Joe Morgan, Cincinnati Reds second baseman and heart of 1970s' 'Big Red Machine,' dies at 77

by 24USATVOct. 12, 2020, 7 p.m. 19
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Joe Morgan, the diminutive powerhouse who led Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" run of the mid-1970s, has died, a family spokesman and the team said on Monday.

Morgan died at his home in Danville, California, a suburb of San Francisco, on Sunday,according to a family spokesman.

"The Reds family is heartbroken," Red CEO Bob Castellini said in a statement. "Joe was a giant in the game and was adored by the fans in this city."

The Oakland native was named National League MVP in 1975 and 1976, leading Cincinnati to World Series titles in both those seasons.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine eulogized Morgan as "the greatest second baseman of all time" and a "gracious and genuinely nice person."

"He was a player who mastered every detail of the game," DeWine said in a statement on Monday. "We saw him play many times with our older children — Pat, Jill, Becky, and John. It was a thrill to watch him!"

Morgan was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in 1990, following a 22-season career with the Houston Colt .45s, Reds, San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies and Oakland A's.

The 10-time All-Star Game selection was an all-around offensive force, smacking 268 home runs and stealing 689 bases. He also had a keen eye at the plate, forcing pitchers to walk him 1,865 times, which boosted his career on-base percentage to .392.

Morgan was also a wizard on defense, winning five Gold Glove awards as his league's best fielding second baseman.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday called Morgan the consummate "five-tool player," meaning he could hit for a high batting average, hit for power, run the bases, field his position and throw the ball with authority.

“Joe was a close friend and an advisor to me, and I welcomed his perspective on numerous issues in recent years," Manfred said Monday. "He was a true gentleman who cared about our game and the values for which it stands."

At just 5-foot-7, Morgan as known as "Little Joe" throughout his illustrious career.

"Joe often reminded baseball fans that the player smallest in stature on the field could be the most impactful," Manfred said.

The lineup of Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" teams were filled with fearsome hitters Morgan, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and George Foster and defensive stalwarts like Dave Concepcion and Cesar Geronimo.

The 1975 World Series is best known for Carlton Fisk’s home run off the left-field foul pole that won Game 6 for the Boston Red Sox. An NBC camera dramatically captured Fisk wildly waving his arms, begging for the ball to stay fair.

But it was Morgan who delivered the decisive championship-winning blow, with a RBI single in the ninth inning to break a 3-3 tie in Game 7. That run-scoring hit brought home teammate Ken Griffey, the father of future Hall of Fame inductee Ken Griffey Jr.

Even after leaving Cincinnati, Morgan was still productive late into his career. At age 39 in 1982, Morgan finished 16th in National League MVP balloting and ended the season with a dramatic home run that knocked out the rival Los Angeles Dodgers from playoff contention.

After hanging up the cleats, Morgan enjoyed a long career in the booth as an analyst for ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball," teaming up with Jon Miller, radio voice of the Baltimore Orioles and Giants, between 1990 and 2010.

"He had a unique ability to explain what was happening on the field to the average fan," Gov. DeWine said. "He was a master at explaining the 'why' of baseball."

Joe Leonard Morgan was born on Sept. 19, 1943, in Bonham, Texas, about 80 miles north of Dallas.

The family moved west to Northern California when Morgan was still a young child, and he became a multi-sport star at Castlemont High School in Oakland.

Perhaps overlooked due to his small stature, Morgan didn't draw much attention from college scouts before he signed a free agent contract in late 1961 with the Houston Colt .45s, a franchise that would later be called the Astros.

Morgan posted several productive seasons with Houston, making it to two All-Star Games, and he was second in the NL Rookie of the Year race in 1965.

Then in one of the worst trades in baseball history, Houston dealt Morgan away in a huge eight-player trade after the 1971 season that paved the way for Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" dominance.

He was fourth in MVP voting in 1972, leading Cincinnati to the NL pennant that season.

Morgan played the game with a brash style that could occasionally irk opponents. He was also known for flapping his left elbow in the batter's box, a technique to keep that elbow raised.

“Joe wasn’t just the best second baseman in baseball history,” Bench once said of his teammate Morgan.

“He was the best player I ever saw and one of the best people I’ve ever known.”

After retiring, Morgan decried the dwindling number of African American players in baseball.

He was also victimized by a bad arrest at Los Angeles International Airport in 1988 when police threw him to the ground and handcuffed him, accusing the baseball star of being a drug dealer.

Morgan won a six-digit civil verdict against the LAPD for that incident at LAX.

"The only thing that saved me was a witness standing next to me who had flown on the plane with me. If I don't have his verification, I'm just another Black guy they grabbed and jostled," Morgan told Playboy magazine in 1999.

"At the trial they said they thought I was a drug dealer. They lied about so many different things."

The all-time great second baseman is survived by his wife of 30 years, Theresa; twin daughters Kelly and Ashley; and daughters Lisa and Angela from his first marriage to Gloria Morgan.

Morgan's death comes less than a week following the passing of Hall of Fame New York Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford at age 91.

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