By TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A true pioneer. That was Morris Irby's destiny whether he asked for it or not. But rather back down, he faced every challenge with his head held high and often found himself in ground-breaking territory.
It was Irby who helped integrate nearby Cookeville High School following a fire that destroyed Darwin School in 1963. A member of a poor family and in need of a chance at high education, he opted to stay in town and attend Tennessee Tech, becoming the school's first black player recruited for a baseball scholarship, a challenge in and of itself.
The local native played multiple roles for the Golden Eagle squad throughout his career, serving as a pitcher and speedster on the basepaths. But a coaching change prior to his rookie season saw the young man faced with yet another challenge. Limited to just three games off the bench as a freshman and excluded from team travel, Irby turned another coaching change and potential challenge into his advantage.
He is one of five inductees into the 47th class of the Tennessee Tech Sports Hall of Fame. After forgoing last year's induction ceremony due to the ongoing factors surrounding COVID-19, the Tennessee Tech Sports Hall of Fame returns in 2021 and will hold its 46th and 47th inductions during Homecoming weekend, Nov. 12-13. In addition to the Class of 2020 being recognized, the Class of 2021 will also be honored and officially inducted, with Irby, Frank Harrell (men's basketball head coach/administration, 1980-present), Leah Meffert Turner (volleyball, 2007-10), Chad Oberacker (baseball, 2008-11), and Ashley Potts Williams (softball, 2004-07) all set to join last year's class, consisting of A.J. Kirby-Jones (baseball, 2008-10), Stephanie Place Buchanan (women's cross country/track & field, 2005-10), Thomas Squires (football, 1985-87), and Borja Zarco (men's tennis, 2005-08), as the newest members of the TTU Sports Hall of Fame.
A sophomore in 1969, Irby made every trip and posted the fourth-lowest single-season ERA in program history (sixth today). Tossing 31 frames over six contests, including five starts, the right-hander dominated to the tune of a 1.74 ERA. While he sported a record of 2-3, he tossed four complete games and struck out 23 batters while allowing a total of six earned runs.
Used sparingly at the plate, he played 18 games and served almost primarily as a pinch-runner. His skills on the basepaths translated to 10 runs scored and a perfect 2-for-2 showing in stealing, despite only recording 25 at-bats.
That was just a taste for Irby, who followed up a great campaign on the hill with a record-setting showing in the field a year later. Moving off the mound for the 1970 season, he showed his skills were easily transferrable while settling in as the starting third baseman and leadoff hitter. Irby set new program standards for runs scored (39), stolen bases (21), walks (28) hit-by-pitches (five), and assists by a third baseman (83). He also led the team with five home runs as part of an offense that set seven program records.
With Tech entering the final stretch of the season on a six-game skid, Irby helped lead the Golden Eagles to a seven-game winning streak, clinching the team's first Ohio Valley Conference Eastern Division title since 1956. During the stretch of wins, Irby tied two single-game records, scoring four runs and stealing four bases in a victory at Morehead State.
For his efforts, the junior was named All-OVC Honorable Mention. His work ethic and clutch play down the stretch, which included three home runs during the streak, also earned him team MVP honors as voted on by his teammates. He was also voted as a team captain for his final season in 1971.
As a senior, Irby stole another team-best 17 bags to rank him as the program's all-time leader in steals with 40 (still ranked eighth today). He scored 28 runs as well, bringing his career total to 79. He led the team in both walks (31) and home runs (four) again and made a return to the bump. On the mound, Irby sported a 3.86 ERA in just seven innings of work. He struck out 10 without issuing a walk.
Irby graduated from Tech in the spring of 1971 with a bachelor's degree in business administration, the first member of his family to earn a degree. He earned his master's from the University in 1977 in educational psychology.
A staple in the Cookeville community, Irby worked for nearly 40 years for Fleetguard/Cummins Filtration. He also served on the TTU College of Business board of trustees and the board of directors for WCTE, the Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency, and the Tennessee Rehabilitation Center.
The Hall of Fame Dinner will be held on Friday, Nov. 12, at 6:30 p.m. CT in the Multipurpose Room of the University Center. Tickets are available through the Hooper Eblen Center ticket office by calling 931-372-3940 or by visiting TTUSports.com. Both groups will also be recognized at the Homecoming football game on Saturday afternoon against UT Martin, which features a 1:30 p.m. CT kickoff.