Joe Morgan, the spark of Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine of the 1970s, passed away at 77, his family announced Monday.
The Hall of Fame member died Sunday at his home in Danville, Calif, according to a statement released by his family. He died from a nerve condition.
“The Reds family is heartbroken,” Reds CEO Bob Castellini said in a statement. “Joe was a giant in the game and was adored by the fans in this city. ... 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.”
Morgan played 22 seasons, most notably with the Reds, where he teamed with players such as Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Ken Griffey Sr. to win back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 and ‘76. A 10-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner at second base, Morgan was the National League MVP in both World Series seasons.
“Major League Baseball is deeply saddened by the death of Joe Morgan, one of the best five-tool players our game has ever known and a symbol of all-around excellence,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “Joe often reminded baseball fans that the player smallest in stature on the field could be the most impactful.
“On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest sympathy to Joe’s wife Theresa, his family, his many friends across our sport, the fans of Cincinnati and everywhere his 22-year career took him, and all those who admired perhaps the finest second baseman who ever lived.”
Morgan was a lifetime .271/.392/.427 hitter with 268 home runs, 1,133 RBIs, 689 stolen bases and 1,650 runs scored in 2,649 games.
The 5-foot-7 Morgan was known for flapping his left elbow at the plate as a timing mechanism.
Morgan made his major-league debut two days after his 20th birthday with the then-Houston Colt .45s in 1963. Morgan made two All-Star teams with the Astros in 1966 and 1970. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 1965 to Jim Lefebvre of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“This is a huge loss for our game,” the Astros said in a statement. “Joe Morgan was a true superstar in every sense of the word. In the early part of his career, he was one of our first stars, a cornerstone for the Houston Colt .45s and Astros, and a significant reason for the success of the franchise. His contributions will never be forgotten. We send our heartfelt condolences to Joe’s family, friends and countless fans and admirers.”
Morgan was dealt to the Reds in 1972 as part of an eight-player trade after parts of nine seasons in Houston. The Reds gave up Lee May and All-Star second baseman Tommy Helms in the deal.
In his first year with the Reds, Morgan led the NL in runs scored (122), walks (115) and on-base percentage (.417). He finished fourth in MVP balloting in ‘72.
In his two MVP seasons with the Reds, Morgan hit .327 with 17 homers and 94 RBIs in 1975, following that with a .320 season, slugging 27 homers with 111 RBIs in 1976.
“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,” Bench said in a statement 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.”
Morgan played another season in Houston in 1980, two seasons in San Francisco (1981-82) followed by one in Philadelphia and his final year in Oakland, the city where he was raised, in 1984. Morgan retired at age 41, and the Reds retired his No. 8.
Morgan was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990, selected on the first ballot.
“Joe Morgan has been uniquely and powerfully influential to the Hall of Fame, not only as a Member, but as its Vice-Chairman of the Board,” said Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the board of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, in a statement. “During his career he was singularly committed to becoming the absolute best at his craft, combining his natural and developed skills with a model dedication in pursuit of his dream to become a Major League player. Along the way, he inspired, he motivated, and he influenced the success of those around him. We shall always be grateful for Joe’s leadership on and off the field.”
Morgan went on to an announcing career, most notably on ESPN calling Sunday Night Baseball games with Jon Miller. He also spent years announcing for the A’s, Reds and Giants and had stints at NBC, ABC and CBS.
Morgan’s death marks the latest among baseball royalty. Hall of Famers Whitey Ford and Bob Gibson passed away this month, preceded by Lou Brock, Tom Seaver and Al Kaline earlier in the year.
Morgan is survived by his wife of 30 years, Theresa, and their twin daughters Kelly and Ashley, and his daughters Lisa and Angela from his first marriage to Gloria Morgan.