CINCINNATI - Nobody can say no to Joe Morgan – not even Bud Selig.
That’s why the Big Red Machine's "Great Eight" starting lineup are appearing together at Great American Ball Park for the first time as the team unveils Morgan's statue this weekend.
To Reds fans, that’s like reciting the names of the Gods of Mt. Olympus (or the Avengers, for you kids). With three Hall of Famers (Morgan, Bench and Perez – and Rose would have made four) and a supporting cast of All-Stars and Gold Glovers, they were the best Reds team of all time and one of the best baseball ever saw.
Morgan wanted all of them there Friday and Saturday to share the spotlight during "Joe Morgan Weekend.
"There were some really great players on that team – the Davey Concepcions, the Fosters, the Griffeys – and it’s just unfortunate we can’t put all eight of us up there,” Morgan told 9 On Your Side last spring when the Reds announced plans for a Morgan statue weekend.
See a photo gallery of highlights of Joe Morgan Weekend at http://www.wcpo.com/sports/sports-photo-gallery/joe-morgan-and-the-big-red-machine
So Morgan did the next best thing, working with Rick Walls, executive director of the Reds Hall of Fame & Museum, to bring them from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and all over the U.S.
“When you got a guy like Joe Morgan working with you, it’s not too difficult,” Walls said Wednesday, taking a little time out from last-minute preparations.
“Joe really wanted his teammates there. He looks at himself and his success as an extension of the team. It’s really neat that it’s happening, with Joe’s support.”
Even Selig signed off on having Rose there. The Reds had to get the commissioner’s OK since Rose has been banned from baseball since 1989 for gambling on games.
“That wasn’t a problem,” said Michael Anderson, Reds public relations manager. It will be the Rose’s second time on the field at GABP. While Selig has said no to reinstating the Hit King, he did allow him to participate in the 2010 ceremony celebrating the 25th anniversary of his 4,192nd hit in 1985, which broke Ty Cobb’s major-league record.
Walls talked excitedly, like a radio announcer calling a home run, about this weekend’s events during the home series with the Dodgers.
“The planning for the Joe Morgan statue weekend began as soon as the Johnny Bench statue weekend ended (in 2011),” Walls said.
“Johnny said it was the greatest moment of his career, and I think Joe’s going to feel the same way. I think we’re going to see a side of Joe we haven’t seen.”
The celebrating started with goose-bumps in the stands and a reunion on the field after Friday night's 3-2 win over the Dodgers. As their highlights played on the scoreboard, the Great Eight, wearing Reds caps and white jerseys, walked one by one out of the first-base dugout to their positions, raising their arms and caps as cheers washed over them.
Thirty-seven years have gone by since the Big Red Machine won their last World Series, but the fans embraced them – and the moment - as if it happened yesterday.
The players, too, were obviously moved. Rose had tears in his eyes. Bench started to get into a catcher's crouch, then thought the better of it. Morgan came last and patted Tony Perez on the back as he walked by.
The players lined up side-by-side in their usual batting order and Morgan spoke briefly, thanking his teammates and the crowd. Then they hugged. No high-fiving or low-fiving or fist-bumping. Just genuine hugs before they walked off the field.
At 10 a.m. Saturday, they will gather again for the dedication of Morgan’s statue outside the ballpark.
Sculptor Tom Tsuchiya, who created the five statues already there - Bench, Ted Kluszewski, Ernie Lombardi, Joe Nuxhall and Frank Robinson - features Morgan the basestealer in a one-of-a-kind design that captures his explosive burst off first base.
The Great Eight will join up again Saturday on the field for “Joe Morgan Day” festivities at 12:20 p.m., before the 1:05 p.m. game. Morgan will throw out the first pitch.
Standing-room-only tickets are available for $10.
The first 20,000 fans at Saturday's game get a free Joe Morgan T-shirt.
Walls expects other former Reds to join in the celebration.
“I think Tommy Helms and Lee May are coming. They’ll be the most important guys in the crowd,” Walls said, noting that the Reds traded the popular duo to the Astros in the blockbuster trade for Morgan before the 1972 season.
Fans can get a free Joe Morgan collectible sculpture with full-price admission to the Reds Hall of Fame & Museum on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in September, beginning this weekend (while supplies last.)
The Morgan exhibit just got a new premier attraction.
“Joe lent us his two National League MVP plaques,” Walls said.
It’s no coincidence that Morgan won his MVPs in 1975-76, the same years that the Big Red Machine won their World Series.
“For (those) two seasons, he was the best all-around player I have ever seen – and I’m including Ken Griffey, Jr., and Barry Bonds in that,” Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman has said.
Brennaman called Morgan the best all-around player on the Big Red Machine and Bench seconded that.
“He is probably the best player I ever played with,” Bench has said.
During his eight Reds seasons (1972-79), Morgan was an All-Star every year, the Reds won three National League pennants (1972, ’75, ’76), and five division titles (1972-73, ’75-76, ’79) and Morgan won five straight Gold Gloves (1973-77).
Morgan said the thrill of getting a statue outside Great American Ball Park will be as big as getting into Cooperstown.
“When I went into Cooperstown, I thought that was it – you’ve reached the pinnacle,” Morgan said. “But for the Cincinnati Reds and the city of Cincinnati to appreciate what I did enough to want to put a sculpture out front, it means I wasn’t finished.”
Read more about Joe Morgan Weekend at http://cincinnati.reds.mlb.com/cin/ticketing/morgan_weekend.jsp?partnerId=DC-9418954-23737662394-10080274-208054474
Watch or read his Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech at http://baseballhall.org/hof/morgan-joe
Watch his career highlights clip at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGG7dnyLEXg
Review his career stats at http://reds.mlb.com/team/player.jsp?player_id=119371&c_id=cin#gameType=%27R%27
Visit Joe Morgan's website at http://joemorgan8.com