Joe Morgan passed away at age 77 on Sunday according to a family spokesman. Morgan has been suffering from a nerve condition – a form of polyneuropathy according to Joe Kay’s report in the Associated Press.

Morgan, one of the greatest baseball players that’s ever lived, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990. Little Joe, as he was nicknamed, played from 1963-1984 and played for Houston, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Oakland. His 22-year career saw him make the All-Star team 10 times, win two Most Valuable Player Awards (1975, 1976), five Gold Gloves, and two World Series with the Cincinnati Reds and The Big Red Machine.

Perhaps one of the most underappreciated players of his time given just how much on-base percentage is now understood compared to the time in his career when batting average was king, Morgan was a man among boys in his prime and posted a .271/.392/.427 line in his career with 449 doubles, 96 triples, 268 home runs, 689 steals, 1865 walks, and just 1015 strikeouts.

When the Cincinnati Reds traded for Joe Morgan, many fans were not impressed.

“What does the general public think of the trade?” Hamilton Journal-News columnist Bill Moeller asked the day after the deal. “It seems the majority of the fans feel it was the Reds’ worst trade since they let Frank Robinson go.

Cincinnati traded Lee May, Tommy Helms, and Jimmy Stewart to Houston in November of 1971 in order to acquire Morgan, Ed Armbrister, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo, and Denis Menke. While there were some quality players in that group (going both directions), it turned out that Morgan was the steal of the deal. From 1972-1979 with the Reds, he hit .288/.415/.470 and stole 406 bases for Cincinnati and was an All-Star every season. He led the league in Runs once, walks twice, on-base percentage four times, slugging percentage once, and OPS twice.

Chris Towers of CBS Sports pointed out that Morgan from 1972-1976, a 5-year stretch, saw him put up 47.8 WAR (Baseball Reference version). That’s better than the best 5-year stretch that Mike Trout has had (47.3 WAR).

Only 21 position players have accumulated 100 WAR for their career. Joe Morgan is on that list. All of them are in the Hall of Fame with the lone exception of Albert Pujols, who of course will join them the first year that he is eligible for enshrinement. Joe Posnanski named Morgan as the 21st greatest baseball player ever this past year for The Athletic.

Following his playing career, Morgan went into the broadcast booth, eventually becoming the voice for Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN. He would also go on to work for the Cincinnati Reds in an advisory role over the years. The last time that I saw him was in 2018 in Dayton when he came into town to see Hunter Greene pitch for the Dragons.

46 Responses

  1. Melvin

    Sad day. The best all around player on arguably the best team ever. Our team could use a Joe Morgan right now. That alone would make them serious contenders.

  2. Steve Schoenbaechler

    Lord, 2020 have been nothing but cr**!!! But, things are never forever. . .

    I remember Joe for several reasons:

    1) most obvious, that da** arm twitch he had. Why did he even do that? I don’t remember that? Anyone with anything about that?

    2) Not only the WAR, but I remember back then I believe the saberstat of the time was something like a Q-Stat, like a summary stat is all the offensive categories or something. And, Joe was the leader of that league wide.

    3) His stolen bases. I believe he was one of the first ones who made stealing bases an art form. For, from what I remember the talk, Joe was never the fastest player out there. But, he studied the pitchers, their motions, their moves, all to get the biggest jumps he could. And, more often than not, it all worked.

    We were definitely privleged to have seen Joe play, as well as the rest of the BRM. Joe will be missed.

    • Melvin

      He did it to help him to remember to keep his elbow up.

  3. David

    Great player, great guy, always was a fun interview on the radio with Joe Nuxhall. Saw him play in person many times.
    People were mad about Lee May being traded, after perhaps his best year ever in 1971. Lee and Tony Perez were best friends. But that was, indeed, a great trade by Bob Howsam.

    And really, Sparky was quite aware of his OBP. He batted at the top of the line up (#2 behind Pete Rose, who also had a high OBP) for a reason. This was also discussed during the 1972 World Series by the networks.

    I know the modern Advanced Metrics people thinks that they re-invented baseball, but …seriously. Everything old is new again.

    We don’t have another Joe Morgan waiting in the wings for Cincinnati, but I would like another General Manager as smart as Bob Howsam. This was the man that largely built what was known as The Big Red Machine.

    • JB WV

      I think he batted third in the lineup after Griffey. In any case, a very sad day for all Reds fans, especially those of us old enough to have seen him play in his prime. Besides his physical skills, Joe was one of the most intelligent players ever. His eye at the plate rivals Votto’s. Remember him putting on his sliding glove after he walked on his way to first? Loved it.

      • Melvin

        Yeah. Votto doesn’t put on his sliding gloves for some reason like Morgan did. LOL You all know I’m a big Votto fan for sure. Just funny.

    • jim walker

      “Sometimes you just have to take and make a trade”. That’s one of my favorite Howsamisms; and, I think it is applicable to many of life’s situations.

  4. RedsMonk65

    Yes, in many respects, he was the “straw that stirred the drink” for the BRM (sorry for mixing metaphors!). Great hitter, defender, and base runner. I enjoyed watching him play. When a big moment would come up in the game with runners on base, I would get excited as he took a couple ferocious practice swings, then stepped up to the plate flapping his left arm. It seemed he usually came up big in those circumstances. And once on base — whether via hit or walk — he was a terror to the opposing team.

    A look back at some of his more memorable moments:

    https://www.mlb.com/news/joe-morgan-best-moments

  5. RojoBenjy

    Thank you, Joe. We are all glad to have known about you and to have seen you play our favorite game so well!

    I loved Joe’s color commentary when he did broadcasts.

  6. bug

    Thanks for the memories, Joe. You were the greatest 2nd baseman in the game’s history. But more importantly, you were an even greater human being. Rip.

  7. Melvin

    When it comes to baseball he was probably the smartest on the BRM. That’s saying a lot.

    • David

      Interesting comment, but I do believe Johnny Bench was probably the smartest player on the team. And not to take away from how smart Joe was, or how he applied his intellect and analysis as an equalizer to get the most out of his size and ability.

      He struggled a lot as an Astro (at times) hitting, as the Astrodome was not a homer friendly or hitter friendly park. The surface there was rough (astroturf over dirt) and a lot of bad bounces. Joe actually was thought of as a hack defender before joining Cincinnati.
      The surface at Riverfront was astroturf over concrete, which gave a truer bounce.

  8. Mark Moore

    Remembering his iconic AB routine. Consummate professional hitter. Not a bad analyst and color man either. Very sad.

  9. Tom

    Very sad day to lose the main cog of the Big Red Machine. Seemed like a really nice human being too. If I remember correctly his game-winning hit in the 7th game was a flare. No matter what, Joe was a winner. I think that he and Eric Davis were probably the most complete players on the Reds. Condolences to all of his family and friends and fellow Reds players.

  10. CI3J

    Shocking news, because I didn’t know he was having health problems. For a former professional athlete, 77 feels way too young.

    I’ll always remember his chicken-wing impression when he was batting, and how he always seemed to make contact, no matter what. And in his later years, how his eyes always seemed to sparkle, like he had his own light inside him that was radiating outward. He seemed like a genuinely good guy all around who appreciated what life had given him.

    Rest in peace, Little Joe. You will be missed.

  11. Melvin

    He would beat the shift…promise… and make the teams who did it look stupid for trying which by the way should be every players hitting aspirations. The shift is ridiculous that it works but that’s for discussion another time. Morgan was just plain awesome. We as Reds fans are fortunate enough to have possibly the greatest team in history to look back on. It doesn’t matter what age young or old. Whether you saw them play in person or just read, watch and hear about them as a kid right now. If you want to feel good about being a Reds fan and our history you need look no further than Reds.com. and then to to stats and then 75 and especially 76. Look at the entire team but especially Morgan. Amazing.

  12. SultanofSwaff

    A true winner between the lines and in life. I very much enjoyed reading his biography. Amazing personal drive and integrity. Let’s hope his passing brings a proper assessment of his contributions to the game.

    • SultanofSwaff

      ….and despite the utterly maddening cycle of losing we’ve endured for years now, Joe’s passing is a bittersweet reminder that this franchise has a storied history and eventually better days will come again.

  13. Gonzo Reds

    Bench was my favorite growing up but I think Morgan was the best all-around player I’ve ever seen, true 5 tool player. Bench always says Morgan was the most important play to those Red’s WS winning teams.

    As a broadcaster… well he was captain obvious and sometimes painful to listen to but never detracted from what he did on the field as a player. RIP!

  14. Klugo

    It was players like Joe who set the bar so high for those wearing the C. This organization owes it to Joe and guys like him to reach for that standard year in and year out.

  15. Preach

    Both Joe and Eddie Van Halen represented a lot of the “fun times” of my growing up. Its just another reminder that life is fleeting, and to hold those close to you and enjoy today.

  16. jim walker

    One of my top in person baseball moments involved Joe and Johnny Bench.
    It happened in game 1 of a double header at Riverfront Stadium versus the Cubs in June of 1975. If memory serves, this game was part of the famous 41-9 run the Reds staged to take control of the division.

    Rick Reuschel, a true old school ace, was pitching for the Cubs, Gary Nolan for the Reds. They were locked at 0 in an absolute pitchers’ duel when Reuschel of all people led off the Cubs 6th with a questionable pop fly single and eventually came around to score the game’s first run.

    Morgan led off the Reds 7th with a walk to bring Bench to the plate. From my seat in the lower green seats in right center field, I trained my binoculars on the duel which developed between Morgan and Reuschel as Joe danced off 1st base drawing several throws from Reuschel and finally succeeded in forcing a balk.

    Refocusing my binoculars onto the duel now between Bench and Reuschel, I witnessed the absolute explosion of ball and bat meeting on the next pitch as Bench caught up to a high fastball Reuschel had left a little too low and too much over the plate, at least versus Johnny Bench in his prime.

    I didn’t have an earpiece to hear Nuxy’s radio call; but, Bench’s drive was one of those that in his later years Marty would have simply said, “Here’s a drive to left. If it stays high enough, it is long enough; aaaand…. It is! Reds lead 2-1!”

    And that lead stood as the final score. Nolan closed out the complete game victory, Reuschel pitched 2 outs into the Reds 8th before being relieved.

    Bench’s home run was just the Reds second hit of the game. To this day I am convinced that without the effort of Joe Morgan to draw that walk then drive Rick Reuschel to distraction Bench would have never seen the pitch he sent over the wall decide the game to the Reds favor.

    • Pablo

      As a fan, I’d get nervous when he was at first and he’d get a dangerously big lead. But he knew just how far out to go and still get back when the pitcher would throw over He was a complete player. RIP Joe.

      • jim walker

        +100. Reuschel was old school in every way including a temper he often wore on his sleeve; and on that day, you could see Joe’s activity raising RR’s temper to the boiling point.

        I looked back at a play by play to freshen the details of my memory. At the point when Morgan worked the walk off Reuschel, through 6 innings, he had allowed 1 hit, a HBP and a BB. After the Bench HR, he retired the next 3 Reds in a row then allowed 2 hits while getting 2 outs in the Reds 8th before being replaced by a reliever who walked Morgan to load the bases then K’s JB to end the inning.

    • Aaron B.

      I believe Reuschel was always considered a good hitting pitcher… so not shocking he managed to get some wood on the ball and get a dinker hit….during those bad Cubs seasons he was their ace, sounds like a great moment you witnessed!

  17. LDS

    Tough six weeks for HOF’ers: Ford, Gibson, Brock, and Seaver, and now Morgan. I saw Joe Morgan play several times in the 70s. A phenomenal player and a true student of the game that the Reds could use today. Alas no one like him in the queue.

  18. Indy Red Man

    I was just a kid in the 70s, but Joe was their best player I think. Or maybe Bench because the running game was such a factor back then. I’m not going to go back and find stats, but I don’t think guys had 80-100+ walks every year like alot of them do now. He used his short stature to his advantage. Baseball IQ off the charts as well.

    RIP

  19. RedsFanInFl

    Saw this stat on twitter:

    Number of seasons with at least 50 extra-base hits, 50 stolen bases and 100 base on balls:

    Joe Morgan – 4

    The other 19,901 players in baseball history combined – 0

    • jim walker

      Can’t help but think of the irony here. Nobody complained about Joe taking 100+ walks in a season because either A) the guys behind him did their jobs better than the guys behind Joey V have done or B) in short order after walking Joe would steal 2nd making the walk seem like a double!

      • RedsFanInFl

        Probably a little combination of both

      • Aaron B.

        Joe Morgan was not a base clogger.

      • RedNat

        That is my argument with Joey Votto. Joe Morgans walks had a lot of value because even if he didn’t steal. He was in the head of the pitcher. Mechanics were changed. Less off speed pitches being thrown. Vottos walk just have less value because he is no threat on the bases

  20. Troy

    Maybe I’m being a little too mushy on this, but I wondered which of the “Great 8” would pass away first a few months ago? It gave me chills later on when I realized that it was the GREAT 8 himself that died first. Joe Morgan wore #8. Sucks. Legend.

  21. TR

    What a pleasure to see and hear Joe Morgan play and talk about the game we love. When Joe came over from Houston, he put the BRM in gear. Condolences to his family.

    • LDS

      And sadly, the first 5 on your list have all passed in the last 6 weeks.

  22. Roger Garrett

    Joe was just a great player in an era of great players especially on his own team.Guy could do it all and did it all.He drove pitchers crazy while on first.He was going to steal and they couldn’t do anything to stop him.Not because he was the fastest but cause he knew the pitchers every move and that is a lost art today in the home run or strikeout way the game is played.

  23. Jim t

    Started following the reds in the 50’s. JM was the straw that stirred the drink for the BRM. Without his play the history of our wonderful franchise would be greatly impacted. First class on and off the field. RIP Joe you definitely left your mark her in the Queen City.

  24. RedNat

    If I had to choose a ” Mr. Red” it would be Joe Morgan. With Eric Davis a close second. Joe epitomizes the best of reds baseball imo. Supreme defender and an absolute monster on the bases and always played with maximum effort. Yes he put up good offensive numbers but that is not what I will remember him most.
    I remember a game where he scored the game winning run after he stole 3rd and the catcher airmailed the ball into left field with Joe hustling all the way home!

  25. Charlie Waffles

    Extremely sad day. Joe gets much deserved accolades for his offense. But he was no slouch in the field. Good glove and a strong accurate arm. Used to always like his relay throws in to Bench at home. His double play combination with Concepcion was top notch.

  26. Daytonnati

    It is sort of like when John Lennon died. You knew there would never, ever be a reunion of The Beatles. Now, there will never, ever be a reunion of The Great 8.

  27. Bryan

    Once the Reds moved into Riverfront Stadium in 1970, it became apparent to their leadership that the defense and team speed needed improvement. The 1971 season was disastrous considering the ’70 WS appearance and Howsam’s group knew they needed change. They were intrigued by Morgan and felt he had more upside in Cincy than he had shown in Houston. Perez had been serviceable at third base, but was really built to play first. Although both had been all-stars, and were popular with Reds fans, May and Helms were replaceable with Morgan and Perez. The real key to the trade at the time though was Geronimo. The Reds were adamant that he be included. Initially, he played right field, until Bobby Tolan was traded and Griffey Sr came to the Bigs. This trade was indeed a masterpiece, and Morgan was the star for sure, but the others – particularly Geronimo and Billingham – made it all possible.
    Bob Howsam is credited with pulling off a great trade. And he should be too, because he was the boss. But the most instrumental guy behind it all was Sheldon Bender, Reds scouting director. He put the plan together and sold both Howsam and Sparky on it. He was a genius!

  28. NCSUReds

    I was fortunate enough to meet Joe at a Durham Bulls game when I was in college in the early 90s. If memory serves me, he had just let Pete in the broadcast booth which at that time was a no go according to the commissioner- told him he did Pete right and just smiled. RIP

  29. DataDumpster

    Oh, where to start? Of course there is the Howsam trade. It befuddled the fans, went against conventional wisdom, and was the spark that ignited the Big Red Machine. Providing a place for Little Joe to really shine ignited a bombshell. Still has lessons for today as the Bell Reds seem intent on being on the losing side of that Trade logic. The flapping elbow, Joe explained it was an early learned habit to keep his elbow high (probably to generate speed on his swing from his small frame). It would be too lengthy to get into stories but if you went to a Reds game back in the day, he was the one to watch. The number of things he did that were outstanding were greater than anyone I can think of. Turned out to be a pretty good TV commentator as well. What a man!

  30. RedsMonk65

    I love this quote from Tim Kurkjian’s column on the ESPN website:

    “We played against the Reds in the ’70 World Series,” said Jim Palmer, a former Baltimore Orioles pitcher and a Hall of Famer. “But they weren’t the Big Red Machine until they got Joe Morgan.”