Joe Morgan: Durham's First Hall of Famer
Joe Leonard Morgan, known affectionately as "Little Joe" to Reds fans, stood tall for "The Big Red Machine" Cincinnati Reds; the team of the 1970's. He was also the first Durham Bulls player to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990. Though his time in Durham
Joe Leonard Morgan, known affectionately as "Little Joe" to Reds fans, stood tall for "The Big Red Machine" Cincinnati Reds; the team of the 1970's. He was also the first Durham Bulls player to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990.
Though his time in Durham was brief - just a 95-game stint during the 1963 campaign - his legacy endures in Durham. His number 18 that he wore with the Bulls became the first number retired by the organization on June 17, 1993. In addition to being in attendance that day at Durham Athletic Park, Morgan returned to the Bull City in 2002 when the Bulls held a ceremony to have his number retired at the DBAP.
He was promoted to Durham from the Modesto Colts at the age of 19. Not a single four-year college had offered him a scholarship, which brought him to Oakland City College, where he excelled and drew the attention of the Houston Colt 45s. He had signed for just $5,000 in November 1962.
"To be honest with you, I didn't do a lot in Durham or around Durham," Morgan told Indy Week in 2008. " I would walk to the ball park, play the game and walk back. It was a great experience. It was really nice for me to play in a place where I could relax and learn to play baseball. And that's all I was there for, to play baseball. I did not go out a lot, socialize or whatever. I was there as a baseball player."
Morgan was excellent in his lone season in Durham, saying he learned much about hitting from Billy Goodman, his player-manager in Durham who had won the American League batting title in 1950.
"I learned a lot from him...I learned a lot," Morgan said in 2008 of Goodman. "He talked to me about hitting and what I should look for and what I shouldn't."
In is 95 contests with the Bulls he hit .332 (74-322) with 74 runs, 20 doubles, two triples, 13 homers and 43 RBI. He displayed a remarkable eye at the plate, drawing 91 walks compared to just 38 strikeouts. He also sported an outstanding 1.010 on-base plus slugging percentage.
During his induction speech, Morgan spoke of how fortunate he felt to have played in Durham.
"I was lucky because I got to play in Durham. I was one of the original Durham Bulls in reality."— Durham Bulls (@DurhamBulls) October 13, 2020
Joe Morgan in his 1990 @baseballhall induction speech reflected on lessons learned as a Durham Bull from his manager Billy Goodman. pic.twitter.com/jKSP0x2kHj
Morgan would go on to make his Major League debut with Houston later that year on September 23, 1963. After ten seasons in Houston, he was traded to the Reds on November 29, 1971.
All told, he would earn two Most Valuable Player Awards, in addition to receiving ten All-Star selections and five Gold Glove Awards. He retired after the 1984 season to conclude a 22-year career that saw him amass over 2500 hits while displaying masterful defense at second base. He is considered among the greatest second baseman to ever play.
While many knew Morgan as a ballplayer, an entire generation also knew Morgan as a broadcaster, with high profile assignments that included World Series broadcasts and Sunday Night Baseball. He also was board vice chairman of baseball's Hall of Fame and on the board of the Baseball Assistance Team.
Sadly, Morgan passed away on October 11, 2020 at the age of 77. His legacy in Durham and on the game of baseball itself will continue on forever.