Her Secret Is Out

On the lap of the great Sarah Morris sits a wig.

"You're kidding me," I say.

"No," she says.

It is mid-afternoon in a $40-a-night hotel room down the road from the south Texas shanty that is her home.

We have gathered here for a photo shoot for a Reader's Digest reprint of The Times story from August 2001, headlined, "Her Blue Haven."

It was a story that brought her fame, a job, a van, a new TV, thousands of readers for her once-ignored baseball stories.

And this wig.

"I have to do this," she says through her mother Lois, who interprets her sounds, sometimes letter by letter. "Too much pressure."

Sarah Morris, 32, has cerebral palsy. She long ago lost her hair to the disorder. She began wearing a bonnet. The bonnet worked fine.

She was living in the obscurity of a small house at the end of a dirt path guarded by growling dogs. She was writing Dodger game stories for a personal Web site visited only by her mother. She was trying to become a baseball journalist, even though she couldn't walk or talk or type. She was too busy struggling with substance to worry about style.

Then, I barged into her life, writing about her determination in a story that thrust her into a national embrace. There were thousands of e-mails, dozens of donations, follow-up stories on "Good Morning America," ESPN and National Public Radio.

Gone was the lonely solitude of her struggle. Gone was the once-insurmountable barrier to her goal.

But gone too was the confidence in her simple yet obvious beauty.

She says she received nasty e-mails when she appeared on national TV with no hair. She says some morons actually called her a "skinhead."

So she spent $100, half of her weekly salary, on a brown wig -- she got it on the Internet -- for just these occasions.

"Sarah, you are as adorable as when I first met you," I say.

"I don't have a choice," she says.

The hotel door bursts open. In stalks an artsy photographer with giant lights and a white screen and a hustling assistant.

Millions more readers are waiting. Thousands more e-mails are being pondered.

For the umpteenth time since charming the sports world with her grace, the legend that is Sarah Morris is back on stage.

"Are we ready?" says the photographer.

"This thing is falling into my eyes," sighs Sarah.

*

When Sarah Morris initially sent the e-mails that would lead me to her passion, I answered only because of a typographical error.

"How did you become a baseball editorialist?" she wrote. "That is my deam."

Eighteen months later, I am thrilled to report that she now has that missing consonant.

But she has paid for it.

Today, she makes $200 a story as a weekly consulting columnist for MLB Advanced Media, tapping her cheek against a special device to write weekly columns for the Dodgers' Web site.

But because she can't speak to players or attend games regularly, she still struggles to sell enough stories to pull her income above the poverty level.

She is the only baseball writer in the country who gets personally rained out. A leak in her roof requires the hurried placement of a shower curtain over her computer.

Although her electronic needs have changed, her tiny, aging house has not, so sometimes the phone goes dead, or the power goes out. During the rainy season, when the road outside is a quagmire, it may take days to get anything fixed.

And the more she writes, it seems, the more difficult writing becomes.

"I want a chance to do more, to earn more money, to become independent," she says during our Tuesday visit. "But it's hard to find somebody who will give me that chance."

She has become a nationally recognized figure of courage.

But she wants people to start looking at her as just another writer.

"It's unbelievable, everybody writing me, telling me I'm such an inspiration," she says. "But I'm only doing my job. What's so inspirational about that? If people want inspiration, they should look in the Bible."

She glances at me and laughs.

"You've never had problems with people thinking you're an inspiration," she says.

That much has not changed. Sarah Morris is still funny, thoughtful, unafraid to bare her sarcasm and bite with her wit.

Only now, she runs a once-ignored Web site -- www.dodgerplace.com -- that recently had 149 pages' worth of guest-book entries.

Now, she works a room filled with dozens of e-mail friends, including, perhaps, even President Bush and President Clinton. Both, it appeared, sent her e-mails after the original story ran, leading her to react in typical Sarah Morris fashion.

"I'm too cynical to believe either one was real," she says. "Shouldn't President Bush be busy doing other things? Like getting us out of war?"

The attention to her blue haven has been startling.

And the attention has been startling.

She was stalked by an e-mailer she describes only as "a pervert." She has been stung by readers who, not agreeing with her theory, have attacked her writing style.

"If I'm not being called an inspiration, I'm being called an idiot," she says. "But that's OK. I'm more confident in my ability now. That story did that for me. I answer them as politely as I answer everyone.

"I tell them, 'Thank you for your negativity.' "

A wonderful 18 months.

A wilting 18 months.

"Sometimes, I get frustrated," she says. "But I used to only write for myself. Now people read me. I am useful."

*

The story ran on Aug. 19, 2001.

Three days later, Sarah Morris was hired by Major League Baseball to write for the Dodger Web site.

"It was not a matter of pity," says Dinn Mann, senior vice president and editor of MLB Advanced Media. "This is a person who represents what our sites are all about. She has the passion of the perfect Dodger fan. She represents many people who share her spirit."

Three months later, she finally finished answering all of her 2,000 congratulatory e-mails.

"I decided I would answer everyone personally," she says. "That was the least I could do."

One year later, she attended her first Dodger game as a reporter, having been driven to Houston on a Friday night to talk to the players and sit in the press box.

She was miffed because she couldn't hang around the clubhouse long enough to talk to Manager Jim Tracy. She hated that a reporter from a local newspaper was following her every move.

But she loved it that most of the players, although posing for pictures with her, treated her like any other reporter.

"Nomo didn't say a word," she said. "Just like me."

She doesn't want special treatment, so she originally shuddered at all the offers of charity that accompanied the e-mails. But, slowly, she learned that it was only a bunch of nice folks trying to help.

So from one of them, she accepted a used van. From many others, she accepted small donations that she used to buy better computer and video equipment.

"I took everything that was offered to me except from a 10-year-old who wanted to give me his piggy bank," she says. "I couldn't do that."

We talked Tuesday, as we had done previously via e-mail, about her future. She is worried about her mother, who just turned 60 and is Sarah's full-time caregiver.

"What happens to me when she dies?" Sarah asks.

She is worried about Major League Baseball growing tired of a columnist who cannot cover games or interview players.

"Nonsense," Mann says. "As she grows into the job, the sky is the limit."

She wants to write more columns a week. She wants to expand her voice and her focus to become more valuable to Web sites and magazines. She will cover any facet of baseball.

Aren't there all sorts of other columnists out there who never leave their chairs?

With this new fame has understandably come new worries, new stresses ... and then, just before the photo session begins, she nods in the direction of a wristband given to her last year by Marquis Grissom.

She will wear the wig, but she must also wear the wristband, and when it is slipped onto her tiny arm, she smiles.

It is a smile that floored me on that May day in 2001. It is a smile that has floored me again.

Big enough to withstand the real world storming through her front door. Strong enough to endure the innocence running out the back.

This story has no ending yet, but with a smile like that, how can you believe it will be anything other than happy?

"I have to get ready," says the great Sarah Morris. "Spring training games are starting."

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
61°