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#8 - Joe Morgan


On the day of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Election, it is fitting that Joe Morgan is named the best #8 to ever play as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. 

Not only was Morgan the best #8 to ever play for the Reds, he was arguably the best #8 to ever play the game.  Carl Yastrzemski, Cal Ripken and Gary Carter are other notables, but Morgan may be the best second baseman the game has ever seen. 

His career began innoxiously enough as a member of the Houston Colt 45’s, who eventually became the Astros.  While he was a two-time All-Star in the Lone Star state, he was certainly not on the path of becoming the greatest second baseman to ever lace up a pair of cleats. 

At the conclusion of the 1971 season, Morgan had never batted over .290 in his career.  Over the next five years, he batted above and beyond that, realizing his full potential.  (The 6th year, he hit .288)  His statistics are a plethora of immeasurable stats and awards, as he produced numbers of a giant.  Statistics were blind to the stature of the Morgan, a slight 5’7” and a mere 160 pounds.  For the last National League club to win back-to-back World Championships, Morgan was the Most Valuable Player two years running, producing maybe the most dominant season for a modern middle infielder in 1975 with his gaudy offensive statistics combined with his rock-steady, flawless defensive efforts. 

The trade that sent Morgan from Houston to the Queen City is widely considered to be the worst trade in Astros franchise history, and the best in Reds history.  Hindsight may be 20-20 after the fact, but at the time, Morgan’s stats reflected that he was truly just a nice complimentary player.  For an organization that was looking to make a leap forward, swapping out their scrappy, undersized second baseman was a move they felt they had to make.  Of course, everyone in Cincinnati is thrilled it occurred.  Maybe more than any other player apart of the Big Red Machine, Morgan was the cog that kept it running.  Every year that “Little Joe” was a member of the Reds (1972-1979), he made an All-Star appearance. 

Depending on whom you ask, Joe Morgan was the greatest second baseman to ever live.  It seems logical that if defense is factored into the equation, Morgan would be the consensus choice. Other names that come up include Nap Lajoie, Rogers Hornsby and Eddie Collins.  All of those men played in what could be classified as the “Dead Ball era” when baseballs were probably more comparable to bowling balls.  The offensive statistics that all of those men produced year after year certainly dwarfed Morgan’s modern-era statistics, but even if no one alive was in attendance to see any of the old-school players, the defensive metrics can be inferred to not be impressive.  Much maligned sabermetric guru Bill James has Joe Morgan as his greatest second baseman to ever play the game when factoring in his defensive prowess. 

His broadcasting career that launched nearly immediately at the conclusion of his playing career, has gone under heavy scrutiny since day one.  He got to call Pete Rose’s historic 4,192nd hit off Eric Show against the San Diego Padres.  He called the 2006 Little League World Series and even became the color commentator with Jon Miller of Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN.  His blatant disregard for sabermetrics caused great outrage amongst fans everywhere who caught on with the trendy “Moneyball” style of the game.  It is also quite ironic that he was such an anti-proponent of the fad, as it was this very brand of thinking that allowed him to be looked at as maybe the best second baseman of all-time.  (I realize the Billy Beane way was not defensively centered, but many have begun to factor in defense since that time)

As far as other candidates went for the best #8 in Reds history, there was obviously no competition.  The real confusion takes place in why it took so long to immortalize the man that was the backbone of the Big Red Machine. 

Morgan is now employed by the Reds front office as the “special advisor to baseball operations,” which virtually is just a role to keep one of baseball’s great minds in the discussion when it comes to the team he used as a springboard for his career.  For what it’s worth, Morgan is ranked 30th all-time in WAR, which is a stat that measures a players all-around metrics.  Only Frank Robinson (who is ranked 24th) has a higher slot when it comes to players who played in the Reds organization.  So, on a day when a new class of Hall of Famers has been selected (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas), it is only proper and fitting that we honor not only the greatest to wear #8 in Reds history, but the greatest to wear it in the illustrious history of the game of baseball.

(Morgan’s career offensive statistics; in case you needed a reminder of his greatness)

G

AB

R

H

BB

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

AVG

OBP

SLG

2,649

9,277

1,650

2,517

1,865

449

96

268

1,133

689

162

.271

.392

.427

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