Joe Morgan, the Hall of Fame second baseman who was the National League’s Most Valuable Player for two consecutive seasons and the engine of the Big Red Machine — the nickname of one of baseball’s most powerful teams, the Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s — died on Sunday at his home in Danville, Calif. He was 77.
A family spokesman said the cause was nonspecified polyneuropathy. Morgan had a bone-marrow transplant in 2016.
Morgan’s was the most recent in a string of recent deaths of baseball Hall of Famers, following those of Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and Whitey Ford.
For younger fans, Morgan may be mainly familiar as a television commentator, most memorably for ESPN, for which he shared a Sunday night broadcast booth with Jon Miller for 21 seasons. For anyone who saw Morgan play, however, especially in his finest years with the Reds, his performance on the field is far more memorable.
At 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds, Morgan, who was sometimes called Little Joe, was among the smallest great players in the history of the game. He was also among the greatest second basemen, and some, like Bill James, the groundbreaking interpreter of statistics, say he was the greatest of all.
He won five consecutive Gold Gloves, led National League second basemen in fielding percentage three times and finished second six others. In an era when sliding base runners routinely tried to take out the second baseman to prevent double plays, Morgan was known as especially tough in the pivot.
But he was most distinguished as a player for being a run-producing force at the plate and on the bases. Though his lifetime batting average over 22 seasons, .271, was not extraordinary, for six straight years in the heart of his career he hit .288 or better, walked more than 100 times and scored more than 100 runs. Four times in those six years, he led the league in on-base percentage.
He had surprising power for a man his size, testified to by four seasons of at least 22 home runs and 268 overall, and he was among the most accomplished base-stealers of all time, swiping 682 bases, baseball’s 11th highest total, in 851 attempts — an 81 percent success rate; only one player with more stolen bases, Tim Raines, was more efficient.
A complete obituary will be published shortly.