MAJOR LEAGUE TALENT: Stanley’s Morris was a two-sport star in high school and at Wake Forest before playing professional baseball
By Richard Walker
When Doyt Morris died in 1984 just 11 days before his 68th birthday, he’d accomplished athletic feats that have stood the test of time.
A basketball and baseball star at old Stanley High School and Wake Forest College when the school was still in Wake County, Morris would go on to play four years of professional baseball including a brief stint with the old Philadelphia Athletics before returning to Gaston County as a player-coach in the old Textile Leagues.
Morris is a part of a five-person 2023 Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame induction class and will be represented by his son Ted Morris and daughter Nancy Morris Fonville.
“My dad was a pretty quiet man,” Ted Morris said of his father, who was born in Stanley in 1916.
What is known about Doyt Morris remains a part of Gaston County history.
When he broke into the major leagues in 1937 for legendary manager Connie Mack’s Athletics, who have since moved from Philadelphia to Kansas City and now are in Oakland, Doyt Morris was the first Stanley High product to play major league baseball and the second of a N.C. American Legion state-record 13 major leaguers produced by Gastonia Post 23.
At Stanley, he played basketball for the school when it was nicknamed “Bluebirds” and didn’t have an indoor gymnasium. In the 1931-32 season, he helped the school advance to the third round of the Class B playoffs.
For Post 23, he played on back-to-back N.C. state championship teams and was a teammate of future major league All-Star J.K. “Buddy” Lewis and Rube Melton; Lewis is a 1967 Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame inductee.
After high school, Doyt Morris was recruited to play both sports at Wake Forest, where he jumped center at 6-foot-3 1/2 and was a team captain for the Deacons in addition to playing for the baseball team.
Around that time, he drew the attention of Mack, who frequently scouted the region for major league talent.
“I believe dad got a signing bonus of like $500 and gave it to his mother,” Ted Morris said. “Dad wasn’t much of a storyteller. He was a very quiet man. He just said everybody called him, “Mr. Mack.” and he did, too.”
So interested was Mack in Doyt Morris that the Stanley native was signed to a professional baseball contract before he completed his senior year at Wake Forest.
Mack wrote a letter to Doyt Morris on Feb. 13, 1937 indicating “no doubt the college would have been real disappointed if you had left them” and later adding “am expecting, of course, to use you as soon as you are thru.”
A first baseman, third baseman and outfielder, Doyt Morris signed with the Athletics organization in the spring of 1937 and assigned him to Class A Albany, where he hit .268 in 81 games in a season in which he was promoted to the major leagues twice.
In six major league games – four in June and two in September – Doyt Morris hit .154.
Unfortunately, a shoulder injury he suffered while sliding into third base sometime in the 1937 season derailed his career even as he played professionally in three more seasons – and a few more in the textile leagues.
A letter Mack wrote to Doyt Morris on Jan. 10, 1938 included a contract for $1,200.00 that Mack asked to be returned and signed. Mack added “feel it will be necessary to send you to a Class A or B Club for the coming season.”
Eventually, Doyt Morris played the 1938 season with Class D Goldsboro, though the most important development of that assignment was meeting his future wife; He met Christine Elizabeth Stephenson, a Smithfield native, during his time in Goldsboro and the two were married on Oct. 2, 1939.
After hitting .324 with six home runs in 71 games for Goldsboro, Doyt Morris played the 1939 season with Class D Kinston (.317 average in 109 games) and, after a year off in 1940, hit .312 ih 112 games for Class D Wilson. He also played recreation basketball for teams in Eastern N.C. in those years.
So popular was Doyt Morris in Wilson that the city pronounced Sept. 14, 1941 as “Doyt Morris Day.” According to a report in the Raleigh News and Observer, he was presented with a check for $95.72 during the celebration.
There are no records of his baseball playing again until the late 1940s when he returned to Stanley to establish Morris Machinery in May 1947 with his brothers Golden Morris and Jack Morris.
Doyt Morris would become a player-manager for Mount Holly’s Superior Yarn of the Piedmont Textile League in 1948 and became a manager of River Bend of Mount Holly in Gaston Textile League in the 1950s.
Christine Morris, a longtime receptionist for Stanley’s Gaston County Dye Machine, died at 95 on July 24, 2009.
“Dad didn’t have a lot of hobbies,” said Ted Morris, a 1971 Stanley High graduate. “There’s nothing he enjoyed more than a cup of coffee and watching professional baseball on television. Sadly, a bad heart took him at only 67.”