DETROIT– Longtime Detroit sports figure Morris Moorawnick — A celebrated statistician and professional scorekeeper, he died recently at 83. He had been ailing from a series of strokes. He was proud of his Russian-Polish heritage.
NATIVE DETROITER and former Wayne State sports statistician Morris Moorawnick (in wheelchair) being honored at Comerica Park last year. Photo courtesy of ROLCO SPORTS NETWORK
Moorawnick, a native Detroiter who moved to Redford later in life, was best known for keeping stats for the Pistons and Red Wings, starting in 1947. He worked for the Piston’s before they moved to Detroit from Fort Wayne in 1958. Prior to that, he was the sports statistician for Wayne State University. He also acted as an unofficial Sports Information Director for the great Wayne State basketball teams of Coach Joel Mason in the 1950’s. He was shy of getting his degree by three credits as he was on a music scholarship at WSU in the early 50’s. He went on to become a professional baseball scorer, with a national reputation.
As a youth he was a professional pin-ball player, table tennis champion and master piano player. His father Jacek, would often call to him in Yiddish, “Morrie the Guntcher”, which loosely translates to ‘one who can play without tilting’.
He loved to show off his NBA Championship rings from the ‘Bad Boys’ days. Also, his Detroit Red Wings Stanley Cup Rings. Last year he was celebrated by American Legion Baseball for his longtime support. In fact, he went on tour showing off his championship rings. He was also honored at Comerica Park by the Ilitch Family for his contributions to amateur sports and excellence of sportsmanship.
Moorawnick worked for nearly every media outlet in the sports departments, including the Associated Press, the Detroit Times, the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press.
He loved to talk and show off his encyclopedic knowledge of sports “He was the greatest uncle,” said David Manning. “The highlight of my uncle’s life was being around the teams. The only thing better than that was eating all their food before the games.” He loved to eat and tried to keep a kosher table. He tried.
He prided his special friendship with hockey legend Gordy Howe. Moorawnick was chronicled in the 2009 book by James Robert Irwin, “Playing Ball with Legends: The Story of Don Lund”.
He also travelled with and did stats for the University of Michigan baseball team. Morrie was well known in Ann Arbor and at Ray Fisher Baseball Stadium. He was known for his precise and small printing. He made keeping score of a baseball game an art.
He cherished his ‘Black Bat’ trophies of which he had many. These were replica Hillerich and Bradsby, Louisville Slugger baseball bats with all the teammate’s names engraved in gold on them. They were given to national championship teams as a trophy. Lund, when he was coach of the 1962 NCAA baseball champions at Michigan included Moorawnick as an interregnal part of the team. Moorawnick also contributed to Detroit Pepsi, Detroit Edison Post-187, Detroit Adray, Detroit John F. Ivory, Detroit Stan Long Pontiac, Detroit Larco and Detroit I.T.M. national championship teams. He was known to hitch-hike to most National Amateur Baseball Championship tournaments.
In 1957 he got a personal call from Marylyn Monroe on Christmas Eve as he was playing cards with some friends. It was because he had been a charter subscriber to Playboy Magazine. Everyone believed him after he casually passed the phone around and all his pals got to talk to Marylyn also.
He was known nationally for his knowledge of sports and immediate recall of trivial sports facts. “He was a walking encyclopedia of sports,” said longtime friend and former Detroit Tiger, Willie Horton.
Also, he was a great ambassador of Judeo-Christian relations. Moorawnick prided himself on never telling a lie. In the late 50’s the Detroit Catholic Central, high school baseball coach, Fr. Joe Miller, CSB, would take Morrie to dinner and to the Red Wing’s game at Olympia. They would have philosophic discussions ranging from the Marshall Plan in Europe to answering the question of, is Judaism a nationality or religion.
During the summer to supplement his income, Moorawnick would board visiting elite baseball players that played in the old Hearst, Free Press and Adray Leagues including baseball great, Steve Garvey. When he still traveled, he was a fixture every year at the All-American Amateur Baseball Association Tournament in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. In his golden years he enjoyed reading and tending to his tomato garden.
He is survived by a sister, Marian and nieces and nephews. The family asks that memorial donations be made to one’s charity of choice in Morries name.
(Raymond Rolak is a Michigan based sports broadcaster and had the privilege of taking Mr. Moorawnick to dinner on many occasions.)