RIP Joe Morgan, 1943-2020

16 02 2021

This one hit home.  As a big Reds fan, how could it not.  I’ve got a couple things autographed by the whole Big Red Machine, and having those makes me acutely aware Joe Morgan was unfortunately the first player from the Big 8 to pass away. 

Though some didn’t like him as a broadcaster, his impact and influence on the game of baseball was undeniable.  He was active as a member of the Hall of Fame’s board.

Morgan was born in Texas but moved to Oakland with his family at the age of 5.  After being a standout athlete in multiple sports, he went to Oakland Community College and did well enough to get signed by the Houston Colt 45’s.  He was a standout in A-ball in 1963 and in AA-ball in 1964, and got cups of coffee with the Colts both years. 

I always enjoyed that his dual player rookie card with Sonny Jackson has the Colt 45’s logo – they switched to the Astros by the time he got his first solo card in 1966.


That 1964 season was the last time he’d play in the minors – in 1965 he was Houston’s starting 2nd baseman and was runner up for the Rookie of the Year award.  By just about every metric but RBI he was more deserving than Jim Lefebvre of the Dodgers that year.

Morgan was a very good player for 7 seasons in Houston.  He made 2 All-Star teams and probably deserved to make 2 or 3 more.  He was traded to the Reds – along with fellow BRM’er Cesar Geronimo – in a blockbuster for Lee May and Tommy Helms.  The rest, as they say was history.  Morgan’s next 6 years was the best stretch of baseball by a second baseman in the history of the game.  The Big Red Machine was ripe with incredible players.  As was Morgan – Bench, Rose and Foster were all MVP winners during their career.  And Tony Perez was a fellow Hall of Famer, while Davey Concepcion was a borderline HOF-er and Cesar Geronimo and Ken Griffey Sr were perennial all-stars.

But there’s something to be said for being the best player on the best team.  And while the Big Red Machine was a thing from roughly 1970 through 1977 – they are one of two teams in the argument for the best of all time because of the 1975 and 1976 seasons.  And those were the two years that Morgan – despite being a sabermetric darling when sabermetrics didn’t exist – won his two MVPs.  Reciting his statistics probably doesn’t do him justice, but I’ll say a few things:

  • his OBP was .456 over those 2 championship seasons in 1975 and 1976
  • his baseball-reference WAR from 1972 to 1976 averaged 9.5, which for reference is a little better than Mike Trout’s best 5 year stretch.
  • in 1972 (Bench) and 1973 (Rose) when his teammates won the award, every site I can find considers Morgan the better player on that team.  In 1974 Mike Schmidt should have been the MVP, and Morgan should have been second – but most metrics have Morgan as the best position player in baseball for 4 out of 5 years and the second best the other season.  The only players I can think of who can claim that kind of a peak are Ruth, Bonds and maybe Wagner, Cobb or Trout.  Three of those guys were way before MLB expansion and integration.  And only Wagner played the infield.
  • His batting stance and the dipping right elbow was cool AF

Morgan was greatly appreciated during his career, but hindsight shows us he was actually underappreciated because the world didn’t understand the value of getting on base.  And he had a .392 career OBP despite playing a large part of his career in eras that were very defense-leaning.

His broadcasting on Sunday Night Baseball and other avenues has been a big factor in how people viewed him in the latter part of his career.  He was something of punching bag in a prominent passage of the book Moneyball, which is funny because the book at the same time points out he was underrated as a player.  He probably had a little bit of a “get off my lawn” leaning as a broadcaster, but I always enjoyed him.  Maybe because I knew he was on my team.  Those fire Joe Morgan websites were always a bit much (actually a lot much) to me.I mention above that I have a couple autographed Big Red Machine items.  I got those autographs when I was quite a bit younger and he was always friendly in the setting.  I believe he cared about fans of baseball, and I don’t think the narrative that arose that he knew more than everyone else was fair.

Regardless of all that, I think he got his due after the fact, deservedly so.  He was well-respected in the game and had a big influence on the Hall of Fame in his later years.  His health had been deteriorating in the past decade or so, but I was so sad to hear he passed away.  Pete Rose and Johnny Bench are probably the 2 greatest Reds just because of the pure number of seasons they spent with the team, but Joe Morgan had the best stretch of any Reds player.  I always viewed the best teams in history this way.  Only two teams had multiple guys who could claim legit argument as the best player at their position.  The 1927 Yankees had Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, but the Big Red Machine had Bench and Morgan at their peak – but then Rose, Perez, Foster and 3 other All-Stars as well.  I’d go with the guys in Riverfront.

Rest in Peace, Joe!

RIP Whitey Ford, 1928-2020

10 02 2021

From one great World Series pitcher to another, unfortunately we lost a lot of Hall of Famers in 2020.

Edward Charles Ford was a great pitcher.  If you look at his stats, he was never viewed as dominant as some of the greats from the 50’s and 60’s.  Though I do think he gets a bit of a raw deal for two reasons.  First, he missed 2 years in his early career – when he was effectively at his prime – to the Korean War.  Unlike a number of hitters (Williams & Mays come to mind) – I don’t think that’s widely remembered about Ford.  Second, it’s believed that Casey Stengel tended to save him for the Yankees tougher matchups to make impact.  

Regardless of all that, with Whitey Ford – it was all about winning, and winning when it mattered most.  He holds the highest career winning percentage for pitchers with 200 wins – though Pedro Martinez was ahead of him briefly before his final season with the Mets, and Clayton Kershaw seems like he could pass him.  But winning 69% of your games is pretty insane.

And his World Series exploits were particularly notable.  He has won the most games (10) in the history of the Fall Classic.  Though he’s also lost (8) the most!  The Yankees won 6 titles and 11 AL pennants during his tenure as “Chairman of the Board”.  And he broke Babe Ruth’s long-standing World Series of consecutive scoreless innings pitched.  He pitched 2 complete game shutouts in the 1960 World Series.  This included a blowout game 6 that sent the Yankees to the incredible game 7 that ended in a Bill Mazeroski homer.  The next year, he helped the Yanks get back to the top of the baseball world against my Redlegs.  He started the Series off on the right foot with another CG-SHO (2-0), then won game 4 going 5 scoreless innings. 

That effort got him past Ruth’s mark, and he extended it another inning when the Yankees were back in the 1962 World Series against Mays’ Giants.  His streak actually ended on a squeeze bunt with 2 outs in the second inning that scored Mays from third.  The final tally was 33 & 2/3, and it hasn’t been reached since.  Side note – I had to check on Madison Bumgarner to be sure.  MadBum has given up 1 run in his 36 WS innings, but that run came in the middle of his 5 appearances.

As I’ve posted before – Ford is the subject of the favorite card I own.  I don’t talk about this blog much to people I know, but did send this post to my parents when he passed away.  This post probably says it as best as I can – Ford is my Dad’s baseball hero not mine.  But in many ways that makes him even more baseball royalty in my mind.

Rest in Peace, Whitey!

RIP Bob Gibson, 1935-2020

4 02 2021

The last two times I’ve posted one of these, another Hall of Famer has passed away.  I thought about doing a Hank Aaron tribute, given the enormity of what he meant to baseball.  But I’d prefer to do these in order.  I get a lot out of them – reading up on some of the greats of the game makes me appreciate them and the game of baseball.

75 B Gibson

The two HOF-ers from the 1960’s Cardinals juggernaut both passed away within a month of each other.  Gibson passed away on October 2nd of last year from pancreatic cancer.

Gibson was well before my time – like Brock, he retired before I was born.  I knew a lot about him as a kid – so many baseball history videos covered his World Series exploits.  A little bit unfairly, I think the one that gets covered the most is his last postseason game – one of only 2 that he lost.  More on that and his amazing World Series exploits later.

There are a couple autobiographies of Gibson, one written during his career and one after – and I hope to pick up one of them in the near future.  Pack Robert Gibson was born in 1935 in Omaha.  He was the youngest of 7 kids.  His father died before he was born and his oldest brother Josh became his father figure.  Josh had a college degree from Creighton and was the rec center director in the projects where the Gibsons lived.  So while their family grew up poor, Gibson had structure in his life with a focus on education and an outlet for athletics.  He was a great all-around athlete, and though he excelled at baseball, basketball was his favorite sport in high school.

He was offered a minor league contract with the Cardinals out of high school, but in part due to his brother’s influence he opted for a basketball scholarship to Creighton.  He was the first black athlete to receive such a scholarship.  I found this pretty cool – Creighton is to this day known as an excellent mid-major basketball school and its crazy to realize that one of the most dominant pitchers in MLB history is part of the foundation for that.  Gibson averaged 20.2 points for his career and was the team’s leading scorer 2 of his 3 seasons.  His jersey number 45 (which he would later wear for the Cardinals) hangs in the rafters as one of 5 retired by the basketball program.

He also played on the diamond at Creighton, where Bill Fitch (an assistant basketball coach for the Blue Jays) was his baseball coach.  Fitch would go on to become a Hall of Fame coach in the NBA and was at one point second to only Red Auerbach in career wins.  Gibson never got an NBA offer, though he did end up turning down an offer to travel with the Harlem Globetrotters once the Cardinals signed him that summer (1957).  He reported to their triple A affiliate in Omaha.  After being an effective hitter and pitcher in college, manager Johnny Keane determined he should focus on pitching.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Gibson was in the minors in 1958, then spent two seasons splitting time with the Cardinals.  He was held back by manager Solly Hemus, who displayed outright racism and tended to keep his black players on the bench.  He was replaced by Keane midway through the 1961 season, and the Cardinals were real contenders for the rest of that decade.

Gibson made his first All-Star game in 1962, and solidified himself as the Cardinals’ best pitcher.  He struck out 208 batters – his first time over 200 and good for 3rd in all of baseball.  He also posted a 2.85 ERA, good for 5th in the National League.  He continued to progress in 1963 and 1964, but he began making his legend in the World Series of 1964.  That year against the Yankees, the upstart Cardinals defeated the Yankees in 7 games.  Gibson didn’t start his World Series career off as particularly notable.  He pitched OK in game 2, giving up 4 runs in 8 innings.  He left the game down 4-2, but the Yankees bats came alive in the 9th off of the Cardinals relievers to make it a lopsided 8-3 final.

In game 5 of a 2-2 series, Gibson pitched 8 scoreless innings.  He entered the bottom of the 9th with a 2-0 lead, but after an error he allowed a game tying homer with 2 outs and the game went to extra innings.  His battery-mate Tim McCarver came through in the top of the 10th, however, hitting a 3-run homer.  Gibson allowed just a single in the bottom of the inning to register a complete game with no earned runs.

The Yankees won game 6, and Keane went to his Ace on just 2 days rest (and coming off the stressful 10-inning CG).  In game 7, the Cardinals jumped out to an early 3 run lead and extended it to 6-0 in the 5th inning.  Though Gibson didn’t pitch particularly well – he gave up 5 runs on 3 homers – that was all he needed and he finished the Yankees and the series off at 7-5.  Gibson was named the series MVP, and while it’s hard to argue – for my money McCarver (.478 BA, .552 OBP, 11 hits, 5 RBI, 4 runs) has a good case for the award.  I think what may have put Gibson over the top was the caliber of the Yankees hitters that he mostly kept at bay.

Incredibly – that was the least entertaining World Series Gibson was a part of.  The 1967 and 1968 World Series are all-time classics.  Those are probably better covered elsewhere; but suffice it to say Gibson was incredible.  He threw 6 total complete games (3 in each series), 2 of those being shutouts.  He again won the Series MVP in 1967, and his opener in the 1968 Series (17 strikeouts, is probably the best single game World Series pitching performance of all-time.

Here I’d like to point out Gibson’s overall World Series record.  He’s probably the greatest World Series pitcher of all-time.

  • That first World Series game was the only one where his manager ever needed a reliever.
  • Factoring in his 10-inning game in 1964, he actually equaled the tally of 9 CB’s – he pitched 81 innings over 9 games.
  • His WS career is bookended by losses – but he won all 7 games in between.
  • Not only is he the only pitcher to win multiple WS game 7’s (and only to start 3) – but Burleigh Grimes and Lew Burdette are the only others to start multiple game 7’s.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention his 1968 season, the best in modern history.  He went 22-9, with 13 shutouts, completed 28 of his 34 starts, struck out 268 batters and posted the lowest ERA in history – an incredible 1.12.  He won the Cy Young and almost single-handedly forced MLB to lower the pitching mound.

Rest in Peace, Bob!