Insight, News, and Opinion by Nick Abramo
  • March 3, 2021
Hall of Famer Joe Morgan — Who Died Sunday At 77 — Is Definitely A Member Of My All-Time Team

To me, Joe Morgan was the ultimate No. 2 hitter in a baseball lineup, with a great combination of power, spray, speed and overall hustle and determination. And, he had a knack for coming up clutch in the most needed of moments.

The Cincinnati Hall of Famer is no longer with us. He died Sunday at age 77 after a long, but his memory will endure. There is no doubt in my mind that if I was tasked to put together a lineup of all-time greats, Joe Morgan would be playing second base and he would be batting second.

The problem, however, is my team (picked Monday after learning of Morgan’s death) of eight position players and two pitchers is not built on speed and there are no full-time leadoff hitters in the bunch. So, instead of batting second, I’ve got Morgan hitting leadoff. Hey, I like speed just as much as the next guy, and Rickey Henderson, possibly the best leadoff hitter of all-time, tickles the fancy of many in the know, but Rickey was caught stealing 335 times to go along with his 1,406 stolen bases. And he’ll never beat out the left fielder in my lineup (more on that later).

Joe Morgan died Sunday at age 77. (Photo from BlogRedMachine.com).

Speaking of “my” lineup, it should be noted that this is a list of players who I appreciated while watching in person or on TV or came to appreciate after hearing of their exploits. Only two of the 10 came before my time. The eight others played during my youth and young adulthood, with only one making it into ballgames during this new century.

Watching home runs leave the park for the sake of leaving the park never interested me much, so there are no players named Barry Bonds (one of the greatest players of all-time in spite of his alleged steroid use) or Alex Rodriguez in this group.

Roger Clemens could have made it had he not gone awry by being implicated for steroid use and also going to those dreaded Yankees. Yes, this list is subjective — and that’s why there are three from the Boston Red Sox (my hometown team) on it.

These are the guys — some nowhere near the best of all-time in objective circles — who meant the most to me at all the positions. These are the guys who gave me that sense of awe … and there are many different reasons for putting them on the hand-picked pedestal.

Two guys not making it — due mainly to Boston bias — are Steve Garvey and Johnny Bench, who were the quintessential versions of their first base and catcher positions. But the Red Sox’s David Ortiz also doesn’t make it because there’s no spot for designated hitter.

Some other notable grand players who had a chance to make the cut but have been left off are: Tony Gwynn, Rod Carew, Pete Rose, Mickey Mantle, Wade Boggs, Lou Brock, Jim Palmer and Tom Seaver.

Like it or not, here’s my mostly old-school-style team from leadoff to the eighth spot in the order and the two pitchers:

STARTING LINEUP CARD

Joe Morgan, 2B, Cincinnati Reds

In today’s Cincinnati Enquirer, Johnny Bench is quoted as saying that Morgan is “the best baseball player” he has ever seen.

That’s saying something. The two were key parts of Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine in the 1970s that won World Series championships in 1975 and ’76 and finished as runners-up in 1970 (without Morgan) and ’72.

Morgan drove in the winning run in Game 7 of the ’75 World Series against my beloved Red Sox, but what I remember most about him was his intense concentration at the plate and at second base (.977 career fielding percentage).

During my lifetime, no other second baseman comes close to conjuring up Joe Morgan’s ability, accomplishments and value to his team.

Joe Morgan’s career totals:

>> NL MVP: 1975, 1976
>> World Series championships: Cincinnati Reds 1975, 1976
>> Batting average: .271
>> Fielding percentage: .977
>> NL Gold Gloves: 5
>> Seasons: 22
>> Games played: 2,649
>> Stolen bases: 689
>> Home runs: 268
>> RBIs: 1,133
>> Playing height: 5-7
>> Playing weight: 160
>> Bats/throws: L/R
>> All-Star Game appearances: 10
>> Hall of Fame induction: 1990

Nomar Garciaparra, SS, Boston Red Sox

There are a few places on this list that baseball aficionados will have a problem with the choices. Their line of thinking if reading this is likely to be: “Of all the people in the baseball world, how can you pick Garciaparra as your shortstop?”

The answer is simple for me. Without Garciaparra, the Red Sox would not have gotten to the point of winning the 2004 World Series, their first in 86 years, even though he was traded away due to injury and contract negotiation troubles a few months before they hoisted the banner.

Hey, I watched the Beantowners come close in 1967, 1975 and 1986 — losing 4-3 in the World Series each time — and Garciaparra is the shortstop who added the most value to any Red Sox team I recall. Yes, Rico Petrocelli was highly regarded and well average, but he never achieved superstar status. Garciaparra was the heart and soul of the Red Sox’s daily lineup as they built for years toward that elusive title.

And, in 2003, the last time I visited Fenway on a family trip from Hawaii (I’ve only been a handful of times to the hallowed ground since moving away from Marlboro, Mass., in 1989), I got my kids Garciaparra T-shirts. But, my lasting memory of that trip was standing in the beer line under the center field bleachers and thinking about how if the early 20th century Red Sox could win championships (1903, 1912, 1915, 1916, 1918), then the early 21st century squad could do it, too. I started thinking about jersey numbers and how maybe they would do it in 2005 (Garciaparra wore No. 5) or 2008 (Carl Yastrzemski wore No. 8) or even 2009 (Ted Williams wore No. 9).

Well, those focused and positive thoughts didn’t hurt the team’s future, right? And instead of those hand-picked possible years, they took it all in 2004 (when I celebrated with the family with a few margaritas at the Waikele Chili’s), 2007, 2013 and 2018. And they came close (losing to the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS) in that very same year of 2003.

I don’t take it as a coincidence that two of my kids wore those blue Garciaparra T-shirts on a camping trip the same day that the Red Sox came back to beat the Yankees after going down 3 games to 0 in the 2004 ALCS. A good luck charm for sure, those T-shirts, as far as I’m concerned. As mentioned before, Garciaparra was not on the team, and without him, the Sox defied the odds to win four straight to eliminate the Yankees to make it to the World Series, where they beat Saint Louis for the big one.

And Garciaparra will long be remembered as one of the best shortstops in the game during the meat of his career. People still debate whether or not he was better than Hall of Famer Derek Jeter of the Yankees during their peak seasons. It’s not a slam-dunk for Jeter, believe it or not.

Garciaparra was the AL Rookie of the Year in 1997 and he won AL batting titles in 1999 and 2000.

Nomar Garciaparra’s career totals:

>> World Series championship: 2004 Boston Red Sox (he has a ring)
>> AL Rookie of the Year: 1997
>> AL batting titles: 1999, 2000
>> Batting average: .313
>> Fielding percentage: .978
>> Seasons: 14
>> Games played: 1,434
>> Home runs: 229
>> RBIs: 936
>> Playing height: 6-0
>> Playing weight: 165
>> Bats/throws: R/R
>> All-Star Game appearances: 6

Ted Williams, LF, Boston Red Sox

On that trip to Fenway in 2003, I cried, filled with emotion, because I was sitting next to my son for his first game and I got to show him highlights of Ted Williams, who had died a year earlier, on the Jumbotron. Williams is still one of the biggest sports icons in New England.

Many remember that he’s the last major leaguer to bat higher than .400, but it’s a little known fact that he led the AL in batting with a hefty .388 mark in 1957 at age 38.

Hey, he makes the list because — aside from his incredible career accomplishments listed below — he’s the first name that pops up in most conversations about the greatest hitter who ever lived.

Williams is one of only two players on this list who I did not get to watch play on TV, but I was fortunate enough to interview him at Fenway for a story in 1986.

Ted Williams’ career totals:

>> AL MVP: 1946, 1949
>> AL Triple Crowns: 1942, 1947
>> AL batting titles: 1941 (.406), 1942 (.356), 1947 (.343), 1948 (.369), 1957 (.388), 1958 (.328)
>> AL home run titles: 1941 (37), 1942 (36), 1947 (32), 1949 (43)
>> AL RBI titles: 1939 (145), 1942 (137), 1947 (114), 1949 (159)
>> Batting average: .344
>> Fielding percentage: .974
>> Seasons: 19
>> Games played: 2,292
>> Home runs: 521
>> RBIs: 1,839
>> Playing height: 6-3
>> Playing weight: 205
>> Bats/throws: L/R
>> All-Star Game appearances: 19
>> Hall of Fame induction: 1966

Willie Mays, CF, San Francisco Giants

I watched Mays on TV playing for the San Francisco Giants and then the New York Mets as his career was winding down in the late 1960s. But the story of his career (I read books about him and Mickey Mantle in sixth grade) took my imagination by storm.

He did it all. Still regarded by many as the best ever to play center field, he’s also still No. 6 on the career home run list with 660. He also won a batting title and a World Series championship. He could steal bases and he was a 24-time All-Star.

And he made the most iconic catch in the history of the game. That catch on video below, however, was fortunate to come at a time when the baseball yards were a lot bigger. Outfielders running at full speed with their back to the plate like he did doesn’t happen these days because of the way-shorter fences.

Willie Mays’ career totals:

>> NL MVP: 1954, 1965
>> World Series championship: 1954 New York Giants
>> NL Rookie of the Year: 1951
>> NL batting title: 1954
>> NL home run titles: 1955 (51), 1962 (49), 1964 (47), 1965 (52)
>> Batting average: .302
>> Fielding percentage: .981
>> NL Gold Gloves: 12
>> Seasons: 22
>> Games played: 2,292
>> Stolen bases: 338
>> Home runs: 660
>> RBIs: 1,903
>> Playing height: 5-10
>> Playing weight: 170
>> Bats/throws: R/R
>> All-Star Game appearances: 24
>> Hall of Fame induction: 1979

Roberto Clemente, RF, Pittsburgh Pirates

I was watching a football game on TV the day after my 12th birthday in 1972 when the news that Roberto Clemente was killed in a plane crash was reported.

It was a stunner. Like Mays, Clemente’s name brought up images of gracefulness and a do-it-all ability. He had just won his second World Series title a little more than a year earlier and now he was suddenly gone at age 38.

It was his gun of a right arm that makes baseball connoisseurs go gaga. And he is still one of only 31 players who have ever finished their careers with 3,000 hits. On top of that, he won four NL batting titles.

Roberto Clemente’s career totals:

>> NL MVP: 1966
>> World Series championships: 1960, 1971
>> World Series MVP: 1971
>> NL batting titles: 1961, 1964, 1965, 1967
>> Batting average: .317
>> Fielding percentage: .972
>> NL Gold Gloves: 12
>> Seasons: 18
>> Games played: 2,370
>> Home runs: 240
>> RBIs: 1,305
>> Playing height: 5-11
>> Playing weight: 175
>> Bats/throws: R/R
>> All-Star Game appearances: 15
>> Hall of Fame induction: 1973

Carlton Fisk, C, Boston Red Sox

In my formative years as a fan in the late 60s, the Red Sox never had catchers who could hit.

Carlton Fisk changed that, winning the AL Rookie of the Year award in 1972 ,hitting .293 with 22 homers.

Then, in the 1975 World Series runner-up year, he hit .331 and — memorably — bashed a dramatic home run to win Game 6 and keep the Series against the Reds alive. A New Englander himself (raised in Charlestown, N.H.), he made the region proud.

But his staying power is what defines Fisk in my mind. He played 24 seasons, including a whopping 2,226 games at the most physically demanding position of catcher. And despite that load, he unleashed more than a couple of home runs (376) in his days with Boston and the Chicago White Sox.

Carlton Fisk’s career totals:

>> AL Rookie of the Year: 1972
>> Batting average: .269
>> Fielding percentage: .987
>> AL Gold Glove: 1
>> Seasons: 24
>> Games played: 2,499
>> Stolen bases: 128
>> Home runs: 376
>> RBIs: 1,330
>> Playing height: 6-3
>> Playing weight: 200
>> Bats/throws: R/R
>> All-Star Game appearances: 11
>> Hall of Fame induction: 2000

George Scott, 1B, Boston Red Sox

The first game I attended a game at Fenway Park, my dad and brother Dave told me to watch George Scott. It was 1968. They wanted me to see him hit, as Scott called them, a “tater” or, in layman’s terms, a home run.

Sitting on the first base side in box seats a few rows up from the field, I watched him get up to bat against the Minnesota Twins. That year, I also remember seeing what looked like one or two of Scott’s gold teeth on the photo on his Topps baseball card. He was unique looking.

George Scott’s gold teeth caught my eye. (Photo from Clarion-Ledger.com).

From what I remember in that game, Scott didn’t hit a home run, but he did hit a ball pretty high off the Green Monster in left field (maybe twice). I will never forget how I could actually hear a tinny sound of the ball hitting the wall. I was like, ‘Wow, I want to see (and hear) that again.”

The only thing more amazing that day was seeing the green of the field for the first time after climbing up the ramp. That took my breath away.

George Scott’s career totals:

>> AL home run title: 1975 (36)
>> AL RBI title: 1975 (109)
>> Batting average: .268
>> Fielding percentage: .988
>> AL Gold Gloves: 8
>> Seasons: 14
>> Games played: 2,034
>> Home runs: 271
>> RBIs: 1,051
>> Playing height: 6-2
>> Playing weight: 200
>> Bats/throws: R/R
>> All-Star Game appearances: 3

Brooks Robinson, 3B, Baltimore Orioles

A two-tiime World Series winner, Robinson is still regarded as one of the best third baseman to play the game.

And without a doubt, it was my brother Dave who tipped me off to Robinson’s greatness, pointing him out while we watched the 1970 World Series on TV. That year, Robinson captured the series MVP.

“What makes him so good,” I asked Dave.

“His defense” he replied. “He is like a vacuum cleaner out there, getting all the grounders that come his way.”

Defense in all sports is huge to me, but that was the first time I took it to heart that playing sound (or in Robinson’s case, spectacular) defense actually meant something.

Robinson also had some pop at the plate, with 268 career round-trippers. He hit two homers in that 1970 World Series (see video below).

Brooks Robinson’s career totals:

>> AL MVP: 1964
>> World Series championships: 1966, 1970
>> World Series MVP: 1970
>> AL RBI title: 1964 (118)
>> Batting average: .267
>> Fielding percentage: .971
>> AL Gold Gloves: 16
>> Seasons: 23
>> Games played: 2,896
>> Home runs: 268
>> RBIs: 1,357
>> Playing height: 6-1
>> Playing weight: 180
>> Bats/throws: R/R
>> All-Star Game appearances: 18
>> Hall of Fame induction: 1983

Sandy Koufax, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

As a writer covering high school baseball in Hawaii in the 1990s shortly after moving here, one of the isle coaches referred to one opposing pitcher as “Lefty Curveball.”

Those types of crafty hurlers are hard to hit, especially if you are a high school batter.

Sandy Koufax, a southpaw, often made major league hitters look like they were flailing away. He is the second (along with the “Splendid Splinter” Ted Williams) on this list whose career I did not witness on TV.

But he was so dominant, winning three Cy Young Awards and being a part of four championships in an 11-season span for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. In addition, he finished as NL strikeouts leader four times and won the ERA crown five times.

And the fact that he threw four no-hitters is a really nice icing on the cake, making him a shoo-in for this list.

Sandy Koufax’s career totals:

>> NL MVP: 1963
>> World Series championships: 1955, 1959, 1963, 1965
>> World Series MVP: 1963, 1965
>> Cy Young Awards: 1963, 1965, 1966
>> NL Triple Crowns (wins, strikeouts, ERA): 1963, 1965, 1966
>> NL wins leader: 1963 (25), 1965 (26), 1966 (27)
>> NL strikeouts leader: 1961 (269), 1963 (306), 1965 (382), 1966 (.317)
>> NL ERA leader: 1962 (2.54), 1963 (1.88), 1964 (1.74), 1965 (2.04), 1966 (1.73)
>> Record: 165-87
>> ERA: 2.76
>> Seasons: 12
>> Games played: 397
>> Playing height: 6-2
>> Playing weight: 210
>> Bats/throws: R/L
>> All-Star Game appearances: 7
>> Hall of Fame induction: 1972

Bob Gibson, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

In Little League as an 11-year-old, there were two dominant pitchers in Marlboro, Mass., that put fear into batters around the league. Honestly, I was frightened.

My guess is Bob Gibson made a few major leaguers more than nervous during his career. He was known as an intimidator who often had a scowl on his face.

Take a look at the photo below. He looks like a bird of prey flying off the hill. He was coming for you and he often got you. And he was a thorn in the side of the Boston Red Sox, with three complete-game victories in the ’67 World Series to deny my hometown team’s “Impossible Dream” of a world title.

Gibson won nine Gold Gloves and probably his best stat ever was when he led the NL with a 1.12 ERA in 1968.

Bob Gibson follows through on a pitch. (Photo from ScoopsWithDannyMac.com).
Bob Gibson’s career totals:

>> NL MVP: 1968
>> World Series championships: 1964, 1967
>> World Series MVPs: 1964, 1967
>> Cy Young Awards: 1968, 1970
>> NL wins leader: 1970 (23)
>> NL strikeouts leader: 1968 (268)
>> NL ERA leader: 1968 (1.12)
>> Record: 251-174
>> ERA: 2.91
>> NL Gold Gloves: 9
>> Seasons: 17
>> Games played: 528
>> Playing height: 6-1
>> Playing weight: 189
>> Bats/throws: R/R
>> All-Star Game appearances: 9

——

RELATED STORY AT BEDROCK SPORTS HAWAII: Bobby Orr, Muhammad Ali And Doug Flutie Picked For BedrockSportsHawaii’s Hall of Fame Inaugural Class

——

The Top 10 Most-Read Stories At BedrockSportsHawaii.com:

As of Oct. 8, 2020

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(June 15)
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7. The Spirited, Six-Decade Adventures Of Surfer Joe (July 13)
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