Good teams seemed to follow Joe Morgan around. Need proof?
Not until Morgan arrived from the Houston Astros in a five-player trade before the 1972 season did Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine begin firing on all cylinders. Morgan proved integral to the Reds’ World Series triumphs in 1975 and ’76. The 10-time All-Star second baseman returned in 1980 to his original Major League team, the Astros, and helped them capture their first National League West title in franchise history that season. The San Francisco Giants hadn’t experienced back-to-back winning seasons since 1970-71 until Morgan spent 1981-82 with them. The Giants saw fit to trade the future Hall of Famer to the perennially contending Philadelphia Phillies, who benefited from his presence by reaching the World Series in 1983. Morgan concluded his Major League career in 1984 with the Oakland A’s, who finished 25 games out of first place in each of the previous two seasons. The A's ended up seven games out of first in the American League West with Morgan on their side.
The NL leader in offensive WAR for six consecutive seasons (1972-77), Morgan was as resourceful as he was spectacular. He could make a walk go a long way, as well as a home run, as this list of his top 10 career moments demonstrates:
1. Capturing a Fall Classic
Oct. 22, 1975
One night after dueling in their 12-inning Game 6 epic, the Reds and Red Sox returned to Fenway Park for a less dramatic yet more conclusive sequel: Game 7, of course, which would decide the Series. Morgan’s two-out, ninth-inning single on a 1-2 slider from Jim Burton scored Ken Griffey with the go-ahead run in Cincinnati’s 4-3 triumph.
2. Hitless wonder
June 30, 1977
Morgan was at his inventive best in this 11-5 victory over the Giants, scoring five runs despite going hitless in five plate appearances. Facing Giants starter Ed Halicki, Morgan walked, stole second base and scored on singles by Dan Driessen in the first and third innings. In his next three trips to the plate, Morgan walked, hit a fielder’s choice grounder and capitalized on an error to reach base before scoring each time.
3. Revenge is ours
Oct. 3, 1982
The Giants entered the season’s final weekend mathematically alive for the NL West title. But dropping the first two games of a three-game series against the Dodgers eliminated them from the race. The series and season finale still meant something for Los Angeles, which trailed first-place Atlanta by a game and needed to beat the Giants to be in position to force a playoff if the Braves lost at San Diego. If the Giants were playing merely for pride, they could tap Morgan’s inexhaustible supply of that quality. Morgan clobbered one of the most stinging home runs in franchise history, forging San Francisco’s 5-2 victory with a two-out, tiebreaking three-run homer in the seventh inning off Terry Forster and deflating the Dodgers’ postseason hopes.
4. Announcing his presence
Oct. 16, 1976
Occupying one of the batting order’s top three positions in 10,804 of his 11,329 regular-season plate appearances gave Morgan opportunities to define the course of a game or even a series. He accomplished this in the World Series opener when he homered off Yankees right-hander Doyle Alexander with two out in the first inning. This established that the Reds, hungry for a second consecutive title, would not be deterred as they pursued their goal. Cincinnati proceeded to sweep the Yanks -- outscoring them, 22-8.
5. Hurting? Not me
Sept. 7, 1974
The Reds outlasted the archrival Dodgers at Riverfront Stadium, 7-5, after overcoming a 5-0 deficit. The star of Cincinnati’s comeback was Morgan, who sprained an ankle early in the game. Fast-forward to the eighth inning, with the score tied at 5, and Morgan facing Dodgers relief ace Mike Marshall. Weakened by his injury, Morgan collapsed after taking his first swing. But he connected solidly with his next cut and drove Marshall’s delivery over the right-field wall for a two-run homer.
6. Nonstop flight amid nonstop production
Aug. 27, 1976
Morgan had a hand in every Reds run in their 4-1 victory over the Phillies. He delivered a first-inning sacrifice fly, tripled and scored in the third inning, and he blooped an RBI single in the seventh. But it was the fifth inning when Morgan elevated the Reds’ spirits and sunk the Phillies. Morgan reached base on a forceout and stole second. Phillies starter Tom Underwood walked Johnny Bench, who then dashed for second base as Morgan broke for third on a double-steal attempt. As Philadelphia catcher Bob Boone threw to second -- Bench was called safe -- Morgan never broke his stride as he rounded third and crossed home plate to score. The official scorer credited Morgan with one stolen base and ruled that he came home on a fielder’s choice. Ultimately, Morgan’s skill transcended any scoring technicalities.
7. Leader of the pack
Sept. 14, 1975
A straight steal of home is rare and always exciting. Thus, one would expect the dynamic Morgan to execute this feat. He did so for the Reds in the first game of a doubleheader at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. With one out in the sixth inning and the score tied at 1, Morgan stole second base -- his second theft of the afternoon. He advanced to third base as Giants starter Rob Dressler intentionally walked Cesar Geronimo and issued an unintentional free pass to Bill Plummer to load the bases. Taking his typically daring lead off third base, Morgan suddenly charged home. Plate umpire Andy OIsen immediately ruled Morgan safe, prompting an argument from catcher Dave Rader. The dispute did not change the fact that Morgan was on the front end of a triple steal. Somehow, this did not spark the Reds to victory as the Giants prevailed, 4-2.
8. A brief but powerful display
Aug. 19, 1974
Reds manager Sparky Anderson removed Morgan from this game after three innings. In Anderson’s estimation, Morgan already had done enough. He lined a three-run homer in the second inning off Philadelphia starter Wayne Twitchell before crushing a grand slam in the third off Tom Underwood. That began a nine-run outburst, which lengthened Cincinnati’s lead to 14-0. Morgan’s seven RBIs in two consecutive innings tied an NL record and convinced Anderson that his incomparable infielder could relax for the rest of the evening.
9. No looking back
June 25, 1972
This had to be a sweet day for Morgan, who landed a one-two combination of punches against his former team, the Astros. Not only did he lash a two-run, seventh-inning homer off Jim Ray that tied the score at 4, but the Reds also won in 10 innings, 5-4, to inch past the Astros and take a half-game lead in the NL West. The Reds held onto first place for the rest of the season.
10. No ordinary Joe
May 12-19, 1972
The Reds and Morgan weren’t instant successes. They lurched to an 8-13 start during Morgan’s first season with them. Morgan was performing capably to that point, batting .274 with an .847 OPS and 12 stolen bases. Then, Morgan and the club found their groove, winning nine consecutive games. Victory No. 7 in this stretch was a 2-1 decision over the Giants. Future Hall of Fame right-hander Juan Marichal pitched a four-hitter, but his lone lapse was a two-run homer that Morgan hit in the third inning. Morgan did his part during the surge, batting .385 with 11 walks and 11 runs scored.
Chris Haft has covered the Major Leagues since 1991 and has worked for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @goodforball.