A Biography in 1,000 Players No. 15 Joe Morgan (Number 2 Second Base)

Joe Morgan had the stats to be a great leadoff hitter, but he had so much power that he hit 2nd and 3rd most of his career. From 1972 to 1977 he won the Rickey Award 5 times and was runner up the other year. He was the Rickey Champ for the National League in the 1970s. However, I want to tell you about how it went with two of his teammates. In 1975 the Reds won the World Championship. Joe was the Rickey winner as well as MVP. That year leadoff man Pete Rose finished 6th for the Rickey Award and Ken Griffey finished 7th.  They batted in the first three slots in the lineup. That made it easy for a team to have three players who got on base and stole bases in the first three slots. It certainly put a lot of pressure on the defense with Bench, Perez and Foster coming up next.

However, 1976 was even better. The Reds repeated as World Series winners with Morgan repeating as MVP and Rickey Winner.  However, in 1976 Griffey was 2nd and Rose 3rd for the Rickey Award. How about having the three best leadoff men on you team. You are going to score a lot of runs. Rose is hurt in competing for the Rickey Award since he didn’t steal a lot of bases. He did hit a lot of doubles and was very aggressive about getting to second on his base hits.

Joe Morgan was a very smart player and stole a high percentage of bases. When teams tried to pitch out on him Morgan would just go stand on first tapping his foot and looking in the opposing dugout like “Why do you ever try?” It reminded me of WWE wrestling. Sometimes a wrestler would hit an opponent (usually a stronger opponent) and the opponent would act like he didn’t feel a thing and look at the punching wrestler like why even bother. Hulk Hogan would be the best at this. He would be losing a match, but fans would cheer for him. Hulk gathered energy from the fans cheering (remember wrestling is fake so just go along with the plot). Then the opponent would try punching Hulk, which worked before. No only did Hulk “no sell” the punch, it was like the punch gave him more energy. It was like how dare you punch me now you are going to lost. Then after a few half-baked moves Hulk would pin his opponent. Joe Morgan’s actions and looks at the opposing dugout said all that, except when Joe knew the pitchout was coming it was fake. Joe just was a very smart ballplayer.

Bill James in his 2nd Historical Abstract invented a formula that measured a player baseball IQ. He measured smaller things which took as much brains as ability to do, as percentage of successful stolen bases and ability to take walks. He wrote this when he was talking about Joe Morgan as Joe Morgan had the highest baseball IQ. Dave Kingman came in last. Some people made fun of the formula and said he did it just to prove that Joe Morgan was intelligent so he could justify putting him in first. I doubt that, because Bill doesn’t like to make presumptions, plus the formula made sense. Dave Kingman was not what you call a percentage player. He was a great home run hitter, but it was basically a home run or nothing. I have him down as the 99th best left fielder and he didn’t make the top 1,000 players despite being a very talented player.

There were probably complaints for a couple of reasons. One was racial bias. I’m sure some white people didn’t like being told that a black player was the smartest player in baseball, while a white player was last. The other was Joe Morgan became an announcer after he retired, and he was not well liked as an announcer. He also wasn’t popular with the sabermetric community when he argued Rogers Hornsby had to be a better player than him as he had a higher batting average. A big part of the start of sabermetrics was the argument that batting average was overrated.

A couple of years ago, Bill James and Joe Morgan were scheduled to do a radio show together. Joe had his own show and he was going to have the Godfather of Sabermetrics as his guest. They had an excellent discussion. The discussion showed they had more in common (in their thinking about baseball) than anyone thought, but when they did disagree, they always recognized and respected the other’s point of view. However, the discussion was very interesting and informative and would recommend it highly to anyone who has an interest in analyzing baseball.



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