This has also been a tough year for baseball hall-of-famers, and for the fans who’ve loved and appreciated the way they played the game. In the last month and change alone we’ve lost Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford, and now Joe Morgan. Earlier in the year baseball fans have had to say farewell to Tom Seaver and Al Kaline.
Morgan, the Energizer Bunny of the Cincinnati Reds’ Big Red Machine teams of the ’70s, died Monday at his California home of a nerve disease. He was 77. Morgan was an all-around star, a Gold Glove second baseman, a first rate base-stealer, and, despite his small stature (5 foot 7 and usually in or around 160 pounds), he generated surprising power, hitting more than 20 home runs in four separate seasons.
Morgan won five Gold Glove awards, was an All-Star 10 times, and was selected the National league’s Most Valuable Player twice. His best year (several to pick from here) was probably 1976, when he hit 27 home runs, drove in 111, stole 60 bases, and batted .320. He also drew 114 walks that year, giving him a remarkable .444 on base percentage. And on base was where opposing teams didn’t want Morgan to be, as he was disruptive to defenses with his speed and daring. He was not only fast but fearless on the base paths, and the perfect table setter for the big boppers like Johnny Bench and Tony Perez who followed him in the Cincinnati lineup.
Morgan’s and Cincinnati’s Reds topped off that 1976 season with a 4-0 sweep of the New York Yankees in the World Series. Morgan was, unless one was on or a fan of the team Morgan was playing against, a lot of fun to watch. He broke hearts across New England in 1975 when his ninth inning, two-out, RBI single gave the Reds the go-ahead run they needed to beat the Red Sox in the seventh game of that year’s World Series, still considered one of the best and most exciting in the history of the fall classic. For his varied on-field excellences Morgan was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990.
Morgan wore several other teams’ uniforms in his 22-year career. But he’s best known for his Cincinnati years, during some of which he did more different things better than just about any player in the game.
In addition to being a fine player, Morgan was highly regarded personally by his teammates. “Joe wasn’t just the best second baseman in baseball history,” said Cincinnati teammate Johnny Bench, “He was the best player I ever saw and one of the best people I’ve ever known.”
RIP Joe Morgan, and the other missing baseball greats who’ve brightened the days and nights of fans of the Grand Old Game.