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.