Best Cincinnati Reds Ever: Joe Morgan vs. Jack Billingham

Jul 14, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds former player Joe Morgan in honored prior to the 2015 MLB All Star Game at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 14, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds former player Joe Morgan in honored prior to the 2015 MLB All Star Game at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

First Round Matchup No. 2 Joe Morgan vs. No. 15 Jack Billingham

Joe Morgan:

Arguably the best second baseman of all-time, Morgan was a mainstay of the Big Red Machine and helped lead the Cincinnati Reds to a pair of World Series titles in 1975 and ’76. During his 22-year career, he was a 10-time all-star, a five-time Gold Glove winner and was the National League Most Valuable Player in both of the Reds’ championship seasons — one of just 30 players to ever win an MVP award multiple times. He ranks second in team history in on-base percentage and stolen bases, while ranking sixth in WAR.

He started his career with the Houston Colt .45’s in 1963 (they would become the Astros two years later) at age 20, but his career didn’t really take off until he was traded to the Reds after the 1971 season along with Billingham and Cesar Geronimo. Had the Reds only gotten Morgan in the trade, it still would’ve proven to be a complete heist. Morgan was an all-star in all eight of his seasons in Cincinnati, won all of his Gold Gloves in that time and finished in the top-10 in MVP voting on five occasion. In all, he hit .288/.415/.470 with 220 doubles, 152 home runs, 612 runs batted in, 406 stolen bases and 881 walks during his Reds career.

In his MVP seasons, Morgan posted some truly eye-popping numbers, with a .974 OPS in 1975 and a 1.020 mark in 1976 and over 60 stolen bases in both years. Taking his elite defense into consideration as well, he was worth a ridiculous 20.5 WAR.

After seeing his performance take a hit as he climbed into his late 30s, Morgan would leave the Reds for free agency following the 1979 season and would play five more seasons with the Astros, San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies and Oakland Athletics before retiring at 40.

Morgan was a first-ballot selection to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990 (somehow only getting 81.1 percent of the vote) and had his No. 8 retired by the Reds in 1998. Upon retirement, Morgan entered into the world of broadcasting and currently serves as a special adviser with the Reds.

Jack Billingham:

One of the many underrated and overlooked members of the Big Red Machine’s pitching staff, Billingham stands as one of the best postseason pitchers ever. His 0.36 ERA in World Series action is the best mark of all-time and his career postseason ERA sat at an impressive 1.93.

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Billingham was originally signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1961 and made his way to the majors in 1968. He was selected by the Montreal Expos in the 1968 expansion draft and soon traded to the Astros. Before going to Houston, the right-hander had primarily been a reliever, but transitioned into a starter in 1970, posting a sub-four ERA that year and the next. But then he was traded to the Reds in what proved to be one of the most lopsided deals of all-time.

“Cactus Jack” was far from a flame-thrower and never produced high strikeout numbers, but he became a stalwart in the rotation for six seasons. He earned his only appearance in the All-Star Game in 1973, when he went 19-10 with a 3.04 ERA, throwing 16 complete games and a league-leading seven shutouts. That earned him a fourth-place finish fourth in NL Cy Young voting, which he followed up with a sixth-place finish in 1974 (fun fact: that was the same year he allowed Hank Aaron‘s record-tying 714th home run). Starting in 1975 at 32 years old, Billingham saw his numbers rise over each of his final three seasons in the Queen City, but he turned it on when it mattered in the playoffs to help the Reds win back-to-back titles.

He was traded to the Detroit Tigers after the 1977 campaign, where he spent parts of three seasons before being shipped to the Red Sox in 1980, his last year.

For his Cincinnati career, Billingham finished with a record of 87-63 with a 3.85 ERA and 626 strikeouts in 1,270 innings pitched, earning him a spot in the Reds Hall of Fame in 1984.

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