(Oct. 13) When I was a boy, I wanted to grow up to be Joe Morgan.

The Hall of Fame second baseman, who died Sunday night of polyneuropathy, was said by some statisticians to be the greatest player ever at his position. Morgan was probably the most exciting star to watch this side of Willie Mays, was a consummate professional throughout his career, and was a fierce proponent of old-school integrity.

At just 5 feet, 7 inches tall, Morgan was a small man who used an unusually small glove, but together, that man and glove acted as a vacuum cleaner for more batted balls than seemed possible, as his five consecutive Gold Glove Awards attested. As a hitter, his performance was extraordinary, and he led the league in on-base percentage four times, in slugging once, in walks four times, in runs once, and in triples once. As a base runner, he was spectacular, stealing 689 bases and driving pitchers and infielders to distraction.

And more than all that, as a leader, he was nonpareil. It wasn’t just happenstance that the Cincinnati Reds had its best decade when Morgan played for the team, that the Houston Astros tied for its division’s title when he returned in 1980, and that the Philadelphia Phillies won the National League championship when Morgan went there in 1983. Quite simply, Morgan made everybody around him a better player.

Yet not even any of that could capture the experience of watching Morgan play. From his signature “elbow flapping” move as a hitter to all the evidence of his obviously top-notch intelligence, from the way he calmed pitchers and fellow infielders after they grew frustrated to the churning speed he showed on the basepaths, Morgan was rightly the center of attention even when surrounded by superstar teammates such as Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, and Tony Perez. It was almost impossible to keep one’s eyes off him….

[The full tribute is here.]



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