Joe Morgan was the driving force of Big Red Machine teams in 1970s
By JOE KAY
AP Sports Writer
At 5-foot-7, he was the smallest cog in the Big Red Machine. And to his star-powered teammates, Joe Morgan was a driving force, too.
Morgan, the Hall of Fame second baseman who became the sparkplug of dominant Cincinnati teams in the mid-1970s and the prototype for baseball’s artificial turf era, has died. He was 77.
He died at his home Sunday in Danville, California, family spokesman James Davis said in statement earlier this week. Morgan was suffering from a nerve condition, a form of polyneuropathy.
“Joe Morgan was quite simply the best baseball player I played against or saw,” Reds Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench texted to The Associated Press.
Morgan’s death marked the latest among major league greats this year: Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Tom Seaver and Al Kaline.
“All champions. This hurts the most,” Bench said.
Morgan was a two-time NL Most Valuable Player, a 10-time All-Star and won five Gold Gloves. A dynamo known for flapping his left elbow at the plate, Little Joe could hit a home run, steal a base and disrupt any game with his daring.
Most of all, he completed Cincinnati’s two-time World Series championship team, boosting a club featuring the likes of Pete Rose, Tony Perez and Bench to back-to-back titles.
“Joe would always amaze me,” Rose told the AP. “He was by far the most intelligent player I’ve ever been around. He rubbed off on all of us. A big part of the Big Red Machine.”
Morgan’s tiebreaking single with two outs in the ninth inning of Game 7 in 1975 gave the Reds the crown in a classic matchup with Boston, and he spurred a four-game sweep of the Yankees the next season.
Morgan was the league’s MVP both years. And his Hall of Fame teammates and manager readily acknowledged he was the one that got it all started.
Often regarded as the greatest second baseman in history, he was an easy first-ballot pick for Cooperstown.
“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.”
In a 22-year career through 1984, Morgan scored 1,650 runs, stole 689 bases, hit 268 homers and batted .271. But those stats hardly reflected the force created on the field by the lefty-swinging No. 8.
Confident and cocky, he also was copied. His habit of flapping his back elbow as a way to keep it high when hitting was imitated by many a Little Leaguer in Cincinnati and beyond.
Health issues had slowed down Morgan in recent years. Knee surgery forced him to use a cane when he went onto the field at Great American Ball Park before the 2015 All-Star Game and he later needed a bone marrow transplant for an illness.
In his prime, Morgan helped to revolutionize the game with his quickness and many talents, especially once he hit the turf at Riverfront Stadium. His statue outside Great American Ball Park portrays him in motion, naturally.
“Packed unusual power into his extraordinarily quick 150-lb. fireplug frame,” he was praised on his Hall of Fame plaque.
There was a moment of silence held at Petco Park in San Diego before the Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros played Monday in Game 2 of the AL Championship Series.
“He meant a lot to us, a lot to me, a lot to baseball, a lot to African-Americans around the country. A lot to players that were considered undersized,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker, a longtime friend and National League rival. “He was the one of the first examples of speed and power for a guy they said was too small to play.”
Morgan got his start with Houston in 1963, when the team was called the .45s and still played on grass. Once he became a full-time player in 1965 when the club became the Astros and moved into the Astrodome, he began to provide a glimpse of what speedy, multi-skilled players could do on the new kind of turf.
The Reds had already built a formidable team, but they came up short in 1970, losing to Baltimore in the World Series. Cincinnati made a shocking trade for Morgan after the 1971 season, giving up slugger Lee May and All-Star second baseman Tommy Helms in an eight-player swap.
Morgan turned out to be exactly what the Reds needed to take the next step.
“Joe made us better, and we made him better,” Rose said. “We put him in the spotlight. It was a perfect fit.”
Rose was the dashing singles hitter, on his way to becoming the game’s career hits leader. Bench supplied the power. Perez was the clutch hitter. And Morgan did a bit of everything, slashing hits and stealing bases whenever needed.
Skilled at drawing walks, and helped by a small strike zone, Morgan led the NL in on-base percentage in four of his first five years with the Reds, and finished with a career mark of .392.
“That’s when the game went to more speed,” Rose once said. “There were guys who did more, but Joe stole bases when everyone at the park knew he would. He didn’t waste steals. He made them count. Joe probably could have stolen more. Lots of guys just steal to run up the numbers, and then they can’t when it counts to win the game. Joe made them count.”
Morgan scored a major league-leading 122 runs in his first season with the Reds and they reached the 1972 World Series, where they lost in seven games to Oakland.
Morgan hit .327 with 17 homers, 94 RBIs and 67 stolen bases in 1975, then followed with a .320 average, 27 homers, 111 RBIs and 60 steals the next year. He was only the fifth second baseman in the NL to drive in more than 100 runs and also led the league in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage in 1976.
The next year, he led off the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium with a home run against future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer.
“Small in stature like his idol Nellie Fox, Joe played every game at the highest level. Maybe proving to himself and everyone else that he belong. Did he ever!” Bench said.
A series of injuries in the late 1970s diminished Morgan’s production — the years of throwing his body around on the turf had taken a toll. The Reds decided to dismantle the Big Red Machine, prompting Morgan to also leave.
He spent the 1980 season with Houston, helping the Astros to a NL West title. He played two years with San Francisco — hitting a home run on the final day of the 1982 season against the rival Dodgers to knock the defending champions out of the playoffs — and later was reunited with Rose and Perez in Philadelphia.
Morgan hit two home runs in the 1983 World Series as the Phillies lost in five games to Baltimore, and tripled in his final at-bat.
Morgan finished as a career .182 hitter in 50 postseason games. He played in 11 different series and batted over .273 in just one of them, a stat that surprises many considering his big-game reputation.
Raised in Oakland, Morgan returned to the Bay Area and played the 1984 season for the Athletics before retiring.
Morgan set the NL record for games played at second, ranked among the career leaders in walks and was an All-Star in every one of his years with the Reds.
After his playing career, he spent years as an announcer for the Reds, Giants and A’s, along with ESPN, NBC, ABC and CBS. He was analyst for ESPN’s Sunday night telecasts from 1990-2010 and won two Sports Emmy Awards as an Event Analyst — ESPN’s first two wins in the category, in 1998 and 2005.
Morgan also was board vice chairman of baseball’s Hall of Fame and on the board of the Baseball Assistance Team.
Morgan was inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1990. The Reds also inducted him into their Hall of Fame and retired his number.
“He did it all, and he did it all the time,” said Bench, the first member of the Big Red Machine to enter the Hall.
He 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.
THURSDAY OCTOBER 13, 1910
No fewer than 20 railroad contractors have been riding up and down the proposed new line during the past week. The railroad is to be let in six sections of 16 miles each. When the news of the letting of the contracts to build the railroad is confirmed the biggest furor of activity ever known will strike the mountains. Mark our prediction.
Commenting on a new predicament he finds himself in with the coming of the railroad and the opening of the eastern Kentucky coalfields, Mountain Eagle editor Nehemiah Webb writes that he feels like he is standing “between the devil and the deep blue sea.” Webb writes that if he urges local landowners they “to hold onto their little scraps” of land the corporations raise “hellabaloo,” yet when he writes that a man who “parts with his mineral and keeps his surface he fixes himself to hold the ‘snipe sack,’ they (landowners) call the editor a ‘damyhool’ and other names that smack of the sulphurious.” Asks Webb: “So what would you do? Let ’er slide?”
Kentucky’s public school teachers will be paid this Saturday for the first two months of school they have already taught.
Dr. Kramer is photographing and running Dow Collins’s sawmill on Sandlick.
All of the typhoid patients at Craft’s Colly and Thornton are pulling along very well. It is now thought they all will recover.
THURSDAY OCTOBER 17, 1940
How young men of Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana may avoid conscription yet serve their country at a salary of $245 monthly as an officer instead of receiving a private’s $21 was disclosed by Sgt. Tom R. Stidham. “This opportunity is offered to those who enroll now in the Army Flying Cadet Training School. While college training is desirable, it is not absolutely necessary. Neither is flying experience.”
According to reliable information, Dr. B.F. Wright, well-known Letcher County surgeon, will break the ground in the near future for a fine new hospital. The building will be located on the main highway between Neon and Seco, directly opposite Dr. Wright’s home.
One of the most interesting gridiron games of the season was played on the Fleming field when Fleming and Jenkins met last Friday night. Jenkins got off to a good start, getting a touchdown in the beginning, but Fleming then scored two touchdowns. The final score stood at 13 to 7, in favor of Fleming.
Whitesburg Council 48, U.S. Spanish-American war veterans, was host to a banquet given Friday at Mother’s Craft Restaurant, honor their comrade, Hays Crase, who resides in Chehallis, Washington.
THURSDAY OCTOBER 19, 1950
Funeral services for Cpl. Roy Brown, 25, of Ravenna, Ohio, formerly of Sandlick, were held Sunday at the Sandlick Church. Brown was killed during maneuvers in Japan Sept. 7. He had served close to three years with the Army. Brown is survived by his wife, Wilda Brown; a daughter, Jean Ann; and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Brown of Sandlick.
Prize money of $18 was awarded to four Letcher County students by local merchants supporting the recently terminated Fire Prevention Week. The prizes were awarded for posters, which the students had drawn. First prize money of $6 each went to Nolan Auton and Calvin Thomas as a result of a two-way tie. Second place of $6 was won by Joe Preston. Winner of third place and $2 was Janet Combs.
A deputy constable, Burnett Holbrook, was arrested early Sunday morning on charges of transporting liquor in a local option territory and drunkenness. Also arrested in the raid was Hobert Deaton, charged with possessing whiskey for the purpose of sale.
The Jenkins Cavaliers had little trouble in defeating the Elkhorn City Cougars 41-0 at Jenkins. Coach Charlie Bentley’s Cavaliers enjoyed a 25-0 lead at the end of the first quarter and from there on out the B team and C team went most of the way.
THURSDAY OCTOBER 20, 1960
Alert local leadership is the main need in the Appalachian area’s push for redevelopment, governors and their representatives from 11 states said at Lexington this week. The men were meeting in an effort to start some kind of joint action to solve the problems common to mountainous areas in the states — Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York and South Carolina.
Plans for strict enforcement of the state law providing for regulation of operations of auger and strip mines were made by the Kentucky Strip Mine and Reclamation Commission. J.O. Matlock, Commissioner of Conservation and chairman of the commission, said he had received numerous complaints that some operators were flagrantly violating the Kentucky statutes governing the operation of auger and strip mines.
Commonwealth Attorney Emmitt Fields and Representative Harry Caudill were the speakers at the Whitesburg Parent-Teacher Association meeting Tuesday. They outlined the reasons why the Kentucky constitution should be revised and urged all citizens to vote “Yes” on the question of constitutional revision.
The 10 sons and 7 daughters of Frank and Nannie Blair gathered at the home on Crases Branch for the weekend of October 8. Frank Blair celebrated his 73rd birthday on October 14.
THURSDAY OCTOBER 15, 1970
The Whitesburg City Council voted this week to join the proposed new eight-county garbage disposal system. Under the plan, Whitesburg’s garbage will be trucked to a new sanitary landfill, to be operated by an eight-county board which excludes Whitesburg from membership, and over which the city will have no control. The scheme is expected to cost each household within Whitesburg an additional $10 a year at a minimum.
Local anti-poverty officials are uncertain what effect the Nixon administration’s decision to cut back the budget of the Office of Economic Opportunity by 50 percent next year will have on anti-poverty programs in Letcher County. The LKLP Community Action Council, the overall anti-poverty agency for four counties including Letcher, has nearly 100 employees in Letcher County. In addition, there are nearly 300 persons enrolled in a number of work and training programs.
Last week’s protest by Cumberland Valley parents and students about unsafe school bus transportation resulted in the appearance of newer and better buses to make the trip across Pine Mountain on Monday. School Superintendent Kendall Boggs said that one “good county school bus and one newer V.T.C. (the private bus company contracted by the Letcher County School Board) were on duty Monday morning.”
Specialist Four Mark T. Witt, 21, son of Mrs. Sylvia Witt of Whitesburg, received the Bronze Star Medal in Vietnam. He won the medal by distinguishing himself through meritorious services in connection with military operations against hostile forces in Vietnam, the Army said.
THURSDAY OCTOBER 16, 1980
Whitesburg Fire Chief Philmore Bowen told the city council that for the past two years he has found several fire hydrants out of working order. He said the problem came to a head last week when — during a fire school exercise — the only hydrant located near the English Building at Whitesburg High School was found disconnected.
He said each of the last three major fires in the city could have been controlled had nearby hydrants been working properly. Instead all three buildings were destroyed.
The Women’s Employment Information Service is sponsoring a meeting for all women coal miners and women interested in coal mining careers on October 22. A representative of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance will be present to discuss the efforts to increase the number of women working in mines. The meeting will cover job opportunities for women, training, problems and discrimination.
Arthur and Nannie Lucas of Thornton celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary with a family gathering and dinner at their home October 5. All their children were there, along with a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“The Blue Lagoon” starring Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins will play this weekend at Cinema 7 Drive-In Theatre at Jeremiah.
WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 17, 1990
Scores of miners laid off from their jobs at South East Coal Co. were taking a “wait and see” attitude this week as a team of state workers arrived in Letcher County to help prepare applications for unemployment insurance benefits. South East President Harry LaViers Jr. announced the job cuts last Thursday. He said a 6-1/2-year legal battle with South East’s largest customer, Kentucky Utilities Co., has drained the company’s finances. Four hundred workers were hit by the layoff.
The Letcher County Jail could be closed by the state, if a new jail proposed in Perry County is built, Jailer Gene Banks said. Kentucky River Area Development District executive director Linda Gayheart said the Perry County judge/executive has invited U.S. Corrections Corporation to build a jail there. The Perry County Fiscal Court would still have to approve the idea and would have to advertise for proposing the jail.
The Nature Conservancy has bought more than 1,000 acres of land adjoining Bad Branch Falls, tripling the size of the publicly and privately held nature preserve on Pine Mountain in Letcher County.
The Neon Volunteer Fire Department won first-place trophies in all categories at a competition held in Abingdon, Va., on October 7. The Neon firemen won first place in six competitions: junior fireman rummage race, junior fireman air pack race, tug-of-war, two-man rescue, senior fireman rummage race, and bucket brigade.
WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 11, 2000
Unemployment dropped in more than half of Kentucky counties during August, but jobless rates in nine eastern Kentucky counties — including Letcher — remained among the top 10. Letcher County had the most unemployed residents — 753 — of any county in the Kentucky River Area Development District. Its rate was 9.0 percent.
Sentencing was delayed until Thursday for Wilford Niece, a former Letcher County coal operator, who pleaded guilty to cocaine and stolen property charges. Niece’s wife, Melissa A. Niece, was sentenced in August to a year and a day in federal prison for her role in the cocaine distribution conspiracy.
State education officials have threatened to bar 107 high schools including three in Letcher County from sanctioned athletic events for allegedly not complying with federal law protecting girls’ sports. All have failed to submit reports showing they complied with federal Title IX laws requiring equity in school activities for boys and girls. Jenkins, Letcher and Whitesburg high schools are the three schools in Letcher County, which have failed to submit reports.
Due to a nationwide shortage of the flu vaccine, the Letcher County Health Department will not have the vaccine available until November.
WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 13, 2010
Letcher Circuit Judge Sam Wright followed the recommendation of a Letcher County jury and sentenced Jeffrey Allen to life in prison. Allen was convicted last week of murdering Dakota Yonts, a two-year old boy, in 2003.
The City of Fleming-Neon is teaming with Berea College’s Entrepreneurship for the Public Good program to serve as an incubator for small business development. The city will begin its effort by working with a Berea grant writer to pursue a $10,000 planning grant aimed at developing new locally owned small businesses and growing those businesses already in place. The city’s Economic Development Committee had decided to focus on three areas: City Beautification, ATV and Horse Trails, and Business Incubators.
A new metal sculpture created by Kentucky Heritage artist Doug Adams will be unveiled this weekend during the City of Whitesburg’s Fall Artwalk. Adams’s sculpture entitled “Appalachian Balance” can be seen in front of the old Whitesburg Post Office.
Brandon J. Little has completed the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) Leader’s Training Course at Fort Knox. Little is a student at Pikeville College. He is the adopted son of Shannon Little of Cromona and is a 2007 graduate of Letcher County Central High School.