I don't watch much baseball anymore but I used to be a huge baseball card/Micro League Baseball geek in my early teens. Unlike today, there were always certain teams or eras that every baseball fan was familiar with even if they weren't around for the era. The '27 Yanks. Dem Bums. The '67 Series. The Miracle Mets. And one of the best squads ever, Cincinnati's Big Red Machine.
The Reds dominated the NL in the '70s thanks in large part to trotting out this 1-8 on a near-nightly basis. They went 4-for-6 in pennants and 2-for-4 in the World Series during the decade. Though Pete Rose and Johnny Bench won the WSMVPs, the titles and the Cincy run do not happen without Joe Morgan. Sadly, the Baseball Hall of Famer died yesterday at 77.
In addition to the four pennants and two World Series, the 5'7" second baseman won two NL MVPs, five Gold Gloves, two Player of the Year Awards, a Silver Slugger, and was a 10-time All-Star. Cincy acquired a 28-year-old Morgan in a fleecing of the Astros prior to the 1972 season. The change of scenery from mediocre expansion team to contender brought out the best in Morgan and he was at/near the top of his profession into his mid-30s.
“Joe fit in with the rest of us like the missing link in the puzzle,” Rose once said.
After his epic Reds era, he went back to Houston the same year Nolan Ryan signed and the team came up just short of the franchise's first WS appearance in an epic five-game duel with the Phillies.
Three years later as a Phillie, he played in another World Series at 40 years old before playing one final season in Oakland. If you watched baseball in the '70s, you knew good and goddamn well who Joe Morgan was. He was a hell of baseball player and a winner.
“He was just a good major league player when it didn’t mean anything,” former Reds and Tigers skipper Sparky Anderson once said. “But when it meant something, he was a Hall of Famer.”
Might sound like a bit of a back-handed compliment from ol' Sparky but that's the equivalent of a hug from a guy born in 1934.
“Joe wasn’t just the best second baseman in baseball history,” Bench said. “He was the best player I ever saw and one of the best people I’ve ever known.”
Obviously, there's an entire generation or so that only knew Joe from his TV work on ESPN and opinions about his work there are a bit more, shall we say, varied than that of his work on the diamond. Though if he gave more of these takes, he might've won more people over…
I kid of course. But his work in a booth does not at all take away from what he accomplished as a player. In an era of a handful of incredible players on seemingly every team, Joe Morgan rose above most of them and left his mark on the game. Condolences to his family and friends.