Hal on Joe Morgan: ‘Little Joe’ could do it all

Cincinnati's speedy second baseman Joe Morgan tips his helmet to the fans as he rounds the bases after a homer in the first inning against the Yankees on Saturday, Oct. 16, 1976 in Riverfront Stadium. (AP Photo)
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Cincinnati's speedy second baseman Joe Morgan tips his helmet to the fans as he rounds the bases after a homer in the first inning against the Yankees on Saturday, Oct. 16, 1976 in Riverfront Stadium. (AP Photo)

Little Joe Morgan, the biggest “little man” in the starting lineup of The Big Red Machine, will have a tall statue of himself unveiled at Great American Ball Park this weekend.

The 5-foot-8 second baseman was a star among stars in that fabulous era of the Cincinnati Reds. When the Reds won the World Series in 1975 and 1976, Morgan was National League MVP both times.

He was the rare player with power and speed. He hit home runs and he stole bases. And he was a Gold Glove second baseman. His string of numbers and accomplishments is eye-popping,

Morgan and Pete Rose were inseparable. They lockered side-by-side and became so close they called each other Salt (Rose) and Pepper (Morgan).

Five things that come to mind when thinking about Morgan’s tenure in Cincinnati:

1. Boston’s Carlton Fisk hit the famous 12th-inning home run in the 1975 World Series to win Game 6, one of the most famous moments in World Series history, and fans forget that Morgan’s two-out, ninth-inning single drove home Ken Griffey Sr. with the winning run of the Series-clinching 4-3 victory.

2. Baseball numerologist and mathematician Bill James says Morgan is the best second baseman in baseball history, ahead of Eddie Collins and Rogers Hornsby, despite Morgan’s .271 career average to .333 for Collins and .358 for Hornsby. James named Morgan as the “greatest percentages player in baseball history” due to his strong fielding percentage, stolen-base percentage, walk-to-strikeout ratio, and walks per plate appearance.

3. It took Morgan 22 years in the majors and the mandatory five-year wait after retirement to make it into the Hall of Fame — 27 years. It also took him 27 years to get his college degree. He obtained the degree one month before his Hall of Fame induction in 1990.

“The reason the college took so long was that when I graduated from high school, I was offered a pro contract,” said Morgan. “My father wanted me to take it. My mother wanted me to get an education. I said to her, ‘If you let me sign, I promise I’ll get the degree.’ I had thought my mother had forgotten about my promise.”

4. Morgan flapped his back arm, his left arm, before the pitcher delivered the pitch. It was called “The Joe Morgan Chicken Flap” and it was taught to him by Houston infield teammate Nellie Fox in 1965 “to remind me to keep my back arm up,” said Morgan. In honor of The Chicken Flap, Morgan led “The World’s Largest Chicken Dance” at the 2011 Cincinnati OktoberFest.

5. At the end of the 1979 season, I wrote something Morgan didn’t like and he pointed his finger at me and said, “Don’t ever try to talk to me again.” I haven’t. We still don’t talk. Very childish — on both parts. I don’t remember what the story was about and Morgan probably doesn’t either, but I can’t ask.

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