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Joe Morgan, Hall of Fame second baseman, dies at 77

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Oakland product had strong ties to A’s

Sports Contributor Archive 2019
Did you remember that Morgan played for the A’s at the end of his career? Still productive at age 40.
Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The baseball world has lost five Hall of Famers since the beginning of September, and the most recent has strong Oakland A’s connections.

Longtime second baseman and broadcaster Joe Morgan died Sunday night at age 77, at his Bay Area home in Danville, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle. Slusser relays the official cause of death as a nerve condition, non-specified polyneuropathy, and ESPN notes that he had dealt with other health issues recently.

Morgan played 22 seasons (1963-84) for five different teams, but he’s best known for eight years with the Cincinnati Reds spanning most of the 70s. He was an All-Star all eight summers, and the league MVP twice in a row (in ‘75 and ‘76), with a 147 OPS+ and five Gold Gloves during that span. He helped lead the Big Red Machine to three World Series appearances, winning it all in ‘75 and ‘76.

For his overall career, his numbers are inner-circle great. He didn’t reach 3,000 hits (2,517), but his 1,865 walks rank fifth all-time and gave him a .392 OBP. He also offered power, with 268 homers that rank among the leaders for second basemen, and the whole package earned him a lifetime wRC+ of 135. To top it off, he stole 689 bases, 11th-most in history, at a healthy 81% success rate.

Add it all up and he accrued around 100 WAR in his career (just over on bWAR, just under on fWAR). He was a 10-time All-Star, including twice in his early days with the Astros, and went to a fourth World Series in 1983 with the Phillies. He became a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1990, and still has an argument as the greatest second baseman in history.

While most of his playing career came in the National League, Morgan also has lots of history with the Bay Area and the A’s. He moved to Oakland when he was young and grew up there, including high school and college, until going pro with the Houston Colt 45s (later the Astros) and making his MLB debut in 1963. After a decade in Houston he moved to Cincy, and in ‘72 his Reds met the A’s in the World Series. He only went 3-for-24 but walked six times, and scored the tying run late in a Game 5 victory. Of course, Oakland went on to win the Series, the first of their eventual three-peat.

Later, in 1984, Morgan joined his old October opponent for the final season of his career. He donned the green and gold and played for the A’s, and even at age 40 he remained productive. In 116 games he batted .244/.356/.351, grading slightly above league-average, and he exceeded 1 WAR on both scales (averaging out around 1.5 WAR). Earlier in the 80s he also played for the Giants.

After his playing days, Morgan became a broadcaster, including the better part of a decade in the Bay Area. Most of that time was spent calling the Giants, but he also covered the A’s in 1995. He went on to become a national voice on ESPN, for two decades on Sunday Night Baseball with Jon Miller.

As a media personality, Morgan served as the spokesman for old-school ways and ideologies. He was an especially vocal critic of the book Moneyball, which advocated new strategies and alternate approaches to analyzing the game, and which mentioned him specifically in its pages. In an ironic twist, the original philosophies targeted by that 2002 A’s team would have adored Morgan as a player — at 5’7 in height, “Little Joe” looked more like a misfit toy than a classic superstar (shades of Jose Altuve), and his extreme on-base skills may not have been fully appreciated in his time since they were driven by massive walk rates more than his modest batting averages (above .300 only twice).

In one final A’s connection, Slusser notes that Morgan was part of a group that tried to buy the team from the Haas family in 1998. The sale ultimately went to Steve Schott and Ken Hoffman. Click Slusser’s link above (or below) for more details on Morgan’s life and legacy, including the source of his signature elbow waggle at the plate, his time on the Hall of Fame board of directors, and other impressive ventures outside of baseball.

Morgan is the fifth Hall of Famer to pass away since the beginning of September. Preceding him (click each name for details) were Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and then Whitey Ford just last Thursday. Al Kaline also died in April.