Joe Morgan
Joe Morgan
Joe Morgan

Birth: 09/19/1943

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Death: 10/11/2020

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Remembered By: Club

Joe Morgan, the Hall of Fame second baseman who was the National League’s Most Valuable Player for two consecutive seasons and the engine of the Big Red Machine — as the Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s, one of baseball’s most powerful teams, were known — died on Sunday at his home in Danville, Calif. He was 77. James Davis, a family spokesman, said the cause was nonspecified polyneuropathy. Morgan had a bone-marrow transplant in 2016. Morgan’s was the latest in a string of recent deaths of Hall of Fame baseball stars, following those of Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and Whitey Ford. For younger fans, Morgan may be mainly familiar as a television commentator, most memorably for ESPN, for which he shared a Sunday night broadcast booth with Jon Miller for 21 seasons. For anyone who saw Morgan play, however, especially in his finest years with the Reds, his performance on the field is far more memor At 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds, Morgan, who was sometimes called Little Joe, was among the smallest great players in the history of the game. He was also among the greatest second basemen, and some, like Bill James, the groundbreaking interpreter of statistics, say he was the greatest of all. He won five consecutive Gold Gloves, led National League second basemen in fielding percentage three times and finished second six others. In an era when sliding base runners routinely tried to take out the second baseman to prevent double plays, Morgan was known as especially tough in the pivot. ImageMorgan batting against the Oakland Athletics in the 1972 World Series. The Reds lost in seven games. Morgan batting against the Oakland Athletics in the 1972 World Series. The Reds lost in seven games.Credit...Associated Press But he was most distinguished as a player for being a run-producing force at the plate and on the bases. Though his lifetime batting average over 22 seasons, .271, was not extraordinary, for six straight years in the heart of his career he hit .288 or better, walked more than 100 times and scored more than 100 runs. Four times in those six years, he led the league in on-base percentage. He had surprising power for a man his size, hitting at least 22 home runs in four seasons and 268 overall, and he was among the most accomplished base-stealers of all time. He stole 689 bases, baseball’s 11th-highest total, in 851 attempts, for an 81 percent success rate. Morgan made his big league debut with the Houston Colt .45s (now the Astros), a second-year National League expansion team, in September 1963, just after his 20th birthday. The next year he came under the tutelage of Nellie Fox, a veteran second baseman at the end of his career, also small in stature, whom Morgan credited with helping him mature as a player. It was Fox who suggested to Morgan that if he held his left elbow higher in the batter’s box — the rear elbow for a left-handed hitter like Morgan — he wouldn’t hit under the ball as often and would hit fewer pop-ups and more line drives. To help him remember, Fox suggested that, just before the pitcher delivered, Morgan flap his elbow the way a chicken flaps his wing. Morgan employed this distinctive motion, which sometimes seemed to be convulsive, throughout his career, and it became a kind of trademark. Fox, a future Hall of Famer, joined the Astros in 1964. Morgan replaced him as the regular second baseman in 1965, and in 1966 he made the first of his 10 All-Star teams. Morgan was one of the greatest second baseman in the history of the game, and especially tough in the pivot during double plays. He returned to Houston, his original team, after the 1979 season and played for the Astros in the 1980 in playoffs against Philadelphia. Morgan was one of the greatest second baseman in the history of the game, and especially tough in the pivot during double plays. He returned to Houston, his original team, after the 1979 season and played for the Astros in the 1980 in playoffs against Philadelphia.Credit...Associated Press “Fox drove one point home very hard,” Morgan said in an interview with The New York Post in 1976. “He said when you lay down the bat and pick up the glove, forget about hitting. When you pick up the bat, forget about everything bad that happened in the field.” After the 1971 season. Morgan, who had feuded with the Houston manager, Harry Walker, was traded to the Reds. It was an unpopular trade in Cincinnati at the time because two of the Reds’ stars, Tommy Helms and Lee May, were sent to Houston. The Reds already had a strong nucleus; managed by Sparky Anderson, they had gone to the World Series in 1970, losing to the Baltimore Orioles, but had faded to fourth in the National League West division in 1971. After the trade they rebounded, winning the division in 1972 and going to the World Series, where they lost in seven games to the Oakland Athletics. Morgan, along with other players in the trade — outfielders Ed Armbrister and Cesar Geronimo and pitcher Jack Billingham — became useful cogs in the dominating Big Red Machine, which produced six National League M.V.P.s, won five division titles and appeared in four World Series from 1970 to 1977. In 1975, that team, whose stars included future Hall of Famers at catcher (Johnny Bench), first base (Tony Perez) and second base (Morgan), and the all-time hits leader (Pete Rose) at third, won 108 games and defeated the Boston Red Sox in one of the most memorable World Series in history. Morgan, the league’s M.V.P., batted .327 for the season, hit 17 homers, drove in 94 runs, stole 67 bases and won a Gold Glove. He didn’t have a great postseason, but in the ninth inning of the seventh game of the Series, he drove in the winning run with a single to center. The next year, again the league M.V.P., his production was arguably even better: a .320 batting average, 27 homers, 111 runs batted in, 60 stolen bases in just 69 attempts, a league-leading slugging percentage (.576) and another Gold Glove. Morgan watched his home run leave the park in the first inning of the 1977 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. He hit 268 home runs in his career, and had four seasons of at least 22 — showing surprising power for a man of his size. Morgan watched his home run leave the park in the first inning of the 1977 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. He hit 268 home runs in his career, and had four seasons of at least 22 — showing surprising power for a man of his size.Credit...Associated Press The Reds weren’t quite as dominant during the season — they won six fewer games — but they powered through the postseason, sweeping the Philadelphia Phillies in three games for the National League pennant and the Yankees in four games in the World Series. “Joe Morgan was a genuinely great player,” Bill James wrote in his analytic volume, “The Bill James Historical Abstract.” His 1976 season, James wrote, which included leading the league in sacrifice flies and fewest double plays hit into (two), “is the equal of anything ever done by Lou Gehrig or Jimmie Foxx or Joe DiMaggio or Stan Musial.”
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