It’s meant to inspire young players and remind fans of one of the best in baseball. On both counts, a new mural on the façade of the P&G MLB Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy in Roselawn hits the mark in tribute to the late Joe Morgan.
The Reds officially dedicated the mural on Saturday, Oct. 9, just days before the first anniversary of the legend’s passing. Among those in attendance for the ceremony were President of PNC Bank, Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky Kay Geiger; Reds Senior Vice President of Business Operations Karen Forgus; Executive Director of the Reds Community Fund (RCF) Charley Frank; Reds Hall of Famer and Morgan’s former teammate George Foster; mural artist Brent Billingsley; Morgan’s daughter Lisa and granddaughter Summer; and players and coaches from the Reds RBI program and Joe Morgan Association baseball and softball teams.
The mural was made possible through generous support from PNC, and Geiger spoke at the event on the company’s behalf.
“Thank you to the entire community for embracing Joe’s dream and to the generosity of the Castellini family,” Geiger said. “The leadership of the Cincinnati Reds and the Reds Community Fund is why we’re here to commemorate and honor the great number 8. Joe, the Reds and PNC believe that there should be equal access for all dreams and all people.”
Morgan’s widow, Theresa, provided the following statement regarding her late husband and the city’s newest remembrance celebrating the Cincinnati icon:
“We wish we could be here today, but please know we are with you in spirit to personally express how deeply honored we are to witness the extraordinary mural that perfectly depicts who Joe Morgan was as a human being, all he represented, and what he spent years fighting for. He relentlessly advocated to level the playing field for underserved children, adolescents, and adults, and championing for them until his vision was recognized and supported.
"He was much more than an incredible athlete because at the core of his heart was the goal to ensure that communities benefitted from his electrifying passion, tremendous talent, and far-reaching dreams. He has paved the way for so many and now our family will continue to follow in his footsteps to support the Reds Youth Academy. Thank you to the City of Cincinnati, and the Reds organization for supporting his vision. It is also with a great deal of pride and gratitude that we thank the incredible, talented artist, Brent Billingsley who has brought Joe Morgan’s legacy to life.”
A master of his craft on the field and an influential presence in the community, Morgan’s contributions in Cincinnati are unquantifiable -- but his impact remains visible everywhere.
In eight years with the Reds, Morgan was the National League Most Valuable Player during the team’s 1975 and 1976 World Series championship seasons. He was also a 10-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glove Award winner, first-ballot inductee in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and 1987 inductee in the Reds Hall of Fame. In 1998, the Reds officially retired his No. 8 jersey.
"Joe Morgan was quite simply the best baseball player I played against or saw,'' Big Red Machine teammate Johnny Bench told The Associated Press.
Along with his skills on the diamond, Joe was also a trailblazer in the Cincinnati community. When you travel along Seymour Avenue in Cincinnati’s Roselawn community and turn onto the street leading to the Reds Youth Academy, you’ll find yourself on Joe Morgan Way. It’s a fitting tribute to the man who was instrumental in bringing the facility to Cincinnati; the first of its kind in a cold-weather city.
When he joined the Reds' front office in 2010 as a Senior Advisor to Baseball Operations, Morgan made the Academy his top priority. He inserted himself into the planning, development and execution of the project once he was assured his one contingency was met: the Cincinnati location would be the best of its kind in both the overall facility and its programming.
On August 22, 2014, Morgan was front and center at the unveiling with then-MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and was joined by fellow Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, Reds players, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and other local dignitaries. The look of pride and joy on his face during the ceremony said it all.
"I wanted this to be the best, and they've exceeded my expectations," Morgan said at the ceremony. "I was very fortunate when the Commissioner invited me to the ribbon-cutting of the first academy in Compton, California. And on that day, I was very proud of Major League Baseball for making that happen. I can't express how proud I am today. I don't have the words to say that, because this one is in my town."
Frank remembers that day vividly, and specifically how much it meant to Morgan.
“When Joe finally cut the ribbon, we talked about how this was his project,” Frank said to Reds.com. “It was something that meant so much to him throughout Major League Baseball. But this was his town. Joe broke down and wept. Is this his legacy in Cincinnati? It’s certainly one of them.”
As big an undertaking as the Academy was, it was just the tip of the iceberg for what Morgan brought to Cincinnati and the baseball community. He had a hand in countless RCF initiatives, youth programs and local field renovations. And he did so by actively contacting the Reds and asking how he could help.
The RCF formed the Joe Morgan Association two years ago as a way to invest more time and resources for roughly a dozen key urban baseball and softball organizations. The “Joe Morgan” teams comprise the 12-and-under “Jr. RBI” age group and they receive additional funding, opportunities and access to the Reds Youth Academy. The goal of the program is to provide additional funding, while enhancing skills development and coaches training for some of the longest-tenured urban organizations. With the heightened support, the “Joe Morgan” teams are creating a pipeline of diverse talent to the Reds RBI program while continuing to grow the game in the urban core.
“Joe brought so much of his heart, soul and toughness to this community in ways people really don’t know,” Frank said to Reds.com. “When he re-emerged with the Reds under the [Bob] Castellini ownership team, [the community] all of a sudden started seeing him more under a different light. They started seeing him in that third stage of his life, the business and community side.
“Having had the privilege of experiencing that firsthand, I can tell you that I haven’t witnessed that level of passion and determination with any other scenario that I can think of in my business life. Joe was committed, so determined, so tough and fearless.”
Morgan’s efforts extended beyond just Cincinnati. He served on the board of directors for the Baseball Assistance Team and the Jackie Robinson Foundation. Known for his community interest and support of youth programs, Morgan was a contributor to the Young America Baseball Program, the Oakland Unified School District Sports Program and was the founder and president of the Joe Morgan Youth Foundation, which provides college scholarships and financial support to programs that are instrumental in the development of youth.
With everything he did, paying homage directly to what might be the crown jewel of his legacy was a no-brainer. Bright and bold, which perfectly captures his personality and character, the 120-by-35-foot mural featuring about 32 different colors depicts Joe Morgan in his Reds uniform with his No. 8 subtly emblazoned in the background.
Murals of this size and scope typically take design teams about eight weeks to finish. But local artist Billingsley and his five-person team, with the help of some local residents, completed the bulk of the Academy’s addition in just two weeks before later adding Morgan’s uniform number.
Billingsley, who works full time in the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s adolescent mental health unit, always had an interest in the arts and social work. But it wasn’t until he met Frank years ago that he took an interest in baseball and realized how much the sport tied into the community, and just how involved the Reds were in those initiatives.
“Charley’s love for baseball made me research the game," Billingsley said. "His knowledge of civil rights history and how sports broke the color barrier made me start to investigate who Joe Morgan was and what he did for the city of Cincinnati.”
After doing a deep dive on Morgan and running through some concepts with members of the Reds front office and creative services team, Billingsley was off and running. During the painting process, Billingsley made it a point to let the community that hosts the mural play a part in its creation. He involved as many people as he could, whether it was asking an adult just passing by to grab a paintbrush or summoning kids from the nearby basketball court on the Academy’s premises. Billingsley wanted anyone and everyone to be a part of this project and make it a true community effort -- just as Morgan would have wanted.
“Joe will continue to be the heart and soul of our Academy,” Frank said to Reds.com. “That will never change.”
One look at the newest and most visible tribute to one of Cincinnati’s most cherished ambassadors proves just that.
For more coverage and photos from the mural dedication, click below: