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Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt remembers Joe Morgan, ‘God’s gift to baseball’

Joe Morgan’s eye-popping Hall of Fame ledger does not include any saves, but he did earn one in his career.

Morgan, who died at 77 on Sunday, spent the 1983 season with the Phillies and helped the club win the National League pennant.

In May of that season, Mike Schmidt was in the throes of a hellacious slump. Schmidt’s struggles reached an agonizing crescendo in a game against Montreal at Veterans Stadium on May 28.

“I struck out four times on 12 pitches,” Schmidt said Monday. “You can look it up.”

We did.

He was right.

In the top of the ninth inning, the game was delayed for 18 minutes by rain. His misery prolonged, Schmidt retreated to the clubhouse. He was beside himself.

“I was actually thinking about retiring, getting in my car in full uniform and driving home,” he said.

Morgan walked over to Schmidt in the clubhouse and provided his forlorn teammate with a little pep talk, one future Hall of Famer to another.

It worked.

After play resumed, Morgan singled in the bottom of the ninth inning. Two batters later, Schmidt clubbed a two-run homer to give the Phillies a 5-3 walkoff win.

“If it wasn’t for Joe, I might have retired,” Schmidt said with a laugh.

So now you see how Morgan ended up with one save on a Hall of Fame resume that includes two World Series championships, two National League MVP awards, ten All-Star berths and five Gold Gloves.

The story of how the greatest second baseman of all time “saved” the career of the greatest third baseman of all time is just one of the memories that remain close to Schmidt’s heart in the wake of his old friend and teammate’s passing.

 

“That was a great era of baseball and not many players had Joe’s stature in the game,” Schmidt said. “He was a complete player, a great competitor and a polished man who was respected by all. 

“He oozed leadership.”

Schmidt saw that quality as an opponent when the Phillies went up against the Cincinnati Reds Big Red Machine clubs of the 1970s and later as a teammate when Morgan, on the downside of his career, was traded from the San Francisco Giants to the Phillies before the 1983 season.

It proved to be an important trade for the Phillies because they also acquired closer Al Holland in the deal. He actually got real saves – 25 of them – and finished sixth in NL Cy Young voting and ninth in MVP voting.

“Huge trade,” Schmidt said. “Al Holland was a big reason we got there and so was Joe. He really helped me a lot.”

In Philadelphia, Morgan was reunited with former Big Red Machine teammates Pete Rose and Tony Perez. Rose and Perez were both in their early 40s in 1983 and Morgan was 39. That team was lovingly known as the Wheeze Kids, a takeoff on the Whiz Kids of 1950.

“There were a lot of reasons why we were a great team in ’83,” Schmidt said. “Those older guys, Morgan, Perez and Rose, were a lot of fun to be around. They were always jabbing at each other. The entire season was like a big frat house.

“We knew those guys and what they had accomplished because the Big Red Machine beat the crap out of us and we watched them on TV. They were the class of baseball and then all of a sudden they were in our clubhouse. How much fun was that?”

Morgan played 117 games at second base for the 1983 Phils and had 20 doubles, 16 homers, 59 RBIs and 18 stolen bases. 

After admiring Morgan from afar, Schmidt enjoyed getting to see what made his teammate tick in 1983.

“He was such a complete player, a five-tool player before we really heard the expression,” Schmidt said. “He used this tiny, little glove at second base and could turn the double play so quickly. I remember playing against him and having him lined up for a takeout slide a couple of times and it was like, ‘Where did he go?’ He was gone. He was so quick.

“He was the heart and soul of the Big Red Machine and when he came to us, I realized what a smart player he was. He had this deep knowledge of the game. We’d sit and talk about the game all the time. He was like having another coach or assistant manager on the field. 

“In some ways, he was like Chase (Utley). He had this deep sense of the game and a knack for saying the right thing. He knew a play might happen before it even happened. He was always thinking one step ahead. We saw that with Chase and we saw it with Joe.”

 

After a 22-year playing career, Morgan moved on to a national broadcasting career. He served on the Hall of Fame’s board of directors for 27 years and spent 10 years as a senior adviser in the Reds front office.

“Joe was everywhere,” Schmidt said. “He was like God’s gift to baseball. He spent his entire life making the game better. The good Lord took him way too soon.”

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