As part of the Astros' 50th anniversary, the weekly "Game to Remember" series features a former Astros/Colt .45s great discussing his favorite game while playing for the Houston franchise. This week: Joe Morgan.
Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan is known more for his work with the Big Red Machine of the Cincinnati Reds, a club he helped lead to a pair of World Series titles in the 1970s, than he is with Houston. Morgan played 22 years in the Major Leagues, but many forget he spent more seasons with the Astros/Colt .45s than any other team.
Morgan was signed as an amateur by the Colt .45s and played for the franchise, which switched its name to the Astros in 1965, for nine years until being traded away following the 1971 season. He returned to the Astros for one season in '80, and some of his most indelible baseball moments occurred while in Houston.
Game to Remember
Joe Morgan Facts and Figures
1. Full name: Joe Leonard Morgan.
2. Game to Remember: Sept. 21, 1963 (Phillies 4, Colt .45s 3).
14. Claim to fame: Morgan teamed with Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Johnny Bench and Dave Concepcion to lead the Reds to World Series titles in 1975-76. A two-time NL MVP and 10-time All-Star, he drove in the winning run in Game 7 of the 1975 World Series and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000.
15. Did you know? Morgan broke his kneecap on June 25, 1966, when he was struck by a line drive by a teammate during batting practice and missed 40 games that season. The Astros won only 11 of those 40 games sans Morgan.
16. What's he doing now? Morgan was a successful broadcaster for ESPN following his playing career and currently is a special advisor to baseball operations for the Reds. He's also on the board of directors for the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
For Morgan, no moment was bigger than his Major League debut, which came on Sept. 21, 1963, for the Colt .45s against the Philadelphia Phillies. There were only 2,231 fans at Colt Stadium that day, and a 20-year-old Morgan had just been called up from the Durham Bulls of the Carolina League.
"When you're a kid growing up, you say you want to make it to the Major Leagues, and when you reach that dream, that's what it's all about," Morgan said. "I can still remember buttoning my last button in that Colt clubhouse. I can still remember where I was standing and the whole thing. That's your first Major League game, your first time putting on a Major League uniform, and that's something special."
So how did Morgan perform that day?
"I can't remember that," he said with a laugh.
For the record, Morgan pinch-hit for pitcher Don Nottebart in the third inning and popped out to second base. Morgan did have a game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth inning a day later, which is something he couldn't forget.
That was the start of a brilliant Major League career during which Morgan won back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player Awards and World Series titles with the Reds in 1975 and '76. The 10-time All-Star was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1990.
But it all started in Houston.
"I still have very close ties to Houston and the Astros because that was my first team," Morgan said. "I was fortunate enough to play on two World Series championship teams, but the first day I put on that uniform is still the highlight of my career."
Morgan has made has made it clear he never wanted to leave the Astros, who traded him in a lopsided deal that boosted the Reds. Houston general manager Spec Richardson, in an effort to get the Astros more power, traded Morgan, Dennis Menke, Cesar Geronimo and Jack Billingham to Cincinnati in exchange for slugger Lee May, All-Star second baseman Tommy Helms and utility player Jimmy Stewart.
Morgan had been a part of a young, up-and-coming nucleus with the Astros that included Cesar Cedeno, Jimmy Wynn, Bob Watson and Rusty Staub.
"I did not want to get traded from here," Morgan said. "Most people may not remember that. I loved Houston and wanted to continue to play here, and a lot of my friends were here. Jimmy Wynn was my roommate, and me and Rusty Staub were great friends. I would have loved to stay here."
Morgan returned for one season in 1980 and started at second base for an Astros team that won the NL West in a one-game playoff against Dodgers. Morgan believes Houston may have won the World Series that year had star pitcher J.R. Richard not suffered a stroke midway through the season.
In many ways, he sees the current Astros in the same way he did the Houston teams of the early 1970s -- bursting with young talent. Morgan only hopes the Astros' prospects have a chance to stay together and win in Houston, which is something he never got to do.
"You have to wait for these young players to mature," he said. "I wish we would have done that with my Astros teams back in the day, and maybe we would have won a championship here instead of me winning two in Cincinnati."