Joe Morgan, perhaps the best second baseman of all time, who after a Hall of Fame playing career became a longtime broadcaster at ESPN and elsewhere, died Sunday at his home in northern California. He was 77.
His family announced that he died of non-specified polyneuropathy.
Although Morgan spent more seasons in Houston with the expansion Colt .45s-turned-Astros, he is known best for his time with the Reds — and has a case as the club’s best overall player during its Big Red Machine era.
In eight years (1972-79) in Cincinnati, Morgan was an eight-time All-Star and won five Gold Glove Awards. In 1975 and 1976, as he helped the Reds to consecutive World Series wins, he was named National League MVP.
His ninth-inning go-ahead single in Game 7 in the first of those Fall Classics, against the Red Sox a night after Carlton Fisk’s more famous home run, brought the franchise its first championship in 35 years.
"Joe wasn’t just the best second baseman in baseball history, he was the best player I ever saw and one of the best people I’ve ever known," Hall of Fame catcher and Reds teammate Johnny Bench said in a statement released by the Hall of Fame on Monday. "He was a dedicated father and husband and a day won’t go by that I won’t think about his wisdom and friendship. He left the world a better, fairer, and more equal place than he found it, and inspired millions along the way."
Tony Perez, another Hall of Famer on those Reds teams, said: "Joe was a big part of my family during the time we played together and that remained the same long after our careers ended. He was one of those guys who was just special on so many levels in all that he did . . . At the moment, it’s just hard to put into words how much he meant to so many, and how missed he will be."
Morgan is the fifth baseball great to die in the past six weeks and sixth to die this year, following Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Tom Seaver and Al Kaline.
Commissioner Rob Manfred, in a statement, called Morgan "one of the best five-tool players our game has ever known and a symbol of all-around excellence."
"Joe often reminded baseball fans that the player smallest in stature on the field could be the most impactful," Manfred said of Morgan, who was listed at 5-7 and 160 pounds. "Joe was a close friend and an adviser to me, and I welcomed his perspective on numerous issues in recent years. He was a true gentleman who cared about our game and the values for which it stands."
Altogether, Morgan was a 10-time All-Star in 22 major-league seasons, breaking in with Houston in 1963, that club’s second season in existence. He returned to the Astros for the 1980 season before making stops with the Giants (1981-82), Phillies (1983) and finally his hometown Oakland Athletics (1984) to conclude his career.
He finished with 2,517 hits, 268 home runs, 1,133 RBIs, 689 steals — in 851 tries, making for an elite 81% success rate — and 1,865 walks to 1,015 strikeouts. He batted .271 with a .392 OBP and .427 slugging percentage.
Five years later, in his first appearance on the ballot, Morgan was voted into the Hall of Fame.
"I take my vote as a salute to the little guy, the one who doesn’t hit five hundred home runs," Morgan once said, according to the Hall of Fame. "I was one of the guys that did all they could to win. I’m proud of my stats, but I don’t think I ever got on for Joe Morgan. If I stole a base, it was to help us win a game, and I like to think that’s what made me special."
Alongside play-by-play man Jon Miller, Morgan called games for ESPN’s "Sunday Night Baseball" for 21 seasons, starting at its inception in 1990. Although he was the subject of frequent criticism for his grouchy approach as an analyst, Morgan nonetheless was the voice of many of MLB’s marquee matchups for a generation that never knew him as a player.
Morgan had served as a special adviser for the Reds since 2010.
"The Reds family is heartbroken," Reds CEO Bob Castellini said in a statement. "Joe was a giant in the game."
SECOND TO NONE
Joe Morgan career highlights/honors:
Elected to Hall of Fame in 1990
Go-ahead hit in Game 7 of 1975 World Series vs. Red Sox
2-time MVP (1975, 1976)
2-time World Series champion (1975, 1976)
5 Gold Gloves
689 stolen bases
268 home runs
.392 on-base pct.