I made my Cincinnati Reds opening day debut the same day as second baseman Joe Morgan after his blockbuster trade from Houston. Saturday, April 15, 1972 was a very nice day weather wise but the home team lost 3-1 to the Dodgers, mustering only three hits in the process with none by Morgan.
Nonetheless, I’d witnessed the arrival of a future MVP and Hall of Famer who would spend his best eight seasons with the Reds (while wearing number eight), a guy I still consider the smartest and most complete player I’ve ever seen.
We lost Joe Morgan on Sunday at age 77 and my memories began to flow. I recalled his greatness along with that of the teams he helped lead including the 1975 and 1976 World Series champions. He had the series winning hit in 1975 and hit the homer that launched a sweep a year later. I remembered watching ESPN Sunday Night Baseball and the special mesh he had calling the games with Jon Miller, causing me to be both entertained and educated.
Mostly I thought of the time I spent around him after the Reds moved spring training to Arizona in 2010. 5’7” “Little Joe” was a team adviser and guest instructor. He took those duties seriously and was both visible and active at training camp. He navigated the Goodyear complex in his designated golf cart that absorbed some bumps and bruises while entrusted to him
I was anxious to talk to him but wanted to seize an opportunity where he wasn’t otherwise occupied. Our two encounters took place behind the cage during batting practice. At the first I introduced myself and proclaimed that I had something to tell him about his career that he’d never heard before. I got a smiling gaze and “What’s that?” I said that I’d become a Reds season ticket holder in 1976 and chose a location behind first base for several reasons including how he led off first base to both rattle the opposition and possibly steal a base.
“Against a lefthander, you’d get a big lead with both feet on the carpet (beyond the sliding area),” I relayed to Morgan. “If he threw to first you’d go back in standing. If he’d pitch you’d probably steal second (if it wasn’t occupied). I loved watching that and it was a reason I chose that location.”
He chuckled and replied, “You’re right. I’ve never been told that but I had a perfect view of the lefthander and it wasn’t that difficult.” I responded that he’d minimized one of his unique abilities, “That’s true for you but I never saw anyone else who could do that.”
The other discussion was prompted when I saw him wearing a tiny fielder’s glove, one even smaller than the comparatively small ones he wore during games. There had to be a purpose and I wanted to hear it from the master himself.
“Joe, tell me about that glove,” I opened. His detailed response was vintage Joe Morgan. “This is all about developing consistent habits. A glove this small forces the fielder to use his free hand to help secure the catch. Then, having the free hand in the glove with the ball forces a quicker transfer to throw the ball. Always use two hands for those reasons.”
Thanks Joe. It was my pleasure.
Sports Extra appears each Friday. Dave Ross covered Cincinnati Reds spring training from 1991-2018 and hopes to return in 2021.