In praise of Little Joe

During the playoffs, baseball lost a giant of a small man in Hall of Famer Joe Morgan. He was the best second baseman the Astros had until Craig Biggio appeared and might have turned into their greatest ever except for THE TRADE.

It was after the 1971 season and Morgan had just turned 28. Little Joe was sent with Ed Armbrister, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo and Denis Menke to the Cincinnati Reds for Tommy Helms, Lee May and Jimmy Stewart. I mean Jimmy was a heck of an actor in his prime, but he was on the downhill side in 1971. (Yes I am joking).

Joe had been one of the best of a series of youngsters, who were sent off in their prime by GM Spec Richardson, also known as the Doctor of Death (by me). He was considered the biggest loss because he became a two time MVP and was the little engine that could for the Big Red Machine. In his 8 seasons there, the Reds appeared in the WS three times, winning twice and lost in the NLCS two other times.

While this was going on the Astros continued to fall short of the playoffs. Ironically, they made their first appearance in the playoffs in 1980, the season that Joe Morgan returned to the Astros for one brief season.

I was just a kid, when Morgan was here the first time and I always thought he was called Little Joe because of Michael Landon’s character on Bonanza. I have no idea if that was true.

Would Morgan have ever been as successful with the Astros if he had not been traded? It is hard to picture it. While he was a terrific pivot point for a lineup that included Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Ken Griffey, Tony Perez and Dave Concepcion, it is hard to think the same success would have happened with the Astros who had some good players (Jose Cruz, Cesar Cedeno, and Bob Watson), but nothing like the Reds had.

Now why was Joe Morgan such a terrific player? Well back in those days nobody looked at OBP, but he was great at getting on base and frankly was very good at OPS. When you look at his career he walked an average of 114 times a year and only 62 strikeouts per 162 games. When he was with the Reds, his slash line for those years in Cincinnati was .288 BA/ .415 OBP/ .883 OPS. In his 22 seasons he had 449 doubles, 268 HRs and 689 SBs. His numbers in his two MVP seasons (and he had 3 other top 10 MVP seasons) were tremendous.

1975 – .327 BA/ .466 OBP/ .974 OPS with 107 Rs, 94 RBIs, 67 SBs and 132 walks

1976 – .320 BA/ .444 OBP/ 1.020 OPS with 113 Rs, 111 RBIs, 60 SBs and 114 walks

Would Joe have hit these heights with a lesser team in a stadium that was an offensive hole? It does not matter, because he did do it with the Reds.

After his career he had a very successful announcing career both locally (Reds, Giants and A’s) and nationally with ABC, NBC, ESPN.

He might have been the Astros first true superstar, which will hurt many of us until the day we die. In the end, Little Joe was an inspiration to all people, who believe that talent is not tied to size.

43 comments on “In praise of Little Joe

  1. Cue the heartbroken tears of a young fan of the first real Astro superstar -and my best impression of Jimi Hendrix playing the lead with my teeth:

    Hey Joe . . . where you goin’ with that bat in your hand?
    I said Hey, Joe . . . where you goin’ with that bat in your hand?
    They done sent me up to to Cincy; don’t weep for me, poor Astro fans!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Good one Mr. Bill

      I did want to say that if my writing seems a little off – I have been feeling under the weather and a little fuzzy headed – so it is a little disjointed.

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      • I got so angry at this news when it broke that I actually rooted for the Reds the next year. But it didn’t take long to sour on the Evil Machine.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. What a horrible trade Richardson made when he traded Joe Morgan.
    So hard to mourn the loss of Joe again, after mourning his loss for 50 years already.

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  3. I see where AJ Hinch will be the likely manager of the Tigers. In my mind I thought that he might have to do broadcasting or be a bench coach before jumping back in. I think this may speak to how other teams look at the Astros’ cheating scandal in reality (not in public words). They know that a lot of it was going on and Hinch got caught because Mike Fiers turned state’s evidence.

    I also see where the Yankees declined options on Brett Gardner and J.A. Happ. Happ was quite solid last year at 37 y.o. but not worth $17 MM. Gardner was pretty bad and not worth $10 MM

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t get the La Russa signing. I’m all for us older guys, but that’s a lot of 16 hour days and a whole lot of travel. After ten years away from the dugout, maybe his body does not remember.

    I think I’m pleased to see Hinch back on the job. He sure screwed up, but owned it and then quietly paid his penance.

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    • Your comment tickled me a bit daveb – only because we now have a 74 year old and a nearly 78 year old running for president. A lot of 16 hour days and travel there too…..
      Yes, I am sure Hinch coming out and facing it and owning it right away made him a much more popular figure than say…..Jeff Luhnow.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dan, I think Tony might have have longer days during the season than our eventual President will. He’ll get paid a lot more too. And he’ll probably have a better year too. Course I stole that last line from The Babe.

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  6. -I get the LaRussa hiring. CWS are on the verge and they wanted a winner to manage. La Russa was a winner. Now we see if the gamble of hiring an oldy to run a young team that doesn’t have any baggage to manage, a la Dusty Baker, pays off or not. I think the CWS are looking for some Maddon-like Chicago magic.
    -I have been looking at financials of various teams for 2021. The Rays are geniuses because they have a really good team and very little financial commitments. But, they are also not a rich franchise.
    -If the Astros make it through 2021 without going under, they could be ok for the future because of their biggest asset, home grown pitching in their top minors. The way I see it, they need to introduce four or five more of their top minor league pitchers to the majors this year to set themselves up to maintain their status as one of the top half dozen teams for the following three seasons.
    -The Verlander extension has turned out to be one of the biggest financial mistakes in club history. It rivals Luhnow’s Singleton contract for wasted money. If the Astros manage to make the playoffs this season with the Verlander anchor tied around their neck, it will truly be as special as their comeback in the 2020 playoffs.

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  7. I like to imagine the phone call between Rick Hall and Tony LaRussa began with Hahn breaking out his best imitation of Neil Young, and belting out:

    Old man, manage these boys – they’re a lot like you were.
    Old man, they’re makin’ some noise, but a few could use a rescuer.

    Old man, consider them sons; they’re 21 and they’ve got big guns;
    Don’t let ’em jack up their askin’ price, and leave us for the Yanks.
    They might win with discipline; they might do dance moves that make you grin;
    they’ll prob’ly call you an old ‘has -been’, then say you’re wearin’ Spanx.

    Old man, shake the cobwebs off, it’s gonna be such fun!
    We need someone to manage this Gatlin Gun!
    And you can teach them how to do more than pimp home runs!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Which goes to show how tight the money is. That brings their total 2021 guaranteed salaries down to $32 million(that’s less than Verlander’s 2021 salary).They have 13 pre-arbitration players on their active roster and are the defending AL Champs.

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      • I always said the two sticking points for re-signing Charlie was

        1. the 3rd year
        2. he wanted to be near his kids

        Looks like that hasn’t changed and wonder what he’ll do now?
        Wonder if he’d pitch for $8M somewhere? Anywhere?

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  8. If he gets his projected salary for 2021 of approximately $10 million, Carlos Correa would have made exactly half the amount of salary in his Astros’ career that George Springer has. Springer made $50 million and Correa would have made $25 million.
    Does that answer any questions about what Correa plans to do at this time next year.

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    • Correa is actually 5 years and 3 days younger than Springer. He will make up that deficit in a single year, but it won’t be 2021. He also got paid more upfront as the number 1 selection in the draft. It’s surprising to see how much less he made each year though. He missed a lot of games, but Springer also has missed a smaller chunk each year. He’s going to sign a multi-year deal next offseason. If the 2020 madness hasn’t impacted the economics too severely I would be shocked for him not to pursue one of those contracts that give him an option to leave after a few years. The big question is which team will give it to him.

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  9. I’ve said this before but it’s been said that Correa told Garrit Cole he “will have your back” with the Yankees when he becomes a free agent. Correa’s little brothers nick name is “Yankee”…does THAT tell you what Correa’s plan is after 2021?

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  10. Joe Morgan, along with Jim Wynn, were my favorite ballplayers when I was a child. I was surprised that the Astros traded Morgan away when they did. But then, Spec Richardson was a bad GM.

    At least Morgan was gracious, earlier this year, when he credited the Astros with his learning how to play baseball. If only…

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    • And Sanabria was selected by Royals.

      I find that very encouraging, because it means the 10 pitchers I had in the Astros#30 range are all advancing in the system, and that Sanabria who wasn’t protected and can’t make it here (like Yohan Ramirez) are still valued higher than other teams’ bubble pitchers.

      For a team ranked 28 out of 30 farms, it sure is conspicuous that our worst pitchers keep getting selected.

      Liked by 2 people

    • George looks surprisingly cheap if the numbers tossed about here are close to accurate. Thing is, Springer is such a professional that we’ll likely never know if he feels like he got screwed by the Astros when his service time was finessed. If he wants to go, he’s gone. If he’s willing to listen, Crane can get a deal done.

      Also absent on this list of 50 FA’s is Puig. Is that because of the sexual assault charges filed against him yesterday in LA?

      I think the most realistic outcome is to get Brantley resigned. Except for center, and backstop, that still leaves us with a pretty potent lineup. And I would not rule out Jake coming back, as much as I’ve said over the years that a starting outfielder can’t have a lifetime OPS of under .700.

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    • Reviewing the list I was surprised by the “low” estimated salary numbers. Of course given the current times maybe I shouldn’t be. As for Springer and his “so called displeasure” with being held back that should be water over the dam. If Covid didn’t occur and he had a monster year in 2020 it would all be moot. He’d still get a pretty big contract. I would think that a lot of clubs are feeling the sting of the “Covid season” and the money may not necessarily be there. I have heard that MLB lost 3 billion this year. I even think that some clubs may end up filing bankruptcy but we shall see. And remember, there are no guarantees that we will see a resurgence next spring because we may still be dealing with the “virus from hell”.

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    • What scares me about Realmuto is his projected salary vs his projected offensive production. Also, no matter how good he has been cast as an exceptional catcher, his pitchers have not performed.

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  11. The (second) funniest baseball blog ever was Fire Joe Morgan. It was absolutely brilliant.

    And I checked up on Deadspin for anything after Joe passed away. There was a great article about him, about how good he was, about how he just couldn’t grasp analytics and railed against them, and how it finished by noting the irony that analytics shows how much even greater he was than the traditional measures like BA. He was an OBP monster even though he hated OBP. It made me smile ….

    Liked by 1 person

    • What they (Deadspin) actually said :

      “ Maybe Morgan never realized that the analytics he degraded as useless would tell you he was the best second baseman of the modern era by a distance.”

      “ Morgan’s 98.8 fWAR (Fangraphs’ calculation of WAR) at the position ranks fourth, behind Nap Lajoie, Eddie Collins, and Rogers Hornsby … In fact, there isn’t a modern-era second sacker within a two-hour flight of Morgan in terms of fWAR. The next one down on the list is Rod Carew some 26 points behind“

      And …

      “Morgan’s 135 wRC+ (Runs Created adjusted other factors ie. ballpark and era) also marks him out as the best offensive player at the position in the modern era.”

      Liked by 3 people

  12. -I believe we are supposed to know by tomorrow afternoon about the QO situation with Springer and Brantley.
    -Then, those who get a QO have 10 days to accept or reject it.
    -The adjustment the Astros will have to make on their roster to prepare for next season and to protect players from the rule 5 draft in December won’t be the only hard decisions they will make this offseason. Because:
    -When MLB decides what to do about MILB and starts all the realigning and downsizing, there will be quite a few players eliminated from every organization’s system. Then teams will be scooping up some prospects and letting go more of their own when they do pick up somebody else. It’s going to be a little crazy.
    -Because the Astros made it to the ALCS, when MLB divvies up playoff money, all those young players who made it to the Astros this year are going to get some bonus money. Good for them.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I have a prediction. I think Myles Straw will get passed on the Depth Chart of the Astros by Chas McCormick. Why?
    1. In 85 PAs this season, Straw had 1 barrel. I observe, he has slow reaction to the fastball. This reaction is why he has never been able to pull the ball. The shifts up the middle and on the right side have taken away his singles.
    2. He just cannot pull the ball to beat the shift.
    3. This idea that he is a late inning sub on defense was shattered by his defense this year. I noticed that he does not play the wall or caroms well with my eye, and Fangraphs confirmed that his defense took a nosedive in 2020.
    4. He has blazing speed but he does not have good base stealing instincts. He does not read pitchers, he guesses and his speed covers some mistakes but he makes outs on the base paths stealing bases.
    5. His negative 0.4 WAR as a late inning sub in the outfield is stunning. His lack of any power doesn’t allow him to get to 0.0WAR, which the team really needs from a guy in that role.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I said it earlier. I was high on Straw coming into 2020. I am no longer and was especially disappointed in his outfield play. There are a lot of fast kids out there that can play D and not hit. I’m not sure if Straw has the D instinct either.

      Liked by 1 person

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