Joe Morgan, early Astros All-Star, dies

October 12th, 2020

Joe Morgan, who began his Hall of Fame career as a member of the Houston Colt .45s in 1963, passed away Sunday night. He was 77.

Morgan signed in 1962, the inaugural season for the Houston baseball franchise. He made his big league debut with the Colt .45s on Sept. 21, 1963, at the age of 20, marking the start of a brilliant career. Morgan played 22 seasons, was a 10-time All-Star and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.

“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,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said. “Joe often reminded baseball fans that the player smallest in stature on the field could be the most impactful. On a Big Red Machine roster stocked with greats, Joe earned National League MVP honors during both of Cincinnati’s World Series Championship seasons of 1975 and 1976.

“Joe was a close friend and an advisor to me, and I welcomed his perspective on numerous issues in recent years. He was a true gentleman who cared about our game and the values for which it stands. Those who knew him -- whether as a Sunday Night Baseball broadcaster, a Hall of Fame board member or simply as one of the legends of our National Pastime -- are all the better for it. 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.”

“This is a huge loss for our game. Joe Morgan was a true superstar in every sense of the word," the Astros said in a statement. "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.”

Though he enjoyed his best years with the Reds, with whom he won World Series titles in 1975 and ’76, Morgan’s development as an elite second baseman began in Houston. A two-time All-Star with the Astros, the 5-foot-7 Morgan finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 1965 and was part of a young nucleus of players that included Cesar Cedeno, Jimmy Wynn, Bob Watson and Rusty Staub.

Morgan ranks among the top five Astros all-time leaders in triples (2nd, 63), on-base percentage (3rd, .374) and stolen bases (5th , 219).

"It sort of shocked me he passed away. ... He meant a lot to us, a lot to me, a lot to baseball, a lot to African Americans around the country and a lot to players considered undersized," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "He was the first modern-day [Jose] Altuve."

Morgan spent eight years with Houston before he was dealt to the Reds after the 1971 season in a swap considered one of the more lopsided in modern history. Morgan was traded with Ed Armbrister, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo and Denis Menke to Cincinnati for Tommy Helms, Lee May and Jimmy Stewart.

“I was fortunate enough to play on two World Series championship teams, but the first day I put on that uniform is still the highlight of my career,” Morgan said in an interview with’s Brian McTaggart for the book "100 Things Astros Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die."

“I can still remember buttoning my last button in that Colt clubhouse. I can still remember where I was standing and the whole thing. That’s your first Major League uniform, that’s something special.”

Morgan returned to Houston for one season in 1980 and helped the Astros win the National League West Division in a one-game playoff with the Dodgers. He was inducted into the Astros Hall of Fame in 2019 as part of a 15-member inaugural class that included all of those with retired numbers, Hall of Famers and Walk of Fame honorees.

Morgan, who also played for the Giants, Phillies and A’s, won five Gold Glove Awards and was named NL Most Valuable Player in 1975 and ’76. From 1972-77, he led the NL each season in offensive Wins Above Replacement. He delivered two game-winning hits in the 1975 World Series between the Reds and Red Sox.