Death of Morgan devastating for former teammate Bench

David Jablonski: Reaction to the death of Joe Morgan

Reds owner calls Hall of Famer a ‘giant in the game’

On Nov. 29, 1971, the day the Cincinnati Reds traded for Joe Morgan, manager Sparky Anderson said the second baseman would give the team speed, left-handed hitting and power.

Explore» HAL McCOY: Morgan was centerpiece of Big Red Machine

“I expect to keep (Pete) Rose in the lead-off spot,” Anderson told reporters, including Si Burick, of the Dayton Daily News. “I’m kind of amazed to see Joe has driven in more than 50 runs, batting second, the last two years.”

When Morgan made his Reds debut the following April, he joined a roster that included Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Cesar Geronimo, George Foster and Dave Concepcion. Ken Griffey joined the group in 1973. They were the Great Eight, and they led the Big Red Machine to back-to-back World Series championships in 1975 and 1976. Today their images adorn a mural just inside the entrance at Great American Ball Park.

Outside the front gate, statues of many of those same players greet fans, and a number of fans visited the statue of Morgan on Monday, leaving flowers at its base hours after the news of his death broke. The Hall of Fame second baseman died Sunday at 77 at his home in Danville, Calif. In a statement, Morgan family spokesman James Davis said Morgan was suffering from a nerve condition, a form of polyneuropathy.

Morgan’s death comes during a year that has seen a number of Baseball Hall of Famers pass, including his former Reds teammate Tom Seaver, but he’s the first of the Great Eight to die.

“He was 5-feet-7 of dynamite,” fellow Reds legend Johnny Bench said on the MLB Network. “To steal a base, to take the extra base, he just understood the game. I think that’s why we appreciated each other so much and why we got along so well. We really knew what we needed in every situation. It’s gut-wrenching. It really is. I can’t tell you how hard it’s been for us losing the hall of famers we’ve lost. We were talking the other day about the Big Red Machine. I said I hope we can get together for another reunion because as we get older, it’s going to become harder and harder, and one day one of us may not be here. To honestly believe Joe is not going to be here, it’s devastating. I’ll hug my kids a lot more and appreciate the fact that I knew him.”

Explore» Reds players, fans pay tribute to Morgan

Morgan played eight of his 21 seasons in Cincinnati. He won the National League MVP award in both seasons the Reds won the World Series. Judging him by the advanced metric, wins-above replacement (WAR), Morgan is the 21st-best position player in baseball history and the best Red.

Morgan ranks 11th in baseball history in stolen bases (689), 35th in runs scored (1,650) and 199th in home runs (268). As Anderson noted 49 years ago, Morgan did indeed bring speed, hitting and power to the Reds.

Most importantly, Morgan brought winning to Riverfront Stadium. The Reds won the Western Division five times in his eight seasons.

Morgan enjoyed a long broadcasting career after retiring from baseball in 1984 and had served as a special advisor to Reds CEO Bob Castellini and the baseball operations department since 2010.

“The Reds family is heartbroken," Castellini said in a statement. "Joe was a giant in the game and was adored by the fans in this city. He had a lifelong loyalty and dedication to this organization that extended to our current team and front office staff. As a cornerstone on one of the greatest teams in baseball history, his contributions to this franchise will live forever. Our hearts ache for his Big Red Machine teammates.”

Explore» HAL McCOY: Remembering "Tom Terrific"

The Reds also acquired three other key members of the Big Red Machine — Ed Armbrister, Jack Billingham and Cesar Geronimo — from the Houston Astros in the Morgan trade. They dealt Tommy Helms, who Morgan replaced at second base, as well as Lee May and Jimmy Stewart.

“The Reds' blockbuster trade for Joe Morgan was one of the greatest in the sport’s history,” ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote Monday on Twitter.

Morgan was an all-star twice in his first nine seasons in Houston but became a perennial all-star in Cincinnati, hitting a career-best .327 in 1975 and setting a career high with 27 home runs the following season. Morgan’s single in the ninth inning of Game 7 in the 1975 World Series scored Ken Griffey with the go-ahead run as the Reds won their first championship since 1940.

ExplorePHOTOS: Morgan through the years

Morgan’s death resulted in a flood of tributes:

Hall of Fame first baseman Tony Perez: “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. Joe was a great player, a great teammate, and a great person. Our group shared some very special moments and experiences that will remain with us forever. At the moment, it’s just hard to put into words how much he meant to so many, and how missed he will be.”

Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart: “Extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Joe. He was such a wonderful man to be around and brought such a joy to our clubhouse. I’ll forever cherish our conversations! RIP to the greatest 2nd baseman of all time. Praying for the Morgans and all of the Reds organization.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine: “Fran and I, along with our children, extend our deepest sympathy to the family of Joe Morgan — the greatest second baseman of all time, a great base runner and hitter, and a gracious and genuinely nice person. He was a player who mastered every detail of the game. We saw him play many times with our older children — Pat, Jill, Becky, and John. It was a thrill to watch him! To Brian, Alice, Mark, and Anna, he was the voice of Sunday night baseball, when later he was an announcer. He had a unique ability to explain what was happening on the field to the average fan. He was a master at explaining the “why” of baseball. In both business and charity, even after his playing days were over, he continued to be involved in the Cincinnati-area community.”

In Other News