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).
Joe Morgan's five-year run from 1972 to 1976 saw him put up 47.8 bWAR. Mike Trout's best five-year run is 47.3. Morgan did it in fewer games, too.
— mark folkloretta (@CTowersCBS) October 12, 2020
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.