the remainder of fall workouts and returned early in the spring. But in a game against Tulane on Feb. 29th, an awkward swing caused the wrist injury to resurface and dropped Morris from the lineup.
Doctors misdiagnosed Morris again, according to Bertman, and it wasn’t until a team doctor from the Toronto Blue Jays intervened that he was properly diagnosed with a broken hamate bone, a common injury for hitters in baseball.
Morris had surgery and ended up missing 39 games. He returned in time for the Tigers appearance in the NCAA Regional in late May, but batted in the ninth spot in the order and could only bunt.
The team arrived in Omaha, kept winning and earning days off. Each day Morris’ wrist felt a little better. And as he took batting practice before the title game against the Hurricanes, he told Bertman that he finally felt like he was close to 100 percent.
LSU led the game 3-2, fell behind 7-3 and eventually evened thescore at seven.
Alex Cora, Miami's All-American shortstop who went on to play 14 years in the majors, drove in a run in the top of the ninth to give the Hurricanes an 8-7 lead.
Morris came to the plate with the tying run on third. He faced Miami closer Robbie Morrison, who had a wicked curveball that had just struck out LSU catcher Tim Lanier.
Lanier asked Morris to “pick him up” as he walked back to the dugout.
Morris arrived at the plate with an aggressive mindset, hoping to drive the ball through the infield and tie the game.
“I didn’t feel any panic or get too caught up in the enormity of the moment,” he said. “The wind had been blowing in all day, I wasn’t trying to hit a home run, just drive the ball in the gap and we had the top-of-the-order coming up behind me.”
Just seconds later, Morris gave LSU its third national championship and confirmed what he’d felt all season: the Tigers were a team of destiny.
Bertman won five national championships before retiring in 2001 to become the Tigers’ athletic director. But it’s clear he holds special memories of his three years coaching Morris, who came to LSU on an academic scholarship, excelled on the field, in the classroom and in the community. The Tigers finished the season with a 52-15 record, but were 22-0 in games where Morris played.
ESPN awarded the hit as “Showstopper of the Year” at its annual ESPY awards. Bertman called Morris’ homer perhaps the iconic moment in LSU’s rich athletic history, on par with the legendary Billy Cannon punt return against Ole Miss in 1959.
“Had any other player done it, it would’ve been wonderful,” Bertman said. “But I wouldn’t have been as happy.”