|Born: September 19, 1943|
Bonham, Texas, U.S.
|Died: October 11, 2020 (aged 77)|
Danville, California, U.S.
|September 21, 1963, for the Houston Colt .45s|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 30, 1984, for the Oakland Athletics|
|Runs batted in||1,133|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Member of the National|
|Baseball Hall of Fame|
|Vote||81.8% (first ballot)|
Joe Leonard Morgan (September 19, 1943 – October 11, 2020) was an American professional baseball second baseman who played 22 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the Houston Colt .45s / Astros, Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, and Oakland Athletics from 1963 to 1984. He won two World Series championships with the Reds in 1975 and 1976 and was also named the National League Most Valuable Player in each of those years. Considered one of the greatest second basemen of all time, Morgan was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990.
After retiring as an active player, Morgan became a baseball broadcaster for the Reds, Giants, ABC, and ESPN, as well as a stint in the mid-to-late 1990s on NBC's postseason telecasts, teamed with Bob Costas and Bob Uecker. He hosted a weekly nationally syndicated radio show on Sports USA, while serving as a special advisor to the Reds.
Morgan was African American and the oldest of six children. Born in Bonham, Texas, he lived there until he was five years old. His family then moved to Oakland, California. Morgan was nicknamed "Little Joe" for his diminutive 5-foot-7-inch (1.70 m) stature. As a youth, he played American Legion baseball on a team sponsored by Post 471 in Oakland. He was a standout baseball player at Castlemont High School, but did not receive any offers from major league teams due to his size. He played college baseball at Oakland City College before being signed by the Houston Colt .45s as an amateur free agent in 1962, receiving a $3,000 signing bonus and a $500 per month salary.
Morgan made his major league baseball debut on September 21, 1963. Despite going on to win multiple World Series and MVPs for the Reds, he said his debut for the Colt 45s was the highlight of his career.
Early in his career, Morgan had trouble with his swing because he kept his back elbow down too low. Teammate Nellie Fox (also a stocky second baseman) suggested to Morgan that while at the plate he should flap his back arm like a chicken to keep his elbow up. Morgan followed the advice, and his flapping arm became Morgan's signature.
Morgan played ten seasons for the Houston Astros, compiling 72 home runs and 219 stolen bases. He was named an All-Star twice during this period, in 1966 and 1970. On June 25, 1966, Morgan was struck on the kneecap by a line drive (hit by Lee Maye) during batting practice. The broken kneecap forced Morgan out of the lineup for 40 games, during which the Astros went 11–29 (for a .275 winning percentage).
Although Morgan played with distinction for Houston, the Astros wanted more power in their lineup. Additionally, manager Harry Walker considered Morgan a troublemaker. As a result, they traded Morgan to the Cincinnati Reds as part of a blockbuster multi-player deal on November 29, 1971, announced at baseball's winter meetings.
To this day the aforementioned trade is considered an epoch-making deal for Cincinnati, although at the time many experts felt that the Astros got the better end of the deal. Power-hitting Lee May, All-Star second baseman Tommy Helms, and outfielder/pinch hitter Jimmy Stewart went to the Astros. In addition to Morgan, included in the deal to the Reds were César Gerónimo (who became their regular right fielder and then center fielder), starting pitcher Jack Billingham, veteran infielder Denis Menke, and minor league outfielder Ed Armbrister. Morgan joined leadoff hitter Pete Rose as prolific catalysts at the top of the Reds' lineup. Morgan added home run power, not always displayed with the Astros in the cavernous Astrodome, outstanding speed and excellent defense.
As part of the Big Red Machine, Morgan made eight consecutive All-Star Game appearances (1972–79) to go along with his 1966 and 1970 appearances with Houston. Morgan, along with teammates Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Pérez, and Dave Concepción, led the Reds to consecutive championships in the World Series. He drove in Ken Griffey for the winning run in Game 7 of the 1975 World Series. Morgan was also the National League MVP in 1975 and 1976. He was the first second baseman in the history of the National League to win the MVP back to back. In Morgan's NL MVP years he combined for a .324 batting average, 44 home runs, 205 runs batted in, 246 bases on balls, and 127 stolen bases.
Morgan was an extremely capable hitter—especially in clutch situations. While his lifetime average was only .271, he hit between .288 and .327 during his peak years with the Reds. Additionally, he drew many walks, resulting in an excellent .392 on-base percentage. He also hit 268 home runs to go with his 449 doubles and 96 triples, excellent power for a middle infielder of his era, and was considered by some the finest base stealer of his generation (689 steals at greater than 80% success rate). Besides his prowess at the plate and on the bases, Morgan was an exceptional infielder, winning the Gold Glove Award in consecutive years from 1973 to 1977. His short height proved an asset to him, as he had one of baseball's smallest strike zones. "The umpires gave him everything. If he didn't swing at the pitch, it was a ball," recalled Tommy John.
Morgan returned to Houston in 1980 as a free agent. He helped the young Astros win the NL West. The Astros then lost the National League Championship Series to the Philadelphia Phillies. Morgan went to the San Francisco Giants for the next two seasons. His home run in the last game of the 1982 season eliminated the Dodgers from the division race. He won the 1982 Willie Mac Award for his spirit and leadership.
Morgan was acquired along with Al Holland by the Phillies from the Giants for Mike Krukow, Mark Davis and minor-league outfielder C.L. Penigar on December 14, 1982. He was reunited with former Reds teammates Pete Rose and Tony Pérez. On his 40th birthday in 1983, he had four hits, including two home runs and a double, at Veterans Stadium.
He played in the World Series for the final time when the Phillies reached it in 1983, facing off against the Baltimore Orioles. In Game 1, he hit a home run in the sixth inning to tie the game; he became the second oldest player to hit a home run in the World Series (Enos Slaughter was a few months older at the age of 40). He went 5-for-19 in the Series, which included a second home run in Game 5, but the Phillies lost in five games. Morgan finished his career with the Oakland Athletics.
In 1990, Morgan was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame with more than 81% of the vote. He entered together with Jim Palmer, both in their first year of eligibility. Morgan and Palmer were the 25th/26th players in MLB history to be elected in their first year of eligibility.
In 2017, Morgan wrote a letter to the Hall of Fame in which he asked that players who had cheated by using performance enhancing steroids not be elected into the Hall.
After his career ended, Morgan was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 1987, and his jersey number 8 was retired. The Reds dedicated a statue for Morgan at Great American Ball Park in 2013.
In the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James named Morgan the best second baseman in baseball history, ahead of #2 Eddie Collins and #3 Rogers Hornsby. He also named Morgan as the "greatest percentages player in baseball history", due to his strong fielding percentage, stolen base percentage, walk-to-strikeout ratio, and walks per plate appearance.
In 1999, Morgan ranked Number 60 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
Morgan served as a member of the board of the Baseball Assistance Team, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to helping former Major League, Minor League, and Negro league players through financial and medical hardships. In addition, since 1994, he served on the Board of Directors for the Baseball Hall of Fame, and was Vice-Chairman from 2000 until his death in 2020.
Morgan started his broadcasting career in 1985 for the Cincinnati Reds. On September 11, 1985, Morgan, along with his television broadcasting partner Ken Wilson, was on hand to call Pete Rose's record-breaking 4,192nd career hit. A year later, Morgan started a nine-year stint as an announcer for the San Francisco Giants. Morgan added one more local gig when he joined the Oakland Athletics' broadcasting team for the 1995 season.
In 1986, ESPN hired Morgan to call Monday Night Baseball and College World Series games.
From 1988 to 1989, Morgan served as an announcer for ABC, where he helped announce Monday Night and Thursday Night Baseball games (providing backup for the lead announcing crew composed of Al Michaels, Tim McCarver, and Jim Palmer), the 1988 American League Championship Series with Gary Bender and Reggie Jackson, and served as a field reporter for the 1989 World Series along with Gary Thorne (Morgan's regular season partner in 1989). Morgan was on the field at San Francisco's Candlestick Park alongside Hall of Famer Willie Mays (whom Morgan was getting set to interview) the moment the Loma Prieta earthquake hit.
From 1994 to 2000, Morgan teamed with Bob Costas and Bob Uecker (until 1997) to call baseball games on NBC (and in association with The Baseball Network from 1994 to 1995). During this period, Morgan helped call three World Series (1995, 1997, and 1999) and four All-Star Games (1994, 1996, 1998, and 2000). Morgan also called three American League Championship Series (1996, 1998, and 2000) and three National League Championship Series (1995 alongside Greg Gumbel, 1997, and 1999).
Morgan spent a previous stint (1986–1987) with NBC calling regional Game of the Week telecasts alongside Bob Carpenter. During NBC's coverage of the 1985 and 1987 National League Championship Series, Morgan served as a pregame analyst alongside hosts Dick Enberg (in 1985) and Marv Albert (in 1987).
Morgan was a member of ESPN's lead baseball broadcast team alongside Jon Miller and Orel Hershiser. Besides teaming with Miller for Sunday Night Baseball (since its inception in 1990) telecasts, Morgan also teamed with Miller for League Championship Series and World Series broadcasts on ESPN Radio.
In 1999, Morgan teamed with his then-NBC colleague Bob Costas to call two weekday night telecasts for ESPN. The first was on Wednesday, August 25 with Detroit Tigers playing against the Seattle Mariners. The second was on Tuesday, September 21 with the Atlanta Braves playing against the New York Mets. He won two Sports Emmy Awards for Outstanding Sports Event Analyst in 1998 and 2005.
In 2006, he called the Little League World Series Championship with Brent Musburger and Orel Hershiser on ABC, replacing the recently fired Harold Reynolds. During the 2006 MLB playoffs, the network had Morgan pull double duty by calling the first half of the Mets–Dodgers playoff game at Shea Stadium before traveling across town to call the Yankees–Tigers night game at Yankee Stadium.
In 2009, Sports Illustrated's Joe Posnanski spoke about the perceived disparity between Morgan's celebrated playing style and his on-air persona:
In the wake of Morgan taking an official role with the Cincinnati Reds as a "special adviser to baseball operations", it was announced on November 8, 2010, that Morgan would not be returning for the 2011 season as an announcer on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. His former broadcast partner Jon Miller's contract expired in 2010 and ESPN chose not to renew his contract. Morgan and Miller were replaced by Bobby Valentine and Dan Shulman, respectively (while ESPN retained Orel Hershiser, who joined the Sunday Night Baseball telecasts in 2010).
Morgan was also a broadcaster in the MLB 2K video game series from 2K Sports.
It was announced on June 17, 2011, that Morgan would begin a daily, one-hour general-sports-talk radio program om Sports USA Radio Network, beginning on August 22 of that year.
In April 2010, Morgan returned to the Reds as an advisor to baseball operations, including community outreach for the Reds.
Morgan married Gloria Stewart, his high school girlfriend, on April 3, 1967. They had two children, and divorced in the 1980s. He then married Theresa Behymer in 1990. They had twins in 1991.
In March 1988, while transiting through Los Angeles International Airport, Morgan was violently thrown to the floor, handcuffed, and arrested by Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) detectives who profiled him as a drug courier. He filed and won a civil rights case against the LAPD in 1991, and was awarded $540,000. In 1993, a federal court upheld his claim that his civil rights had been violated.
In 2015, Morgan was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic syndrome, which developed into leukemia. He received a bone marrow transplant from one of his daughters. Morgan died on October 11, 2020, at the age of 77, at his home in Danville, California. He suffered from a non-specified polyneuropathy in the time leading up to his death. Behymer-Morgan survives him.
[H]e hit 13 homers in '71 – and didn't appreciate that he played half his home games in the hitters' dungeon that was the Houston Astrodome.(subscription required)
Marv Albert tackles the pre-game show assignment with Joe Morgan.