Joe Morgan was a self made man. Coming out of Oakland, California in the early 1960’s, he was small for his stature and had to work hard at his craft to be successful in baseball. What followed was an illustrious 22 year journey through the major leagues and a plaque in Cooperstown. Along the way, he won two World Series and became one of the greatest second basemen of all time. This is his story.
Joe Leonard Morgan was born on September 19, 1943 in Bonham, Texas. His family soon moved to Oakland where he would develop a love for the game through American Legion baseball. He played well at Castlemont High School but due to his diminutive 5’7” stature was not offered any college scholarships. Instead, he played at Oakland City College before signing with the Houston Colt .45’s as a free agent in 1962, receiving a $3,000 signing bonus and a $500 month salary. No matter the size of his contract, Joe Morgan was just happy to have a foot in the door of the MLB. Now he hoped to prove himself to the rest of baseball
Joe Morgan started in the major leagues just a year after signing with Houston, at the tender age of 19. Playing in eight games in 1963, he collected six hits and five runs while averaging .240. The following year, he appeared in ten games, collecting seven hits and four runs while averaging .189. Though his numbers were pedestrian at best, he continued to work towards his dream.
Everything went right for his career in 1965. Playing in 157 games, he recorded 163 hits, scored 100 runs and averaged .271. He came in second in the Rookie of the Year voting, right behind the Dodger’s Jim Lefebvre.
Morgan’s hard work paid off the following year with his first All Star selection, batting a career best .285 average. Through his first nine years in the majors, Joe Morgan struggled to hit home runs with consistency in the Houston Astrodome, a cavernous facility affectionately dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World”. In his first nine years, Morgan managed to hit more than ten home runs just three times. In 1969, he hit a career best 15 home runs but failed to make the All Star team. He was named an All Star the following year where he hit eight home runs while averaging .236. After hitting 13 home runs and averaging .256 in 1971, Joe Morgan was traded to the Cincinnati Reds where his career would truly take off.
Coming to Cincinnati, Joe Morgan was joining an organization that had building a contender for years. Players such as Pete Rose and Johnny Bench defined the ethos of the organization. Beginning in 1972, Joe Morgan would be an All Star every year for the rest of the decade, establishing himself as one of the game’s greatest second basemen. He hit 16 home runs in his first year as a Red and his batting average hovered above .290 during his first three years as the Reds continued to fight for a long sought World Series championship. The Reds made the World Series in 1972, Morgan’s first as a member of the Big Red Machine, but they lost to the Oakland A’s in seven games while Morgan batted an abysmal .125. He would have to wait for his first championship.
The 1975 season was a truly special one for Joe Morgan and the city of Cincinnati. He hit 17 home runs while averaging a career best .327 and earning the league MVP award. The Reds tore through their schedule and faced the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. There the teams clashed in one of the game’s greatest championship series, with neither team willing to give up the title. Morgan contributed with seven hits and four runs with a .259 batting average but ultimately, his teammate Pete Rose won the World Series MVP award while he led the Reds to a win in seven games. At last, Joe Morgan was a world champion.
Morgan repeated his feat by winning his second consecutive league MVP award in 1976 after leading the league in slugging (.576) and on base percentage (.444) while hitting a career best 27 home runs and driving in 111 scores. Meanwhile the Reds repeated as World Series champions, this time defeating the New York Yankees in a sweep. While Morgan didn’t collect as many hits, he did raise his batting average to .333 during that series.
The Reds did not return to the World Series in 1977, but Joe Morgan did win his fifth straight Gold Glove award. He hit 22 home runs in his final two years as a Red while his batting average slipped all the way down to .236 in 1978. Still, he made the All Star team in both of those years, having never missed an All Star roster in any of his years as a Red. Unquestionably, his greatest years as a baseball player were played in Cincinnati but by 1979, the Reds saw his advanced age and dwindling numbers and decided to trade him to Houston. He would never again be an All Star.
After hitting 11 home runs and 49 RBI in 1980, Joe Morgan was traded to the San Francisco Giants. He was still an effective hitter in San Francisco, slamming 22 home runs and driving in 92 RBI in his two years with the Giants. Morgan won the Silver Slugger award in 1982, his last year with the Giants.
At the age of 39, Morgan was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1983 where he would record 16 home runs and 59 RBI while batting .230. The Phillies made the World Series that year but lost to the Baltimore Orioles in five games.
Following his lone season in Philadelphia, Joe Morgan was traded to the Oakland A’s. At the age of 40, he was not expected to be a star but to bring a level of leadership that the A’s lacked. He hit six home runs and drove in 43 scores in 1984. After his lone season in Oakland, Joe Morgan retired and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 1990. Shortly after his retirement, Morgan began a broadcasting career that would last more than 25 years, working for ABC, NBC and ESPN. He passed away on October 11, 2020.