Meet the most popular player in the World Series: Everyone loves Charlie Morton

HOUSTON — Alex Anthopoulos, the Atlanta Braves general manager, had heard great things about Charlie Morton. Everyone has. Spend a little time in and around baseball, and you will too.

It was part of why the Braves had signed him — $15 million for the 2021 season after the Tampa Bay Rays declined a team option for as much. Maybe it’s the dad in him, but Anthopoulos prioritizes having good and decent people on his team — the kind who are positive influences on young players, he says. Like the friends you’d want your kids to have.

When they were still considering the signing, he talked to Morton early in the offseason and came away struck by his easy charm.

“You get off the phone with them and you're like, this guy's awesome, he's just so thoughtful and bright, and he'll give you all the time in the world,” Anthopoulos said recently.

Niceness is, well, nice. But it’s not a compelling enough reason on its own to sign a 37-year-old starting pitcher.

“Obviously what he does on the field is why we wanted him,” Anthopoulos said back in spring training. “But then you layer in the fact that he's a great guy, great teammate, and he's a good example for all these young arms.”

Ian Anderson, Max Fried, Kyle Wright, Mike Soroka (who missed most of his second consecutive season due to injury), Huascar Ynoa: The Braves are flush with young pitching that hadn't yet pushed them over the top in the postseason. Morton, with his 61+ postseason innings before this year — including a couple trips to the World Series and one ring (more on that later) — and a 3.38 ERA that earned him a reputation for living up to Big Games, was an attractive option to lead a team that was looking to shake off a two-decade tendency to falter in October.

“Having a guy like that who has been through everything and is considered one of the best teammates, best human beings in the game, who is successful, it's only a good thing,” Anthopoulos said. “I only view that as a positive, so that definitely factors into the equation. Secondarily, though, to what we think he can do on the field, because that's always going to drive all the decisions. But that other piece is pretty important to us as well.”

So they did the deal. And after he was officially a Brave, Morton and Anthopoulos spoke again over the phone. This time, the GM was in his car, with his two kids in tow. And Morton, renowned as a family man, made a particular impression on the GM’s then-10-year-old daughter. When they hung up, she asked for a Charlie Morton jersey. Her dad said she doesn’t even usually care about baseball.

“She's like, ‘Wow, that sounds like the nicest, greatest person ever,’” Anthopoulos said. “You know, he really is. I mean he is. I like a lot of players, but in terms of a human being, he’s probably the best pure human being I've been around.”

Anthopoulos still hasn’t gotten her that jersey (she has gotten to meet him, though, which is a pretty fair consolation prize) but on Tuesday she and the rest of the Anthopoulos family will be at Minute Maid Park in Houston to watch her favorite Brave and your favorite player’s favorite player pitch Game 1 of the World Series.

HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 25: Charlie Morton #50 of the Atlanta Braves takes the field during the World Series Workout Day at Minute Maid Park on October 25, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Braves starter Charlie Morton is in his third World Series in five years. And he has just about everyone in the sport rooting for him. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) (Elsa via Getty Images)

This is where I have to assure you that I know it’s super cheesy to cite a child’s guileless character assessment as especially revelatory. But here’s the thing: Apparently Charlie Morton is so blindingly lovely to be around — and seriously, I mean that with the utmost sincerity — that it’s the only thing anyone can say about him. A word cloud compiled from interviews with his current and former teammates and coaches would be dominated by humble, best and special.

Fourteen years ago, before an incredibly winding career of injuries and arsenal remakes, Morton debuted and played one season with the Braves. Current manager Brian Snitker was the third-base coach at the time.

“He’s no different now than he was when we first called him up,” Snitker said Monday. “Just a great guy, a great family man.”

Morton’s two most fruitful stops were with the Tampa Bay Rays, where he was the past two years when the team made it to the postseason both times, and with the Houston Astros before that, the team that he’ll try to beat Tuesday night to give the Braves an early lead in the World Series.

In Tampa, Morton cleaned up the confetti from every clinch celebration just so the clubhouse attendants didn’t have to do it all themselves.

“He’s the best,” Rays president of baseball operations Erik Neander said simply. And even with the way last offseason went, they still keep in touch.

In Houston, they played Winnie the Pooh music over the stadium speakers when he pitched his bullpen sessions between starts. It wasn't really a prank, he just loves being a dad that much.

“I put him in one of my top three of all time I've ever been around,” Astros pitching coach Brent Strom said earlier this month. “I don't know if anybody's ever said a bad thing, even a bad word about Charlie.”

It’s tough to prove a negative, but that last part was certainly borne out by the rest of his former teammates still in Houston.

“He's one of the best teammates I’ve ever had,” Carlos Correa said.

“The best you can ever have,” Jose Altuve confirmed. “He's that good.”

Lance McCullers Jr., who would likely be starting opposite Morton in Game 1 if not for an injury earlier this postseason that has kept him off the World Series roster, said that his time around Morton has helped him weather what has become a personally disappointing October.

“I think what I learned from him the most is just that every day at the ballpark is a blessing,” he said. “Always put your family first and come to the field and be a good teammate and love the guys in the clubhouse and just try to be there for guys when you can, because that's something that Chuck-O was big on.”

Morton made five starts and one relief appearance that put him on the mound for the final out of the Astros’ 2017 championship. (The one that was later tainted by revelations that they had illegally stolen signs that season.)

As Morton prepares to face them on the same stage where they once celebrated together, the Astros pitching coach is feeling his absence.

“I look back, I wish I still had him,” Strom said. “Decisions are made, whatever that’s above my pay grade when they're made. Obviously Atlanta is reaping the benefits right now.”

Now leading his third team in five years into the World Series, Morton was asked ahead of Game 1 what he has learned about how to build a championship contender. He noted the strategic differences between the Astros, Rays and Braves before touching on the intangibles.

“What it really comes down to is the clubhouse, I think,” he said. “Besides the obvious talent and ability to play the game. But to make it this far, I think the clubhouse is the deciding factor. Because how tight the group is is really what allows you to get deeper in the postseason.”

And if that’s the case, it’s a good reason to have a guy like Morton around — because whatever he’s doing to leave a lasting positive impact on the people he meets, it works.