Joe Morgan was the engine that led the Reds to back-to-back World Series titles.
The date of November 29, 1971, is arguably the most important in the long franchise history of the Cincinnati Reds. To call the acquisition of Joe Morgan from the Houston Astros as seismic would be an understatement. It was a trade that would forever alter the landscape of the Reds franchise.
During his eight years in the Queen City, no single Reds player would have the impact of Joe Morgan. Joining a team that featured Pete Rose as well as future Hall of Famers Johnny Bench and Tony Perez, Morgan was the best player on the best team and it wasn’t close.
For those not old enough to have seen Joe Morgan play, I’ll try to put in perspective. Imagine a player with Joey Votto’s ability to reach base, combined with Eric Davis’ speed and power as well as Brandon Phillips defense. That was Joe Morgan.
Morgan made All-Star appearances every year from 1972-1979, or to put it in simpler terms, every year he was a member of the Reds. As an integral part of the Big Red Machine, he was the engine in leading the Reds to consecutive World Series titles in 1975-1976. Even though he was small in stature, Morgan was a giant on the field.
It can be argued that Morgan had the most dominant five year stretch of any player over the past half-century. From 1972-1976, Little Joe was playing a different game than everyone else. He led the majors with an fWAR of 47.3 completely dwarfing the 33.7 fWAR accumulated by his nearest competitor, teammate Johnny Bench.
Over those five years, he posted an fWAR of at least 8.6 every season and three times exceeded 9.4 including an otherworldy 11.0 mark in 1975. Essentially, Morgan was the equivalent of Mike Trout. How great was Morgan? The top three individual WAR seasons in Reds history all belong to him.
Throughout that five year period, Morgan would win consecutive MVP awards in 1975-1976 and would never finish lower than eighth in the MVP voting. Morgan also collected Gold Gloves each year and would lead MLB in OBP and OPS.
As if that wasn’t enough, Joe Morgan’s 310 stolen bases were second only to the recently departed St. Louis Cardinals legend Lou Brock. Morgan’s 565 runs scored trailed only teammate Pete Rose.
Needless to say, when you look at the Cincinnati record books you’ll find Morgan’s name littered throughout. He ranks second in both on-base percentage and stolen bases, fourth in OPS and sixth in base on balls. There was nothing on the field Joe Morgan could not do.
After retiring from the game following the 1984 season, Morgan was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame in 1987 and the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1990; his first year of eligibility. His No. 8 jersey was retired by the Cincinnati Reds in 1998 and his statue at Great American Ball Park was unveiled in 2013.
Joe Morgan accomplished so much during his eight years as a Red that it’s almost unfair to compare others to him. As noted earlier, from 1972 through 1976 he was the greatest baseball player on the planet. He had no rival.
On a personal note, Morgan has always been my all-time favorite Cincinnati Reds player. When I think of the Big Red Machine, I think of Joe Morgan. Outside of my parents, no other person is as responsible for my Reds fandom as Joe Morgan. Thanks for the memories and everything you did for the Reds. Rest in Peace, Joe.