Joe Morgan was one of the greatest second baseman to ever step on an MLB diamond. He was adored by Cincinnati Reds fans and respected in every other ballpark he played. After he retired following the 1984 season, Morgan moved up to the broadcast booth where he worked for 25 years.
Morgan’s broadcast style rubbed some fans the wrong way and he was criticized for it. Former broadcast partner Jon Miller was recently reflecting back on Morgan’s life and their time together in the booth and recalled a story about a time when Spike Lee made a surprise appearance. What happened next was quintessential Joe Morgan.
Joe Morgan has Hall of Fame career
Joe Morgan played for an impressive 22 MLB seasons. The first nine he played for the Houston Astros. In 1972, the Astros traded him to the Cincinnati Reds and his career trajectory changed forever.
With the Reds, Morgan became a perennial All-Star. In 1975 and 1976, Morgan earned NL MVP honors. During those same two seasons, he and the Big Red Machine composed of Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, and Dave Concepcion, won back-to-back World Series titles.
After 1979, Joe Morgan returned to Houston for a season and played the next four seasons with four different clubs before retiring after 1984. He finished his career with a .271 batting average and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.
Joe Morgan transitions to broadcast booth
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Joe Morgan initially joined the broadcast team with the Cincinnati Reds in 1985 and was there for former teammate Pete Rose’s record-breaking hit. A year later, ESPN hired Morgan.
With such a high profile, there was bound to be criticism. And there was plenty. Morgan’s insight and analysis often included his opinion. And that opinion often got push back from others, especially on the Internet, which was just becoming a popular place to provide feedback.
There was even a website created called firejoemorgan.com, which often criticized Morgan and his analysis because it was viewed as outdated with the growing use of advanced metrics and data. One of the website’s co-creators, Mike Schur, who was also a writer for the television show The Office, explained on the ESPN Daily podcast how they came up with the site name.
“Yeah, we always regretted that we named the site ‘Fire Joe Morgan’ because we didn’t want the guy to be fired, really,” said Schur. “It was a crass, sort of early internet version of making noise and banging on a pot and calling attention to yourself.”
Morgan challenges Spike Lee in broadcast booth exchange
While Joe Morgan was known for sharing his opinions on the game in the booth, he wasn’t shy about offering his thoughts on other subjects when he deemed it appropriate. One such instance happened one night when Spike Lee showed up unexpectedly in the booth at Fenway Park, not long after his movie “Inside Man” had hit theaters.
Morgan’s former ESPN broadcasting partner Jon Miller explained on The Rich Eisen Show that after Morgan introduced Lee to him, he then complimented the director on his new movie. Morgan then interjected.
“Joe starts grilling about, ‘How come you haven’t started that Jackie Robinson movie, yet?’ And Spike Lee is very defensive,” Miller told Eisen. ‘Well, I can’t get the funding for it. The people are not stepping up.’ And Joe says, ‘Maybe you’re not trying hard enough. Maybe I should go with you the next time and talk to these people.’ It was as if Spike Lee works for Joe,” Miller said laughing.
Miller said as the conversation continued, Lee was getting exasperated trying to explain to Morgan all the different people he had talked to about funding, but no one was coming through with the finances. Then, Morgan offered up another thought.
“Another thing, I liked your movie ‘Inside Man,’ but you made a mistake when this happened, and that happened,” Miller echoed Morgan, with Eisen laughing hysterically.
Joe Morgan’s legacy on the baseball field will be remembered for his many achievements in his 22-year career. He will also be remembered for his broadcast days, but he won’t be remembered as fondly by some depending on their perspective. Just ask Spike Lee.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.