Warren Morris walk-off homerun, 25 years later
ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - On June 8, 1996, LSU’s Warren Morris hit the famous walk-off home run to win the 1996 College World Series for the Tigers. The hit is just as iconic as Jim Hawthorne’s radio call of the game saying, “Tigers win, Tigers win!”
While many remember where they were for this moment, many may not know the story behind it, which starts in Alexandria, Louisiana. Morris grew up in Alexandria and attended Bolton High School, where he was a four-year letter in baseball, three years in basketball and even one year in cross-country.
“As a kid growing up, my first love was basketball. My dad was a longtime coach at Bolton, so if you would’ve asked me in the second or third grade, I would’ve said I wanted to be an NBA player. I wouldn’t have thought about baseball,” said Morris.
However, Morris started to succeed in baseball, earning 1st team All-State honors in 1992 in baseball. He began receiving more recognition and even got an unexpected visit while watching LSU play Louisiana College at Bringhurst Field in Alexandria.
“I’m at the game with my dad and they make an announcement over the loudspeaker that says, ‘Warren Morris please report behind the LSU dugout.’ My dad and I get back there and through the chainlink fence, Coach Bertman recruits me,” said Morris.
Morris grew up a Tiger fan so the decision to go down the bayou to play under legendary head coach Skip Bertman was an easy one. Morris was a walk-on on the LSU baseball squad and was redshirted in 1993. That year, Morris watched the Tigers win a national championship and got to learn under future college baseball Hall of Famer Todd Walker.
When Morris got the chance to play, he made the most out of his opportunity. In 1995, as a redshirt sophomore, Morris took over at second base and finished the season with 2nd Team All-American honors as he had a batting average of .369. Morris was also a member of the U.S. National team that year, but LSU ultimately fell short of making it to Omaha and the College World Series.
“Before you know it, the 1996 season was here, and it just kind of felt like if we were going to leave our legacy, this was our chance,” said Morris.
Early on, the Tigers lived up to the hype, starting the season on a 13 game winning streak. As all seemed to be coming together, a lingering hand injury that began while playing for the U.S. National team the year before would keep Morris on the bench.
“That twelfth game in, I hit the ball off the end of the bat and my hand had some pain in it. It felt like I had no strength in it so I knew something was up,” said Morris.
The doctors found that Morris had a broken hamate bone, which led to a mid-season surgery causing the preseason All-American to miss 39 games during the 1996 season. Morris would return to the lineup less than a month after surgery as a defensive replacement, but he wasn’t anywhere near 100 percent.
Morris said during this time, “Coach was great about it. He said we understand you’re not 100 percent but told me to do what you got to do even if you got to bunt. My swing when I first came in was probably close to 40 to 45 percent.”
Fighting his way through the pain, Morris helped the Fighting Tigers as they cruised through the regionals, all the way to the College World Series Final. Morris only started 22 games in 1996, but LSU won all 22 of those games.
The one team that stood in the way of LSU and their third world series title in six years was the Miami Hurricanes.
“We just went out there and let it all loose,” said Morris. “It was a great game. They would take the lead and we would take it back and then in the top of the ninth inning Alex Cora got a base hit and they think that won the game.”
LSU headed into the bottom of ninth trailing the Hurricanes 8-7. The Tigers had a runner on third with just one out as LSU catcher Tim Lanier was at-bat but struck out on a 3-2 count to Miami’s pitcher Robbie Morrison. Now with two outs, Morris stepped up to the plate.
“As I’m walking there, Lanier was just upset that he didn’t get the job done. He looked at me and said, ‘Pick me up,’” said Morris. “When I stepped in the box, my single focus was to be aggressive.”
To say Morris was aggressive would be an understatement. He swung at the first pitch, which was the same curveball that Lanier struck out on the pitch before. Seconds later, the ball flew just over the right-field fence and became the first walk-off home run to ever win the College World Series.
“I wasn’t trying to hit a home run because I hadn’t hit any all year,” said Morris. “I was trying to hit a line drive to score the run to tie it up. The ball starts taking off to right field and I think it’s got a chance for a double. Well, it keeps going a little further, and as it goes over the fence, that’s when I realize it’s a home run.”
Morris’s walk-off on June 8, 1996, cemented his name in college baseball history and cemented LSU as the team of the 90′s. 25 years later, his home run still remains the only walk-off home run in the College World Series championship game.
“If I would’ve written the story, I probably wouldn’t have written it as great as it actually happened. The missing out and the injury were all painful, but I would go through it all again to get that ending. People ask if I get tired of seeing it or talking about it but I don’t because it always ends well. It’s crazy it’s been 25 years since it happened,” said Morris.
ESPN awarded the hit as “Showstopper of the Year” at its annual ESPY awards. Morris would go on to play for the 1996 USA Olympics team and would also play several seasons in the MLB.
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