Morgan was a rare commodity, a speedy second baseman with power. The 5’7″ 150-lb Little Joe was also one of the smallest number-three hitters in recent baseball history. Morgan ranks third all-time in walks behind Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. He is also the only second baseman to win consecutive MVP awards, in 1975 and 1976. In the batter’s box, Morgan would flap his front elbow distinctively as a timing device, and he was a major component of the Big Red Machine, the first National League team to win consecutive World Series since the 1921-22 New York Giants.
Morgan started his career in the spacious Astrodome, and actually spent more years with Houston than with Cincinnati. He was the main player acquired by the Reds in a nine-player swap that sent Lee May to the Astros. Morgan’s power was shown to better advantage in Riverfront Stadium, helped by coaching from Ted Kluszewski. Morgan doubled his home run output in two seasons. His first year in Cincinnati, he made the All-Star team for only the second time, and was named the game’s MVP when he singled in the winning run in the bottom of the tenth. He ended up leading the league in walks with 115 and runs scored with 122.
In 1975 Morgan led the NL in walks for the third time with 132, while combining a .327 BA with 17 HR, 94 RBI, and 67 stolen bases. Morgan’s MVP season sparked the team into the 1975 World Series against the Red Sox, one of the most exciting Series ever played. Morgan, as usual, was in the thick of the excitement. In Game Three, Morgan knocked in the winning run with a single in the 10th inning. In Game Four, he made the last out in a 5-4 Boston victory. In Game Five, he drew 16 pickoff throws at first just prior to a single by Bench and a three-run homer by Perez. In the seventh and deciding game, Morgan’s RBI single in the top of the ninth gave the Reds their first World Championship.
In 1976 Morgan topped his previous power totals with a career-high 27 HR, became only the 5th second baseman to drive in more than 100 runs (111), and led the league in slugging average at .576. He also batted .320, stole 60 bases, and had an on-base average of .516 to earn his straight second MVP. The Reds then swept the Yankees in the Series.
In 1980 he went back to Houston, where he helped the Astros to a division title, and spent two years in San Francisco, almost leading the untalented Giants to a surprise pennant in 1982. Still productive, even if unable to match his earlier high standards, Morgan ended up on a geriatric Phillies team in 1983 with fellow Reds alumni Pete Rose and Tony Perez, making it as far as the World Series but losing in five games to Baltimore. He ended his playing career in Oakland in 1984 and then became an announcer for the A’s and for ABC.