Little Joe Was In Right Place at Right Time, But Cooperstown Is The Wrong Place
Take Joe Morgan out of the Big Red Machine lineup, and you still have an engine with ample power to win multiple championships. Take the Big Red Machine away from Joe Morgan, and you are left with the mediocre second baseman he was before and after his term in Cincinnati.
No player in the Hall of Fame has ever benefited as much from the lineup around him than Morgan, who batted behind all-time hits king Pete Rose and ahead of Cooperstown sluggers like Johnny Bench and Tony Perez. And even with those legends protecting him the Reds lineup, Morgan still mustered only marginal statistics during his career.
Morgan ended his playing days with .271 career average, an unimpressive number when you take into account that he hit .288 with the Reds but below .270 for the other four teams. His first eight years in the Bigs, before joining the Reds, Morgan batted just .261 for the Houston Colt 45s-Astros.
He averaged an un-Cooperstown-like sixteen home runs a year overall, yet 25 as a member of the Reds. Prior to that Morgan mustered double figures in homers just three times.
To further illustrate how much Morgan depended on the guys hitting around him, examine his numbers after those teammates left. Having had back to back seasons of hitting .320 from 75-76, Morgan began a quick tailspin when Tony Perez departed in 1977.
His average sank nearly forty points after Doggie left, while his slugging dropped from .576 to .478. His numbers took an even bigger hit the next season, when the man who batted before him left Cincinnati.
Pete Rose joined the Montreal Expos in 1978, and his absence certainly affected Morgan's production. His average plummeted another fifty two points to .236, while his home runs fell from 22 to 13.
His last season with Cincinnati was 1979, when his numbers dipped a little more. His nine home runs and .250 batting average that year pretty much duplicate the numbers he maintained with Houston during his eight years there, when there was no Pete Rose nor Johnny Bench nor Tony Perez to protect him in the batting order.
Cincinnati's front office of course recognized that Morgan on his own was a mediocre player, so they let him bolt as a free agent that winter. He returned to Houston, where he fared even worse than during his first tenure.
His average dipped to .243, his lowest mark since 1969. Sadly, both his average and his power dwindled in each of his last four seasons, spent with the San Francisco Giants, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Oakland Athletics.
Being in the right place at the right time is what got Joe Morgan into the Hall of Fame, and to his credit he did take advantage of it during his stint with the Big Red Machine. Luck alone, however, should not grant you induction into Cooperstown, which was obviously Morgan's biggest tool.
He spent significant time with several ballclubs, yet he only excelled with the one lined with legitimate stars. His failure to produce away from those teammates should have kept Morgan from enshrinement, especially when you consider one of this year's inductees.
Larry Walker, like Morgan, spent significant time with several teams. Unlike Little Joe, though, Walker's numbers were consistently great wherever and with whomever he played.