By Arnie Leshin
At the age of 77, the former Cincinnati Reds’ second baseman died Monday morning at his home in Danville, Calif., with a family spokesman indicting that the 5-foot-7 sparkplug was suffering from a nerve condition, a form of polyneuropathy.
Although Morgan’s finest years were with the Reds winning back-to-back World Series in 1975 and ’76, and when he was WS Most Valuable Player both times in respective wins over the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, but he made his Major League Debut with the then-Houston Colt 45s in 1963, the year after the later renamed Astrosjoined the New York Mets as an expansion team.
He also played for the San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies and Oakland Athletics, and if not for his constant praising of the great Jackie Robinson, he would be my all-time second baseman over the former Brooklyn Dodgers. Morgan also never hesitated when asked who he thought was the best-ever baseball player.
“Willie Mays,” he would always answered, “he was the best to ever lace on his cleats, there was nobody better.”
The legendary Mays is still alive, residing in San Francisco where his eyesight has been a problem for years. He is currently 89 and some close to him say he has lost his sight. But other Major Leaguers proceeded Morgan in recent times, including Hall of Famers Al Kaline, Lou Brock, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson and Whitey Ford. And in 2012, Hall of FamerMonte Irvin, Mays’ roommate and closest friend when with the Giants in New York and San Francisco, passed away.
Morgan wore number 8. He was a stellar, flashy infielder at second, was outstanding at turning the double play, and with his bat had a .271 career averaged, clouted 268 home runs, batted in 1,133 runs in 9,277 career at-bats, and with his feet, ran up 689 stolen bases. He was an All-Star with Houston in 1966 and 1970 before being traded to the Reds in 1972. He appeared in 10 All-Star games and was its Most Valuable Player in 1972 when he began his remarkable span with the “Big Red” in Cincinnati.
Before retiring and turning in nine years as aMLB broadcaster on radio and television, the personable, popular Morgan just showed his versatility in statistics. In 1971, his 11 triples were number one in the majors, in 1972, he had the most doubles, 122, and the most runs, 124. In 1974 and ’75, he was top of the heap in on-base plus slugging with a .921 percentage in ’74 and .974 in ’75, and in 1976 his .536 slugging was tops in the majors.
He was second-best in stolen bases seven times, the same in RBI twice, and on the air, called former teammate Pete Rose’s record 4,192 hit. He signed with Houston at the age of 20.
He signed with Houston at the age of 20 and instantly was one of the new franchise’s most popular players. In 1990, he was inducted into the prestigious Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1988, the Reds retired his number 8. In the broadcast booth, he teamed with Ken Wilson and provided much knowledge of the game he loved in his own soft-spoken way. Everything about the little guy was positive, never hearing many negatives. He always found time for interviews and signing autographs.
He was born Joseph Leonard Morgan on Sept. 19, 1943 in Bonham, Tx. When the family relocated to the West Coast, he attended and played baseball at College of California-State East Bay in Oakland.
He always kept in touch with baseball, and in 2018 announced in 2018 that he was happy to do all he could for the National Pastime as he gathered with his family at home.
RIP Joe Morgan, just another of the all-time greats of the game.