"C'mon, let's go," said Little Joe Morgan, opening the car door. "I'm a movin' man, you know. Got to run over to San Francisco now and get some cues and chalk and stuff for my new pool table, then got to play some golf. We can do all our talking on the move."
Morgan had just spoken at a luncheon at the Lemington Hotel in Oakland, where he had told the members of the Kiwanis Club, "You American League fans know me as the little guy from Cincinnati who hit that darn blooper that beat Boston in the World Series." He also had recently returned from the Super-teams competition in Hawaii. "The Reds beat the Red Sox easy, but we lost the finals to the Steelers," Morgan said as he left the hotel. "They didn't cheat this time, like they did in that playoff game with my Raiders in January when they let the sides of the field get all iced up so the Raiders couldn't work their down-and-out passes. At the Superteams, it came down to the last event, the tug-of-war, and we had no chance. The Steelers' smallest guy must've outweighed me by at least 100 pounds."
Morgan steered his lime-green-and-cream Cadillac for the Bay Bridge toll booth with the shortest line. "Hey, lend me a half a buck, will you?" he said. Morgan took the two quarters and handed them to the attendant, then slowly pulled away from the booth. Fred Lynn's name entered the conversation. Had the National League's Most Valuable Player talked much with the American League's Most Valuable Player on baseball's banquet circuit?
"I got to know Fred in Hawaii," Morgan said. "He's a great kid, really smart, but I'm worried about him. To be a star, to stay a star, I think you've got to have a certain air of arrogance about you, a cockiness, a swagger on the field that says, 'I can do this, and you can't stop me.' Like when I get to first base and take my lead, the way I take that lead—the mannerisms I use—tells the pitcher, 'I'm going, and what're you planning to do about it?' I know that I play baseball with this air of arrogance, but I think it's lacking in a lot of guys who have the potential to be stars. You know, once you get tapped as a star, once you have the type of year that Freddy had, they're always after you. They say, 'We've got to stop this guy Morgan or this guy Lynn from getting on base.' The concentration on you is harder than it is on any .250 hitter. To be a star, to stay a star, you've got to cope with all this and still be able to do what you want." Morgan spotted the billiards supply store and angled his car against the curb.
"What worries me about Lynn is that he doesn't seem to have this air of arrogance," said Morgan. "It's always been part of my makeup. Maybe it comes from being a little guy. I've always been a lot pushier than other people. Joe Morgan has never waited for things to happen. No, sir. Joe Morgan has always made things happen."
Little Joe Morgan's 1975 happenings included a National League pennant and a World Championship for the Cincinnati Reds and a Most Valuable Player Award for himself, which he won 321�-154 over Philadelphia's Greg Luzinski in the most lopsided MVP balloting in league history. On the field the 5'7", 157-pound Morgan did not simply swagger with arrogance. He radiated it with every action, from the savage pumps of his muscular left arm as he awaited pitches to the brash way he called his teammates off infield pops. Morgan won his third straight Gold Glove award for fielding excellence, led the league with 132 bases on balls, finished second in stolen bases with 67 in 77 attempts, was fourth in hitting with a .327 average and fourth in runs scored with 107, had 17 home runs, drove in 94 runs and hit into only three ground-ball double plays, a league low. Morgan also tied Tony Perez as the Reds' leader in game-winning hits with 15.
In the National League playoffs against Pittsburgh, Morgan destroyed the Pirates with four stolen bases, and in the World Series against the Red Sox he won the controversial third game with a 10th-inning single and the climactic seventh game with what he now affectionately calls "that darn blooper" in the ninth inning. As a reward for all these accomplishments, the 32-year-old Morgan—pound for pound or by any other determination the most complete player in baseball—recently signed a contract that increased his annual salary from $1,000 per pound to more than $1,200 per pound, or a total of $200,000 for the 1976 season.
"I'm very proud of that darn blooper," Morgan said during the drive back across the bridge to Oakland. "Very few players in the big leagues would have made contact with that pitch, believe me. In fact, the kid [Jim Burton] made an almost perfect pitch to me, a slider low and away. Three or four years ago I definitely would have struck out on that pitch. I have very good discipline at the plate, and at that moment all I wanted to do was hit a single to center field. That discipline kept me from pulling off the pitch, kept the pitch from being too far away from me, like it would have been for a normal hitter." Morgan thought for a moment. " Dick Groat told me years ago not to believe the old baseball saying that your blooper hits and your line-drive outs even up during a year. He was 100% correct. I've hit far more line drives that have been caught than darn bloopers that have dropped in, simply because good hitters like me hit more line drives than bloopers. Think about the Series. Dwight Evans [the Sox Rightfielder] robbed me of what probably would have been a Series-winning home run in the sixth game, then I won it the next night with my only blooper in seven games."
Morgan drove to the Alameda municipal golf course about 10 miles from the Oakland airport, parked behind the pro shop, opened the trunk of his car and transferred his golf clubs from a bulky green-and-white tournament bag to a lighter Sunday bag. "There are no caddies here, just pull carts, so I'll lug my own clubs around and walk for the exercise," he said.
Morgan pushed his drive on the first hole, and the ball disappeared into a ditch. "Mulligan," he shouted, teeing up another ball. This time he cracked a perfect drive, drawing the ball into the center of the fairway. He followed that shot with a high eight-iron approach to within four feet of the cup, but pulled his putt and missed an easy birdie. "The trouble with this Arnold Palmer putter of mine is that I'm using it like Arnold Palmer," Morgan groaned. "I haven't sunk a putt in months. I think I'm going to switch back to my Jack Nicklaus putter on the next hole." He did, but he pulled another makable birdie putt. "I guess it's me, not the putter," he said. "All I know is that this game's a lot more frustrating than baseball."