Morgan went into the Hall of Fame in 1990, garnering nearly 82 percent of the vote. To me, Morgan is an "inner-circle" Hall of Famer - a player who was so good that he was elected the first year he was placed on the ballot.
That’s why I so surprised to find that, except for a six-year period from 1972 to 1977, Joe Morgan was not a particularly good offensive player.
Morgan’s peak – a six-year period during which the Reds won two World Series and X National League pennants – set the tone for the legacy by which he is still remembered today. To say that Morgan was merely the best player in baseball during that time is an understatement. (The great Joe Posnanski has more about Morgan’s mid-1970s dominance here.)
However, Morgan actually played in parts of 22 seasons, beginning in 1963 and ending in 1984. The first part of his career was spent in Houston, where he broke in at the age of 19. Morgan’s first full season was in 1965 when, at the age of 21, he began a string of three straight seasons with an OPS+ of 130 or higher. Stardom beckoned, but something went wrong in 1968, where what I presume was an injury kept him out of action for all but 10 games that year.
Morgan seemed to stagnate in the three seasons that followed, putting up a seasonal OPS+ of 109, 113 and 116. He was an above-average player each year, but he was not fulfilling the promise that his Age 21 to 23 seasons suggested.
That changed when Morgan was traded to the Reds in 1972, and began his six-year run of excellence that Posnanski can speak to better than I can. Morgan’s decline began in 1978, his second-to-last season with Cincinnati, with a .250 batting average and a 105 OPS+ that signaled
his best days were behind him. Except for a brief rejuvenation in 1982 with San Francisco, Morgan never again approached the lofty heights of his first six years in Cincinnati (or even his three best years in Houston).
In all, Joe Morgan was an incredible baseball player for 6 years – and a slightly above average player for the 0ther 16 seasons he played.
Morgan (1972-77): .301/.429/.495
Morgan (1963-71; 1978-84): .256/.373/.392
Morgan (6 seasons): 167 2B, 26 3B, 130 HR, 359 SB, 709 BB
Morgan (16 seasons): 282 2B, 70 3B, 138HR, 330 SB, 1,156 BB