Dan Morgan

The 1977 Minnesota Gopher baseball team. Dan Morgan is seated at the far right of the first row. (Image: GopherSports.com)

Pitcher Dan Morgan gained notice for his submarine style of pitching, often described as “unhittable.” His efforts on the mound afforded him a shot at the majors and a place on the University of Minnesota “M Club” Hall of Fame for athletic achievement. He was perhaps the best pitcher to ever emerge from Superior, Wisconsin, the first city at the head of the lakes—all thanks to a knee injury.

Daniel Charles Morgan was born on February 9, 1956, in Superior, Wisconsin. He was the second of three children born to Art and Alice “Kay” (Williams) Morgan, who would divorce when Morgan was young. His stepfather, a Great Lakes seaman, was often away from home. Morgan’s mother had her second marriage annulled when Dan was 14, a year before his stepfather died of cirrhosis of the liver. Morgan turned to his high school coaches for mentorship.

Morgan’s “submarine” pitching style was developed when he was 13 years old. A knee ailment prevented him from competing in sports for a year. “There was nothing to do except throw a baseball against a wall or play catch,” Morgan later told the St. Paul Dispatch. “That got boring so I tried experimenting with different stuff—and I was amazed how the ball did so many different things by throwing it from down so low.” Dick Siebert, who would later coach Morgan at the University of Minnesota, equated the motion to that of Ewell Blackwell, a pitcher for Cincinnati in the 1940s. “That’s the way he (Morgan) threw when I first scouted him…I don’t plan on changing him.”

In 1974, his senior year of high school, Morgan played under the tutelage of basketball coach Don Olson. The Superior Senior High School Spartans captured a state tournament win for the first—and to date, only—time in school history. It was also the first state championship in boys’ basketball for Superior since Superior Central won it all in 1936.

Morgan’s high school baseball coach was former minor league player Ron Orlandi. Morgan joined the team as a sophomore in 1972 and had a 6-1 win-loss record, and the team made it to the quarter finals in the state tournament. His junior year was his most dominant season as a prep athlete. He posted a 12-1 record and a 0.09 ERA with 151 strikeouts in 73 innings pitched. He also hurled three no-hitters. Superior again reached the state tournament, and Morgan won the quarter-final game. The Spartans fell in the semi-finals, with Morgan playing first base.

While Superior failed to make it to the state tournament in his senior year, Morgan had a stellar season, allowing just 16 hits all year. In one of the two no-hitters he threw that season, the Superior Telegram reported that when a Duluth Morgan Park batter flied out to the outfield, it was “the first time this feat [had] been accomplished against Morgan in his four starts.” From 1972 to 1974 he posted a combined record of 48-8 for Superior’s high school and American Legion teams, including 552 strikeouts in 374 innings pitched.

Morgan was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 14th round of the 1974 Major League Baseball June Amateur Draft, and received scholarship offers from the universities of Arkansas, Minnesota and Wisconsin. He chose to attend the University of Minnesota to play for Siebert, a former major leaguer.

Morgan was a two-time All-Big Ten Conference selection for the Gophers, and he played alongside future major league players such as Jerry Ujdur, Steve Comer, and Paul Molitor, who along with Morgan was an All-America selection in 1977. As a junior that year, Morgan was nearly unhittable, posting an ERA of 1.56 in 94.2 innings, going a perfect 10-0 in 16 games with six complete games. This bested his previous year, when Morgan had gone 10-2 in 14 games with a 1.67 ERA in 79.2 innings pitched. Despite their star power, the Gophers only managed one win in the 1977 College World Series; Morgan was the winning pitcher in Minnesota’s 11-inning, 4-3 victory over Baylor in the losers’ bracket.

The Montreal Expos selected Morgan in the 15th round of the 1977 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, and he left college to play ball, earning a win in his professional debut on June 23, 1977, for the Jamestown (N.Y.) Expos. He led Jamestown, a short-season Class A club, in wins (8), innings pitched (79.0), and strikeouts (85) that year; he also made three starts for the Class AA Quebec Metros. Montreal had him on the fast track to the majors and sent him to Puerto Rico for winter league play. But in an all-too-familiar story, the continuous pitching took its toll and he developed a rotator cuff injury that was not given proper attention.

He was back with Jamestown in 1978 and appeared in nine games before moving on to the West Palm Beach (Fla.) Expos, a Class A team, for 10 appearances. His statistics reflect the shoulder injury; he posted a combined 9.19 ERA for the two clubs. The 1978 season was his last in professional baseball.

Morgan returned to the University of Minnesota and graduated with a degree in physical therapy in 1981. He co-founded the Two Rivers Center, a sports orthopedics clinic located in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, in 1981. Ten years later he sold his interest and spent 10 weeks in New Zealand studying spine physical therapy at the McKenzie Institute. He became a certified athletic trainer in 1993, the same year he joined the school’s faculty.

Dan Morgan died on May 31, 1996, of cardiorespiratory complications of mitral valvular disease. He was inducted into the University of Minnesota “M Club” Hall of Fame for athletic achievement on September 20, 2012. It had been over 35 years since his last baseball game for the Golden Gophers, yet he is “remembered as one of the Gophers‘ all-time great pitchers.” According to his “M Club” biography, Morgan “still ranks second in school history in career ERA (1.97), tied for sixth in wins (21) and is ninth in career strikeouts (198). He is also tied for fourth in school history in wins in a season (10, 1976 and 1977) and sixth in strikeouts (93 in 1977).”

Morgan’s sister Mary and brother Mike were present to accept his induction into the “M Club” Hall of Fame. Morgan’s friend, Jon Gallop, said, “It would mean so much to him and he’s so deserving of it. He represents the university, he represented them with class. He was a great player on the field but it was his way off the field that left people really in awe of him even more than his athletic prowess.”

National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Paul Molitor said, “I’m very grateful to the university and the powers that be (that) have decided to…allow Dan to be recognized in the Minnesota hall of fame. I think the Minnesota hall of fame is about people who accomplished a great deal, but also who are tremendous people, and Dan fits both those criteria very well.”

The Dan Morgan Memorial Scholarship Committee has awarded a scholarship to a Superior High School graduating senior student-athlete every year since 1997. The brochure for the scholarship describes Morgan: “He dedicated his life to sports, his career, family, friends, and helping others grow physically and spiritually. He did so with generosity, grace, and humor.”

Story by Anthony Bush. Originally published on Zenith City Online (2012–2017). Click here for more stories by Anthony Bush.