In retrospect, it may be hard to appreciate how unpopular the trade was at the time it was made. But for Reds fans examining the details of the trade in November of 1971, it appeared to be a painfully lopsided deal in which the Reds came out on the short end. In one fell swoop, the club had dealt away the right side of its infield. Gone were popular first baseman Lee May and second baseman Tommy Helms. Both were homegrown products who had enjoyed considerable success with the Reds. Helms was a Rookie of the Year Award-winner, a two-time All-Star and a two-time Gold Glove winner. May had also been a two-time All-Star and had been the Reds' MVP in 1971. Both players had been key contributors to the Reds' 1970 NL pennant-winning club. Also traded away was fan-favorite Jimmy Stewart, one of the game's most versatile bench players.
In return, the Reds received second baseman Joe Morgan, a player who had been an All-Star but who was comparatively unknown and was saddled with the unfair reputation of having a difficult attitude. Along with Morgan, the Reds received a young pitcher named Jack Billingham, light-hitting third baseman Denis Menke and outfielders Cesar Geronimo and Ed Armbrister. Geronimo had appeared in a grand total of 169 games over parts of three seasons while Armbrister had yet to play a game above the AA level in the minor leagues. Reds fans were aghast. The team had traded two of its stars for one established player and a group of players that most fans had never heard of. Fans and the media were in agreement: Bob Howsam had just been fleeced. Sparky Anderson knew better. After the trade was announced, he confidently told Anderson that Howsam that with this trade, Howsam had "just won the pennant for the Reds."
Of course, Sparky was correct. With the trade, seeds of the peak years of the Big Red Machine had been planted. The speed that Howsam correctly identified was lacking on his club was significantly augmented with the addition of Morgan and Geronimo. Billingham developed into the workhorse of the Reds' starting rotation and both Menke and Armbrister made important contributions to the club's success.
The Morgan trade was one of many savvy deals the Howsam regime completed in building the Big Red Machine. From 1968 - 1977, Howsam's trading acumen brought to Cincinnati notable Big Red Machine members Clay Carroll, Woody Woodward, Bobby Tolan, Wayne Granger, Jim Merritt, Bill Plummer, Jim McGlothlin, Pedro Borbon, George Foster, Fred Norman and Tom Seaver.