This article is about the effect portion of a cause-and-effect relationship. The effect, which came as a surprise to me, was the strength of Joe Morgan’s career statistics versus those of the bulk of fellow second basemen enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum (HOF) in Cooperstown, NY.
I published the “cause” article — “Jeff Kent Should Be Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame” — on www.associatedcontent.com on September 23, 2009.
Kent will appear on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2014 after the expiration of the five-year waiting period. He retired at the end of the 2008 season.
I arrived at my conclusion that Kent should be elected between 2016 and 2021, his third to eighth years of eligibility, after comparing his career statistics in 10 categories — nine batting and one fielding — with 15 of the 18 players in the HOF listed as a second baseman.
I compared Kent’s total in batting average, runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, RBI, stolen bases, walks and fielding percentage with those of Eddie Collins Sr., Bobby Doerr, Johnny Evers, Nellie Fox, Frankie Frisch, Charlie Gehringer, Billy Herman, Rogers Hornsby, Nap Lajoie, Tony Lazzeri, Bill Mazeroski, Bid McPhee, Morgan, Ryne Sandberg and Red Schoendienst.
I ranked the players in each category, with the leader receiving 16 points and the player in last place receiving 1 point.
I did not include in my comparison three members of the HOF who are listed as second baseman. In my estimation, Rod Carew and Jackie Robinson did not spend enough time playing second base. And Frank Grant played only in the Negro League, not Major League Baseball.
For the record, Kent ranked seventh out of the 16 players. Thus, I concluded that it’s only a matter of time before he is inducted into the HOF.
But where Morgan ended up in my rankings — fifth — raised my eyebrows. He trailed Collins, Gehringer, Hornsby and Lajoie. And he finished ahead of Frankie Frisch, who was sixth.
I watched my first Major League Baseball game on television in 1965 — a win by the Minnesota Twins over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the World Series.
For Morgan, 1965 was his first full season in Major League Baseball. He played in 157 games for the Houston Astros after playing in a handful of games for the Houston Colt 45’s in both 1963 and 1964.
Thus, I was aware of Morgan for the bulk of his 22-season career, which ended in 1984 with the Oakland Athletics.
Morgan, of course, achieved his greatest success with the Cincinnati Reds. He was a key player on the “Big Red Machine,” which won the World Series in 1975 and 1976. At the end of both seasons, Morgan was named the Most Valuable Player in the National League.
Morgan played for the Reds from 1972-79. In that time, the Reds just missed winning one other World Series, losing in seven games in 1972 to the Oakland Athletics.
And the Reds also just missed advancing to another World Series, losing the National League Championship Series in 1973 to the New York Mets in five games (the maximum).
(No article about Morgan would be complete without mentioning the blockbuster trade in the 1971-72 off-season that brought him to Cincinnati. Morgan, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo and Ed Armbrister were acquired by the Reds from the Astros for Lee May, Tommy Helms and Jimmy Stewart.
For the Reds, Morgan became the starting second baseman; Billingham became a starting pitcher; Geronimo became the starting center fielder; and Armbrister became a reserve outfielder. For the Astros, May became the starting first baseman; Helms became the starting second baseman; and Stewart became a reserve fielder.
I was aware of the trade when it occurred. Why was Morgan traded after seven full seasons with the Astros? He turned 28 years of age during the 1971 season, had played twice in the All-Star Game and was in the prime of his career.
At the time of the trade, I was just 13 years old. I knew that the trade involed the starting second basemen on both teams. I also knew that Helms was the National League’s Gold Glove second basemen in 1971.
Many years later, I learned that race may have been a factor in Morgan’s departure from Houston. Morgan is black. And his last manager in Houston, Harry Walker, now deceased, was white.
The trade turned out to be a bonanza for the Reds. And Morgan took full advantage of the opportunity, elevating his career to a new level.
In Cincinnati, Morgan had the luxury of playing with three other players who now are enshrined with him in the HOF.
During all eight of Morgan’s seasons in Cincinnati, Johnny Bench was the Reds’ starting catcher. And Pete Rose was a starting fielder — at third base from 1972-74 and in left field from 1975-79.
Tony Perez was a teammate in Morgan’s first five seasons in Cincinnati. Perez was the Reds’ starting first baseman from 1972-76 before being traded to the Montreal Expos.)
I also stayed aware of Morgan because he played in 1981 and 1982 for my favorite Major League Baseball team — the San Francisco Giants — and for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1983.
For the Giants, 1982 was the franchise’s 100th season. After finishing just one game over .500 in 1981, which was interrupted by a players’ strike, the Giants gave their fans a stretch drive to remember in 1982.
Entering August, the Giants were four games under .500 — a record of 48-52 — and 14 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League’s Western Division. But the Giants went 38-21 in their next 59 games to pull into a second-place tie with the Dodgers, one game behind the Braves.
In the final series of the regular season, the Giants hosted the Dodgers at Candlestick Park. The Dodgers won the games played on Friday night and Saturday afternoon to eliminate the Giants.
But the Giants deprived the Dodgers of the division championship by winning the Sunday afternoon finale, 5-3. Morgan delivered the big hit, a three-run home run to right field.in the eighth inning.
The Phillies are the closest National League team to central New Jersey, which is where I was born and where I was living in 1983.
In December 1982, Morgan joined the Phillies as part of a trade with the Giants. For the 1983 season, Morgan was reunited with two of his former teammates on the Big Red Machine, Perez and Rose.
In 1983, during which Morgan turned 40 years of age, had the lowest batting average (.230) and the lowest fielding percentage (.971) of any full season in his career. But he contributed on the field and in the clubhouse to what turned out to be a memorable season for the Phillies.
In the 117 games in which he played in the regular season, Morgan had only 93 hits. But he made them count, driving in 59 runs.
Of the 93 hits, 37 went for extra bases — 16 home runs, one triple and 20 doubles. And Morgan had his usual high number of walks — 89.
Once he was on base, Morgan put pressure on the defense by stealing 18 bases in 20 attempts, a success rate of 90 percent. And he scored a high number of runs — 72.
In addition, Morgan provided veteran leadership as the Phillies finished strong to earn a berth in the post-season.
Entering September, the National League’s Eastern Division was a race between four teams that had been mediocre in the first five months of the season. Just 2.5 games separated the teams in first place and fourth place.
The Pittsburgh Pirates entered play on September 1 in first place with a record of 68-63. The Philliles were one game behind at 67-64. Then came the Montreal Expos (66-64) and the St. Louis Cardinals (65-65).
Of the four teams, the Phillies had the best finish by far, winning 23 of their final 31 games to finish 90-72 and win the division by six games. The Pirates, who finished second, went 16-15 down the stretch. Montreal and St. Louis went 16-16 and 14-18, respectively.
The Phillies came up big in head-to-head games against the other contenders. They won all six games against the Cardinals (three in Philadelphia and three in St. Louis). They also took four of five from the Expos (two of three in Philadelphia and both games in a two-game series in Montreal) and four of six from the Pirates (two of three in Pittsburgh and two of three in Philadelphia to conclude the season).
The Phillies then defeated the Dodgers, three games to one, in the National League Championship Series before falling to the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series, four games to one.
Upon his retirement after the 1984 season, I thought Morgan had been one of the top players in Major League Baseball in the 1970s. When Morgan was elected to the HOF in his first year of eligibility — 1990, I believed he definitely deserved the honor.
But it wasn’t until I conducted the research on Kent that I came to understand how great Morgan was among the bulk of second basemen with him in the HOF.
My research has Collins, Gehringer and Hornsby, in order, bunched at the top. Morgan is fifth, second in the second group with 108 points, just two behind Lajoie and six ahead of Frisch.
Without Kent in the comparison, Morgan is fifth among the 15 HOF second basemen in my comparison with 102 points. He trailed Lajoie by one point and was five points ahead of Frisch.
Why did Morgan finish fifth in my comparison? On offense, he had an enviable combination of speed and power. Plus he had a great awareness of the strike zone, which enabled him to draw a high number of walks.
In making my comparison, I used the career statistics for each player in each batting category, regardless of the defensive position he was playing at the time.
Morgan is third among the HOF second basemen in my comparison in home runs with 268. He also is first in walks (1,865), second in stolen bases (689) and fourth in runs (1,650).
If total bases and on-base percentage had been batting categories in my comparison, Morgan would have been high on the list in those as well.
In addition, Morgan was a strong fielder with good range. He was the National League’s Gold Glove second baseman five seasons in a row — 1973-77.
In my comparison, Morgan was fifth in fielding percentage (.981). (I used the fielding percentage at all positions for each player.)
On his page on www.baseball-reference.com, Morgan’s height and playing weight are listed as 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds, respectively. But despite his small size for a Major League Baseball player, Morgan looms large even in company as elite as the bulk of the second basemen enshrined in the HOF.
Due to my research on Kent, I now know how great Morgan was during his playing career.
My rankings are below. I believe that it is valid to compare statistics of players from different era because the rules of baseball have been the same for more than 100 years. So, too, have the vast majority of statistical categories. (The category for relief pitchers — saves — is a notable exception.)
Feel free to leave a comment as to whether you agree with my conclusions regarding Morgan (and Kent). All opinions are welcome.
123.5 Eddie Collins Sr.
123 Charlie Gehringer
122 Rogers Hornsby
110 Nap Lajoie
108 Joe Morgan (fith place)
102 Frankie Frisch
97 Jeff Kent (seventh place)
85 Ryne Sandberg
81 Bid McPhee
73.5 Bobby Doerr
71 Tony Lazzeri
66.5 Nellie Fox
65 Red Schoendienst
62.5 Billy Herman
38 Bill Mazeroski
31 Johnny Evers
.290 Kent (9 points)
.271 Morgan (3 points)
1,650 Morgan (13 points)
1,320 Kent (9 points)
2,517 Morgan (10 points)
2,461 Kent (9 points)
560 Kent (14 points)
449 Morgan (10 points)
96 Morgan (8 points)
47 Kent (1 point)
377 Kent (16 points)
268 Morgan (13 points)
1,518 Kent (14 points)
1,133 Morgan (8 points)
689 Morgan (15 points)
94 Kent (6 points)
1,865 Morgan (16 points)
801 Kent (9 points)
Fielding Percentage (All Positions)
.981 Morgan (2B: .981) (12 points)
.978 Kent (2B: .980) (10 points)