Morgan, Joe Leonard

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MORGAN, Joe Leonard

(b. 19 September 1943 in Bonham, Texas), baseball player who was the second baseman for Cincinnati's Big Red Machine in the 1970s, who later became a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and was a sports analyst.

Morgan was born in the segregated community of Bonham. When he was ten his family moved to Oakland, California. Morgan's father, Leonard Morgan, had served in the military and completed three years of college before joining Pacific Tire and Rubber to support his six children.

With his father's encouragement, Morgan became a star in Oakland's Little League. He idolized Jackie Robinson, the first player to integrate Major League Baseball, and he played Robinson's position of second base. While attending Castlemont High School in Oakland, Morgan made the varsity baseball squad his freshman year, when he was just fifteen years old. Because of his small size (five feet, seven inches tall and 155 pounds), Morgan was not initially recruited by the major league teams. Following his high-school graduation he enrolled at Oakland City College, where he continued to play baseball.

In 1963 the Houston Colt .45s (who changed their name to the Astros in 1965) took a chance and signed Morgan. From 1963 to 1964 he played for Houston farm teams in Modesto, California; Durham, North Carolina; and San Antonio, Texas, with brief stints in Houston at the end of each season. As a rookie second baseman in 1965, Morgan's defense improved under the tutelage of the Houston coach Nellie Fox. He batted .271, hit 14 home runs, drove in 40 runs, and, developing the reputation for a careful eye, walked 97 times. In a Sporting News poll of National League (NL) players, he was voted the Rookie Player of the Year.

From 1966 to 1971 Morgan continued to start at second base for Houston, although he missed most of the 1968 season with a knee injury. He was selected for the All-Star game in 1966 but was unable to play due to injury; he was selected again in 1970 and was able to play in the game. In April 1967 Morgan married his high-school sweetheart, Gloria Stewart; they had two daughters. Following the 1971 season, Morgan was traded to the Cincinnati Reds as part of an eleven-player deal. Morgan was bitter about the trade, and in his 1993 autobiography he blamed the Houston manager Harry Walker for labeling him as a "trouble-maker."

The trade to Cincinnati, nevertheless, proved to be a blessing, and Morgan enjoyed his best major league seasons with the Reds. He joined Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, and Pete Rose to create a dynasty known as the Big Red Machine. In 1972 the Reds won the NL pennant, but lost in the World Series to the Oakland Athletics (or A's). The Reds attained a division championship in 1973, while in 1975 and 1976 Cincinnati won consecutive World Series titles. Morgan was the catalyst for these championship teams, earning the NL's Most Valuable Player honors in 1975 and 1976. During the 1975 campaign Morgan batted .327, hit 17 home runs, knocked in 94 runs, stole 67 bases, and walked 132 times. The following season, the slick-fielding second baseman hit .320 with 27 home runs, 111 runs batted in, and 60 stolen bases.

However, the Big Red Machine began to unravel during the late 1970s, and in 1978 Morgan batted only .236. After the 1979 season Morgan declared for free agency and rejoined the Houston Astros. Morgan was critical of the Reds' fiscal conservatism, blaming management for not pursuing free agents as salary figures increased with the abolishment of baseball's reserve clause. Morgan asserted that the Reds' front office failed to change with the times. Houston won a divisional title in 1980, but Morgan moved on to the San Francisco Giants for the 1981 and 1982 seasons. Batting .289 with fourteen home runs, Morgan kept the Giants in the 1982 divisional race and was selected by the Sporting News as the NL's Comeback Player of the Year.

In 1983 Morgan turned down an offer to manage in Houston, and signed with the Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) Phillies. He considered taking the Houston position to further African-American advancement in baseball management, but his desire to play was still too strong. While the Phillies reached the World Series, losing to the Baltimore Orioles, Morgan only batted .230 with sixteen home runs. He announced his retirement in 1984, but the Oakland A's president Roy Eisenhardt convinced him to sign for one more campaign. Morgan explained, "I happen to love Oakland. I grew up there. I got a great education there, and I feel a debt to the city." After a subpar season with the A's, hitting only .244 with six home runs, Morgan followed through with his retirement from the game of baseball. In twenty-two seasons, Morgan hit 268 home runs, drove in 1,133 runs, stole 689 bases, garnered 2,517 hits, walked 1,865 times, and attained a lifetime batting average of .271. Morgan was elected to NL All-Star teams nine times, won five Gold Glove Awards, and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990.

Morgan decided to go into business after his playing days, asserting, "You can't pass a baseball job along to your children and grandchildren." Keeping a promise to his mother, Morgan returned to college and in 1990 acquired a B.A. in physical education from California State University, Hayward. He acquired and ran three Wendy's hamburger franchises in Oakland from 1985 to 1988 and operated a Coors beer distributorship from 1987 to 1995. Following his retirement from playing baseball, Morgan divorced Stewart and married his second wife, Theresa.

Morgan also carved out a career in baseball broadcasting. From 1986 through 1993 he announced for the San Francisco Giants and served as a commentator for the NBC television network's Game of the Week. In 1994 he began working for ESPN, forming a lively and informative collaboration with the broadcaster Jon Miller. He won a Cable ACE Award for broadcasting in 1990 and an Emmy Award in 1998. In the 1990s Morgan continued to play golf, tennis, and billiards, and he remained an articulate voice for the inclusion of African Americans in baseball management.

Morgan's life and career proved that one need not be held back by a diminutive stature. He combined power and speed in a small frame, leading the Cincinnati Reds teams of the 1970s, one of the best teams in baseball history, to two world championships. The articulate Morgan is a successful businessman and remains an outstanding spokesman for Major League Baseball in his role as a television analyst.

A file on Morgan is available at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Morgan's perspectives, although not necessarily the details of his life, are well developed in his book with David Falkner, Joe Morgan: A Life in Baseball (1993). For his years in Cincinnati, see Bob Hertzel, The Big Red Machine (1976), and Robert H. Walker, Cincinnati and the Big Red Machine (1988). For secondary accounts of Morgan's life, see Mark Mulvoy, "The Little Big Man," Sports Illustrated (12 Apr. 1976); Joel H. Cohen, Joe Morgan: Great Little Big Man (1978); and J. Armstrong, "Little Joe," Sport (Nov. 1997).

Ron Briley