Morgan, Joe Leonard 1943–
Joe Leonard Morgan 1943–
Hall of Fame baseball player, businessman
Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan is best remembered for his role with the Cincinnati Reds during the era when that team—known as the “Big Red Machine”—dominated professional baseball. Morgan was one of the premier players of the 1970s and early 1980s, possessing not only great baseball skills but also the important ability to lead a team and win World Series championships. Praised for his “baseball intelligence” throughout his 22-year career, Morgan has proven to be canny off the field as well, building a successful business and television broadcasting career following his playing days.
Born on September 19, 1949, in Bonham, Texas, Joe Morgan was the oldest of six children. He grew up in the black section of town but said in his 1993 autobiography, Joe Morgan: A Life in Baseball, that as a boy he never really experienced the pains of segregation. His was a tight-knit family, and all of its members—especially the children— received much support from each other. When Joe was five years old, his family moved out of Texas in an attempt to find better jobs. The Morgans ended up following relatives to Oakland, California.
In Oakland, Morgan led a normal childhood filled with school studies and sports. He, his sister, and their father regularly would attend Oakland Oaks baseball games; the Oaks, of the Pacific Coast League, played in a park just a few blocks from where Morgan grew up. Joe himself participated in many sports, but did not play on an organized team until he was 13 years old. That year he tried out for the Babe Ruth League. He made that team of 13- to 15-year-olds, and then went on to play high school ball.
Throughout his early playing career, Morgan had one apparent disadvantage that might have proven the undoing of a less confident person: he was just five feet seven inches tall, and he only weighed about 140 pounds in high school. “Whenever someone had something kind to say, there was nearly always a double edge to it: I was known as a good, little player—with emphasis on the second of the two adjectives,” he wrote in his autobiography.
Morgan had a good high school career, but no offers came from professional baseball. In a 1990 New York Times article, he surmised: “I was very lucky to be able to play baseball. I grew up in Oakland. A lot of great players grew up there—Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Willie Stargell. But
Born Joe Leonard Morgan on September 19,1943, in Bonham, TX; son of Leonard (a tire and rubber worker) and Ollie Morgan; married Gloria (divorced); married Theresa, 1990; children: (first marriage) Angela, Lisa; (second marriage) Ashley, Kelly. Education: Oakland City College; California State University—Hayward, B.A., 1990.
Houston Astros, 1964-71, second baseman, 1980-81; Cincinnati Reds, second baseman, 1971-80; San Francisco Giants, second baseman, 1981-82; Philadelphia Phillies, second baseman, 1982-83; Oakland A’s, second baseman, 1983-84. President, Joe Morgan Investments, Inc., 1984—; commentator for Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) televised baseball games.
Selected awards: Most Valuable Player, Texas League, 1964; 5 Golden Glove awards, 1973-77; Most Valuable Player, National League, 1975, 1976; National League All-Star team, 1970, 1972-79; inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame, 1990.
Addresses: Office —Joe Morgan Investments, Inc., 3650 Hayman St., Hayward, CA 94544-7124.
they had one thing in common—they were all over six feet. The scouts didn’t want to look at a guy who was 5 foot 7 and 140 pounds.”
After his senior year of high school, Morgan attended a junior college and thought about pursuing a career in business. When he had an outstanding year with his college team, some talk developed about him playing professional ball. Nothing serious happened until a scout from the Houston Colt 45s— later to become the Astros—saw something in Morgan despite his small size. In 1963 the scout offered Morgan a contract to play minor league ball at $500 a month, and he was given a $3,000 signing bonus—not good money even in the 1960s. His father, who had played semi-pro ball, was happy for his son; his mother was concerned that Joe was leaving college and would never be able to get his degree.
Morgan began his minor league instruction in Moultree, Georgia, and within a month was sent to the Durham Bulls in the Carolina League. There, for the first time, segregation affected him personally; he was the only black player on the team and had to endure verbal taunts from the fans, and was prohibited from staying in all-white motels on the road. Morgan was shocked. He thought of quitting, wanting no part of a team or league that would tolerate prejudice, but his coach and teammates rallied behind him, saying that they did not agree with the segregationist policies. Morgan decided to keep his head down, to seek refuge in teamwork, and to work harder than ever at baseball. The next season he was sent to play Double-A ball in the Texas League and had a great season, batting .323, with 90 runs batted in (RBI), 12 home runs, and 47 stolen bases. He was named League Most Valuable Player.
In 1965, Morgan skipped over Triple-A ball and joined the big leagues, playing for the Houston Colt 45s in their new ballpark, the Houston Astrodome. Although the dome was a difficult place in which to play—bad lighting, poor field, and cavernous dimensions—Morgan studied it at every chance. As he wrote in Joe Morgan: A Life in Baseball, he realized, “I was a player of the future, ideally suited to these new [larger] parks.” He worked on his base stealing and running—using his speed to its best advantage—and worked on fielding the ball off baseball’s newest surface, Astroturf.
Once Morgan got to the big leagues, he never went back down to the minors, and he compiled an impressive number of achievements. But Morgan had to face the indignities all rookie ballplayers must endure: pitchers threw at his head; older teammates, while providing help and assistance, also kept him in his place; and he had to battle his own mood swings. Morgan noted that he was up against another barrier—his race. Even though he started playing ball 20 years after Jackie Robinson broke the big leagues’ color barrier, Morgan and other black players still faced racism.
Morgan communicated that fact in his autobiography: “You could not help being aware that no matter how fairly others tried to treat you—never a guarantee—it was always a struggle to go from town to town, hotel to hotel, restaurant to restaurant. Even in those places where black people were allowed, there was still an underlying sense of being out of place. It was as though, without anyone ever saying it, a black player could just feel the silent judgments and objections to his presence. When you stayed in the same hotel with your teammates, when you went to a bar or a restaurant, there was always that unvoiced question, ‘Why is he here?’”
Morgan endured much prejudice but had less tolerance for bigotry when it intruded on the baseball field. His biggest annoyance was his last Houston manager, Harry Walker, a man Morgan criticized strongly in his autobiography. After seasons of tension between Walker and the players of color on the Houston team, Morgan had had enough. He said he had developed a reputation as a troublemaker, although that was not the case. On November 29, 1971, Morgan was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, a trade that at first made him upset, but that later would prove to be the biggest boost to his career.
When baseball fans think of Joe Morgan, who played with five different teams over the course of his career, they inevitably picture him in a Reds uniform. That is the team where he became nationally famous, playing in eight consecutive All-Star games, winning two World Series rings, four pennants and six division titles. It was a team that had Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, and a host of other stars. Morgan calls the Reds of the 1970s the “best defensive team ever,” with Bench, Morgan, Dave Concepcion and center-fielder Cesar Geronimo all winning the Golden Glove award five years straight beginning in 1973.
Reds manager Sparky Anderson honored Morgan during that first season by allowing the newest Red an unheard-of freedom on the field: under Anderson’s regime, Morgan was allowed to bunt or not bunt and steal or not steal, depending on Morgan’s—not Anderson’s—assessment of the situation. “It was such a challenge and such an act of trust,” Morgan would later recall in his autobiography. “If I had wanted to, I could not have walked away from it.”
Instead of walking away, Morgan exhibited “leadership,” forming with Bench, Rose, and Perez the core of the Big Red Machine. Morgan’s definition of leadership is simple, and it doesn’t involve loud histrionics. As he said in his book, “The only criterion for team leadership is the sense of absolute trust others have in a teammate that he will always put the team before himself, that everything he does on the field will clearly have the objective of winning in mind.”
The Reds were certainly winners. Morgan was named Most Valuable Player in the National League in both 1975, when he hit .327 with 17 home runs, and 1976, when he produced .320, 111 RBI, and 60 stolen bases. The Reds went on to win the World Series in both of those years. In the 1975 Series against the Boston Red Sox—a series some consider the most exciting ever—Morgan came to bat in the bottom of the ninth, with the score tied, two outs, and with the winning run on third base. In that clutch situation, with the count at 2 balls and 2 strikes, he hit a single to drive in the run that gave the Reds the World Series.
In the 1976 World Series, the Reds swept the New York Yankees in four games, having already swept the Philadelphia Phillies in the playoffs in three straight games. The Reds were at the height of their power, one of the most impressive teams ever in baseball history, and Morgan was one of the team’s most valuable assets. But after 1976, the Reds began breaking up. Perez was the first to go, followed by the firing of Sparky Anderson. It was Morgan’s turn to leave in 1980, when he became a free agent.
Morgan signed on with his old team, the Houston Astros and tried to turn the attitudes and performance of the young team around. Morgan’s tough talk to his teammates worked, but it drove a wedge between him and his manager Bill Virdon, who thought Morgan was usurping his role. Later, in the final game of the 1980 playoffs, Virdon took Morgan out of the lineup, a move that enraged the proud veteran and which might have cost Houston a chance to go to the World Series. Philadelphia won the playoff, and Morgan vowed never to play for Virdon again. After that season, Morgan spent one year with the San Francisco Giants, then he played one season each for the Philadelphia Phillies and the Oakland Athletics. He retired at the end of 1984.
Joe Morgan retired with a .271 batting average and 1,133 runs batted in. He had 2,518 total hits and 689 stolen bases. He hit 268 home runs, at that time more than any other second baseman in history. In fact, the Baseball Writers of America have chosen only six other second basemen to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame; the last before Morgan was Jackie Robinson in 1962. Equally telling, baseball players must wait five years after retiring before being eligible for the Hall of Fame. Morgan was inducted in his first year of eligibility, 1990, along with Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer; that August, the two were only the 20th and 21st players inducted in their first year of eligibility. Morgan received 363 votes on the 444 ballots cast. To get into the Hall in 1990, players needed at least 75 percent of those 444 votes, or 333.
“I take my induction … as a vote for the little guy in the middle of the diamond, who doesn’t hit 500 home runs,” Morgan was quoted as saying in the New York Times. “I accumulated my stats for the team, not for myself. There are a lot of things more important than a home run. I like to think that’s what made me a little special.” Clearly the concept of “the team” meant everything to Morgan. He informed the Boston Globe: “I think the thing I’m most proud of—I want to make this clear—all those numbers you see, the good ones, the in-between ones, were achieved with the team coming first and me coming second. I never stole a base without the team needing it.” Morgan had spoke of another source of pride during the Cooperstown, New York Hall of Fame ceremony. The New York Times quoted Morgan as telling press conference attendees: “Last month … I received my bachelor’s degree. It took me 22 years in the major leagues to get a plaque in the Hall of Fame, and it took me 27 years to get my degree, but I’m thrilled to have both. The reason the college took so long was that when I graduated from high school, I was offered a pro contract. 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. ’” He added: “I had thought my mother had forgotten about my promise.”
After baseball, Morgan undertook a number of successful ventures. He is perhaps best known as an analyst on Entertainment and Sports Programming Network’s Sunday night baseball broadcasts. From his perch in the broadcast booth, high above the field, he imparts his clear opinions on the game being played, and on baseball as a whole, with all its recent ups and downs, labor strife, and strikes. Morgan also returned to school and continued his interest in the business world. As a Red he spent some of the off-season learning the ropes of the beverage distribution business. He eventually was granted a distributorship for Coors beer in Northern California, and at one time he established three Wendy’s Restaurant franchises in Oakland.
Success has not shielded Morgan from adversity, however. In 1988 while walking through Los Angeles International Airport, he was accosted by two men—who later turned out to be undercover police officers—held in detention and accused of being a drug dealer. Morgan was not permitted to file a complaint after the police realized their mistake and let him go. He also contended he was roughed up by the Los Angeles police. In 1993, the Los Angeles City Council agreed to pay Morgan $796,000 to settle the suit. As he wrote in his autobiography, “Over the next hours, the nightmare deepened, and it was all because I was just another black man. No longer protected by celebrity, as anonymous as any other black man, I was exposed to whatever undeserved fury was going to be meted out.”
The many humiliations Morgan has faced both during and after his stellar playing career in no way diminish his contributions to baseball. From his days with the Big Red Machine to his later years with the Phillies and Giants, Morgan proved that even racism and intolerance cannot hinder a man bent on doing his level best to make his team win.
Nor have any of Morgan’s bad experiences left him a bitter man. Throughout his career Morgan has always been involved in charitable enterprises. Being a huge jazz fan, the charity Morgan has stayed with the longest and that he continues his involvement with is AIM, or Adventures in Movement. AIM uses music to help handicapped children experience movement in an enjoyable way. That is Joe Morgan—always helping others achieve their dreams.
Falkner, David, and Joe Morgan, Joe Morgan: A Life in Baseball, W. W. Norton & Co., 1993.
Boston Globe, January 10, 1990, p. 25; January 11, 1990, p. 43.
New York Times, January 10,1990, p. D25; January 11, 1990, p. B11; August 6, 1990, p. C4; August 7, 1990, p. B10.
Upscale, August, 1994, p. 116.
U.S. News & World Report, November 29, 1993, p. 18.
American baseball player
Joe Morgan was the heart and soul of the Big Red Machine, the Cincinnati Reds team of the 1970s that some baseball observers consider the greatest team of all times. Morgan was that rarest of combinations: a five-time Gold Glove second baseman who could hit for average and power, and one of the premier base stealers of his era. He was also the field leader of the Reds, with such deep baseball knowledge that, unlike most batters, he was given no signals from the bench when he hit-he decided himself what to do on each pitch. Furthermore he knew how to win. During his career, Morgan played on no less than eight divisional champs, five pennant winners, and two World Series champions. When he quit baseball, his 268 career home runs led all other second basemen. In 1990 he was the first second baseman to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame since Jackie Robinson entered in 1962. Since his retirement as an active player, Joe Morgan has remained intimately involved with baseball. He is a prize-winning color commentator for ESPN's baseball broadcasts. He has co-authored a number of books on baseball, including Baseball for Dummies and Joe Morgan: A Life in Baseball.
Joseph Leonard Morgan was born in 1943 in Bonham Texas. The first of six children born to Leonard and Ollie Morgan, he would later call his family the main source of this strength. While Joe was still a child, the Morgans left Texas and settled in a neighborhood in Oakland, California. Morgan was soon an avid player of "Army Ball," a three player variant of stickball. He and his family were also enthusiastic baseball fans. In particular, they became devoted followers of the Oakland Oaks, the town's Pacific Coast League team whose park was just blocks from the Morgan home. As a teenager Morgan played Babe Ruth League and high school ball. He entered Oakland City College intending to study business and played on the school team there. Morgan was already showing a knack for playing on successful teams. His high school team won the Oakland Athletic League championship and his college team won its divisional title.
Oakland was a hotbed of young baseball talent in the middle 1950s, and Morgan, a leading hitter and base stealer on his teams, should have quickly attracted the attention of a major league team. However, he had one major disadvantage in the eyes of most scouts—Morgan was barely five feet seven inches in height. He seemed much too short to be a serious prospect and only one team showed any interest, an expansion team, the Houston Colt 45s, who would eventually be renamed the Astros. In 1963, Houston offered Morgan a $500-a-month minor league contract, together with an unspectacular bonus of $3,000. Morgan was nonetheless delighted by the chance to play big league ball. His father, a former semi-pro ballplayer, was pleased for his son, but Morgan's mother took a more practical view. She was concerned that once Joe left college to play ball he would never return. Morgan promised her that he would eventually finish college. More than 25 years later, he kept the promise. He got his college degree in 1990, the same year he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Morgan advanced quickly through the minors, from the instructional league in Moultree Georgia, to the Modesto (California) Reds, to the Durham (South Carolina) Bulls. In his first at bat with Durham in 1963, he hit a game-winning home run. While playing in Georgia and South Carolina Morgan experienced for the first time in his life the ugly racism of segregated hotels, restaurants, and drinking fountains, and obscene racist insults. It so shocked him that he briefly considered leaving baseball to escape it. Only his unflagging devotion to perfecting his baseball skills and the thought that he would be letting down his parents gave Morgan the strength to continue.
Playing with Houston
Morgan started the 1964 season with Houston's AA team in San Antonio where he was named the Texas League's Most Valuable Player with a .323 average, 90 runs batted in, 12 homers and 47 stolen bases. At the end of 1964 he played a few games with Houston. One of his hits helped knock the Philadelphia Phillies out of the pennant race. In the Phillies clubhouse after the game, manager Gene Mauch overturned a table full of food. "Mauch stood there, his face reddening," according to the Houston Chronicle 's Mickey Herskowitz, "and screamed at his startled players: 'Have you no shame? You just got beat by a guy who looks like a Little Leaguer!'"
|1943||Born in Bonham Texas|
|1963||Plays with Modesto Reds and Durham Bulls|
|1964||Plays with San Antonio Bullets, named Most Valuable Player, Texas League|
|1964||Joins Houston Colt 45s|
|1971||Traded to Cincinnati Reds|
|1975-76||Named Most Valuable Player, National League|
|1975-76||Won World Series with Cincinatti|
|1980||Signs with Houston Astros as free agent|
|1981||Joins San Francisco Giants|
|1982||Joins Philadelphia Phillies|
|1983||Traded to Oakland As|
|1984||Retires as active baseball player|
|1984||Founds Joe Morgan Investments|
|1985||Does color commentary on ESPN's college baseball broadcasts|
|1986-90||Member of San Francisco Giants broadcast team|
|1988||Assaulted at Los Angeles International Airport by LA undercover police|
|1990||Elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame|
|1990-present||Color commentator on ESPN baseball broadcasts|
|1993||LA City Council awards Morgan $796,000 in damages|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1964||Most Valuable Player, Texas League|
|1970, 1972-79||National League All-Star team|
|1973-77||Gold Glove, second baseman|
|1975-76||Most Valuable Player, National League|
|1990||Inducted into National Baseball Hall of Fame|
|1998||ASA Sportscaster of the Year|
|1999||ASA Sportscaster of the Year|
Morgan skipped AAA ball completely and jumped directly to the Astros in 1965. The team had just moved to its new ballpark, the Astrodome, the first domed park in baseball and the first to use Astroturf instead of natural grass. Morgan realized that a player with his speed and hitting ability was the type most suited to playing in such a park with its vast spaces and fast artificial grass surface. After his good rookie year, batting .271 with 14 home runs, 40 RBIs and 20 stolen bases, the Sporting News named him their Rookie of the Year. But it was Morgan's bearing that impressed his teammates most. "To me he was never really a rookie," Jimmy Wynn, Morgan's roommate on the Astros recalled to Mickey Herskowitz of the Houston Chronicle. "The way he handled himself, his poise, his knowledge … he had the look of a veteran player." Morgan played with the Astros until 1971 when conflicts with Houston manager Harry Walker came to a head and he was traded. Morgan regretted leaving the Astros, but his real career was just beginning—with the Cincinnati Reds.
The Big Red Machine
Morgan would later call the Reds the best defensive team that ever played, and it had Gold Glove players up the middle in catcher Johnny Bench , Morgan, shortstop Dave Concepcion, and centerfielder Cesar Geronimo. But it also had astonishing hitting power in Bench, Tony Perez, George Foster, and Pete Rose . Joe Morgan, however, was the spark plug of the Big Red Machine. He was its lead-off man, a batter who averaged .290 or better and more than 100 walks during most of his seasons with the team, and a perennial threat to steal—he had 434 stolen bases in his eight years with Cincinnati. Morgan flourished with the Reds. Reds manager Sparky Anderson had such confidence in Morgan that he was allowed to bunt and steal at will. He was named the National League's Most Valuable Player in both the Reds' world championship years: in 1975 when he batted .327, hit 17 homers, knocked in 94 runs and stole 67 bases, in and 1976 when he hit .320, hit 27 homers, knocked in 111 runs and stole 60 bases. In the 1975 World Series against the Boston Red Sox, a series some consider the most exciting in baseball history, Morgan got the late innings hit that gave the Reds the championship.
By the end of the 1970s, the glory days of Cincinnati's Big Red Machine were past. In 1980, Joe Morgan returned as a free agent to the Houston Astros, leading them that same season to their first divisional championship. However, Houston manager Bill Virdon came to resent Morgan's strong leadership role on the Astros. Virdon started pinch hitting for Morgan late in games and took him out of the last game of the playoffs, after which the second baseman said he would not play for the manager any longer. The following year, he went to the San Francisco Giants. In 1983 he joined the Philadelphia Phillies, where he and his old Reds teammates Pete Rose and Tony Perez went to one last World Series together. At the end of the 1984 season, spent with the Oakland As, Morgan retired as a player.
Although he was no longer playing, Joe Morgan was still a regular presence at ballparks across the country, as a television announcer. In 1985 he started working as a color commentator for ESPN's broadcasts of college baseball, and joined the San Francisco Giants broadcast team from 1986 until 1990. Since then he has been a fixture on ESPN, providing some of the most intelligent, insightful baseball analysis available on any network. His television work has garnered him various awards, including the Ace Award and an Emmy.
|CIN: Cincinnati Reds; HOU-A: Houston Astros; HOU-C: Houston Colt .45s (Texas League); OAK: Oakland Athletics; PHI: Philadelphia Phillies; SFG: San Francisco Giants.|
Despite his success and visibility as an athlete and sports commentator, Morgan has on occasion come face-to-face with the grim realities of racial conflict in the United States. In 1988, at Los Angeles International Airport, he was accosted by two undercover members of the LA police department, who accused him of being a drug dealer and took him into detention while refusing to allow him to identify himself. The police eventually realized their mistake and Morgan was released. When the LAPD refused to allow Morgan to file a formal complaint, he brought a civil suit. In 1993 the Los Angeles City Council voted to pay Morgan $796,000 to end the suit. The incident brought home the situation of other black people in the United States.
In 1990, in his first year of eligibility, Morgan was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, only the seventh second baseman to be enshrined and the first in almost thirty years. When Joe Morgan retired he left the game not only as one of the greatest second basemen—some would say the greatest—ever to play the game, but as a complete player. He retired with 268 home runs—at the time the most ever hit by a second baseman—a .271 batting average, 1,133 runs batted in, 689 stolen bases and five Gold Gloves. Add to that, the fact that he was a thinking man's player and the penultimate team player, and he probably ranks as one of the greatest players in baseball history.
SELECTED WRITINGS BY MORGAN:
(Edited by Joel H. Cohen) Baseball My Way. New York: Atheneum, 1976.
(With David Falkner) Joe Morgan: A Life in Baseball. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1993.
(With Richard Lally) Baseball for Dummies. Foster City, CA: IDG Books, 1998.
Where Is He Now?
Joe Morgan lives in California with his wife, Theresa, and their daughters, Ashley and Kelly. Morgan is the lead baseball color commentator on ESPN baseball broadcasts. He also does broadcasts for NBC.
(With Richard Lally) Long Balls, No Strikes: What Baseball Must Do to Keep the Good Times Rolling. New York: Crown, 1999.
Atkin, Ross. "Joe Morgan Has a Nose for Baseball Nuance." Christian Science Monitor, October 6, 1997.
Bass, Mike. "Morgan: Had To Work A Little Harder." St. Louis Post-Dispatch,. January 9, 1990.
Cohen, Joel H. Joe Morgan: Great Little Big Man. New York: G.P. Putnam's & Sons., 1978.
Eldridge, Larry. "Joe Morgan Lines Up With the Astros." Christian Science Monitor, April 2, 1980.
Herskowitz, Mickey. "A Big-Time Player, This Little Joe." Houston Chronicle, May 17, 1999.
Moran, Malcolm. "Joe Morgan Stretches Out His Career." New York Times, October 13, 1983.
Oller, Rob. "Reds Fans Will Always Find Comfort In Lil' Joe." Columbus Dispatch., June 7, 1998.
Ryan, Joan. "Success Is His Trademark." San Francisco Chronicle, April 17, 1995.
Swan, Gary. "A Big Year for Little Joe." San Francisco Chronicle, August 2, 1990.
Sketch by Gerald E. Brennan