Joe Morgan, the Cincinnati Reds’ Hall of Fame second baseman who powered the team’s legendary Big Red Machine era of the 1970s before co-anchoring with Jon Miller ESPN’s must-watch Sunday Night Baseball for 21 seasons, died Sunday at his home in Danville, CA. He was 77.
A family spokesperson the cause of death was nonspecified polyneuropathy. He’d had a bone-marrow transplant in 2016.
Nicknamed Little Joe (he stood 5-foot-7), Morgan, along with Reds teammates Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez, was a key force in the team’s World Series championships in 1975 and 1976; he was named National League Most Valuable Player both of those seasons.
A 10-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner, Morgan also was a stolen-base specialist, swiping 40 or more bags in nine of his 22 seasons. He also was known for his habit of cocking his left elbow up and down as he awaited a pitch.
“Simply the best,” tweeted Big Red Machine catcher Bench.
“The Reds family is heartbroken,” CEO Bob Castellini said in a statement. “Joe was a giant in the game and was adored by the fans in this city. He had a lifelong loyalty and dedication to this organization that extended to our current team and front office staff. As a cornerstone on one of the greatest teams in baseball history, his contributions to this franchise will live forever. Our hearts ache for his Big Red Machine teammates.”
Following his playing years, Morgan began a broadcasting career that began in 1985, moving to ESPN in 1990. He continued as part of the network’s baseball broadcast team until 2010, when he rejoined the Reds as special adviser to baseball operations.
“Joe Morgan added immediate credibility to our Sunday Night Baseball broadcasts,” said ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro in a statement. “A Hall of Famer on the field, his knowledge of the game was unparalleled and he helped our viewers appreciate and understand the nuances of the game. We are grateful for all that Joe did for ESPN and for the game of baseball.”
Longtime ESPN colleague, commentator Chris Berman, told ESPN: “I am truly saddened to learn that we’ve lost Joe. I was fortunate enough to share the booth with him for many Home Run Derbies and regular-season broadcasts, and I enjoyed every minute of them. His love for the game and his insights made countless viewers smarter baseball fans. I was certainly one of them. As for his Hall of Fame career, if there was a better second baseman, I never saw him in my lifetime.”
Morgan won two Sports Emmy Awards in the Event Analyst category in 1998 and 2005, the network’s first two wins in the category, according to ESPN.
Morgan also regularly called the World Series and League Championship Series on ESPN Radio and, later, the Little League World Series Championship Game on ABC. He contributed to Monday Night Baseball and Thursday Night Baseball on ABC in 1988-89 and served as a broadcast reporter for the 1989 World Series. He contributed to the Baseball Network’s coverage of several World Series and MLB Postseason broadcasts.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement: “Major League Baseball is deeply saddened by the death of Joe Morgan, one of the best five-tool players our game has ever known and a symbol of all-around excellence. Joe often reminded baseball fans that the player smallest in stature on the field could be the most impactful.”
Morgan is survived by his wife of 30 years, Theresa; their twin daughters, Kelly and Ashley; and daughters Lisa and Angela from his first marriage to Gloria Morgan.
— Johnny Bench (@JohnnyBench_5) October 12, 2020
— MLB Vault (@MLBVault) October 12, 2020
The Reds are heartbroken to learn of the passing of baseball legend Joe Morgan. pic.twitter.com/zBoQ2gHZys
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) October 12, 2020
I truly have no words to express the sorrow Jeannine & I have of the news that our friend Joe has passed away. Our thoughts are with Teresa and the kids. #RIP You are Missed! The best 2nd basemen in my opinion period! @MLB @Reds #JoeMorgan #TheGreatEight @espn
— TheBillRussell (@RealBillRussell) October 12, 2020