CINCINNATI - Joe Morgan might still be on Cloud Eight.
One of the Reds' all-time greats had three of the highest highs a baseball player could have in a lifetime, all in the same weekend.
Morgan and his wife and daughters unwrapped his life-size bronze statue in its place of honor on the corner of Second Street and Joe Nuxhall Way outside Great American Ball Park Saturday morning, surrounded by his “Great Eight” Big Red Machine teammates and several thousand adoring fans.
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
At the ceremony, Reds owner Bob Castellini explained why No. 8's statue – a one-of-a-kind sculpture that depicts him breaking out of his long lead off first base – was placed at the main entrance to Crosley Terrace, in front of the four others already there and Johnny Bench’s at Johnny Bench Way.
"We're going to draw about 2.5 million people here," Castellini said. "This is the busiest corner in Cincinnati. Who better to preside over our gateway? I can think of no one better than you, Joe, to make a first impression on our visitors."
Morgan recalled the unveiling of Bench's sculpture two years ago, when Bench said it was a bigger thrill than being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y.
"I remember him saying, ‘This is the greatest day of my career,'" Morgan said. "I started fiddling with my Hall of Fame ring, because as a player, the ultimate goal is to get to the Hall of Fame."
He paused and looked at Bench, seated behind him.
"Johnny, you were right. Today is a better day," Morgan said. "The Hall of Fame is about numbers and playing on great teams. You only get a statue or a sculpture if they want you to be remembered."
The Joe Morgan Weekend celebration began Friday night with a thrilling post-game ceremony on the field with all of the Big Red Machine starting lineup from the 1975 and '76 World Championship teams - including Pete Rose.
"I want to thank Commissioner Bud Selig for allowing us to have the Great Eight on the field last night," Morgan said Saturday before the unveiling. "It's an unbelievable experience to be with all of my teammates."
It was Morgan’s idea that all of them would share the spotlight, and that’s what happened, beginning with their triumphant return Friday night to the city that worships them.
The heroes, wearing Reds caps and their jerseys, walked to their positions on the field to the recorded blaring of trumpets in a symphony, as if the Roman legions were entering the Colosseum.
The post-game nostalgia fest gave goose-bumps to everyone in the crowd and brought Rose to tears.
The Reds had to get Selig to allow Rose on the field since Rose has been banned from baseball since 1989 for gambling on games. It was only the second time Rose appeared on the field at GABP. The first was in 2010 when the Reds celebrated the 25th anniversary of his 4,192nd hit in 1985, which broke Ty Cobb’s major-league record.
Morgan was the one with tears in his eyes Saturday afternoon when the Great Eight was back on the field for another ceremony before the sold-out game with the Dodgers.
As the scoreboard played highlight videos, each player entered from the far end of the third-base dugout and walked one at a time down a red carpet along the third-base line, with broadcaster Marty Brennaman making the introductions, in reverse batting order.
Brennaman started by proclaiming the Great Eight as “the best starting lineup in Reds history – and major-league history for that matter.”
First came Cesar Geronimo, followed by Ken Griffey, Davey Concepcion, George Foster, Tony Perez, Bench and Rose.
“The glue of the Big Red Machine,” was how Brennaman introduced Perez.
“The greatest catcher of all time,” was how he announced Bench.
“The greatest hitter of all time,” signaled Rose.
If Rose didn’t get the biggest roar from the crowd, his was a close second to Morgan’s. While the others wore red blazers, Rose was characteristically informal in a purple T-shirt and a camouflage Reds cap. But no one seemed to mind.
Walking down the red carpet, each legend waved as fans cheered, applauded and snapped pictures - and the trumpets blared again - before they assembled near home plate. The Reds greats pointed to the visitors dugout where Davey Lopes was applauding. Lopes was the second baseman on the Dodgers team that was the Big Red Machine’s biggest rival during the 1970s. He’s now a Dodgers coach.
Guests of honor, including Castellini and Morgan’s wife Theresa, sat near home plate and clapped.
Then came Morgan.
“Statistically in a class of his own as a middle infielder,” Brennaman beckoned. “A 10-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glove winner, he also is the club’s modern-era stolen base leader and complied two of the greatest seasons in major-league baseball history when he won the National League MVP awards in 1975 and 1976. Inducted into the Reds Hall in 1987, the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990, he’s the reason we are all gathered here today. The second baseman, Joe Morgan.”
Morgan exploded off the dugout steps as if he were going to steal second. He looked like a '70s rock star in a red blazer, red-striped white shirt, white slacks and dark sunglasses, and he was walking on a cloud, waving to fans before greeting his teammates one by one with a handshake. Morgan will be 70 in two weeks, but he’s as buff and young looking as he was in the Big Red Machine’s heyday 37 years ago.
Video: Watch the Great Eight walk the red carpet at http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20130907&content_id=59886632&vkey=news_cin&c_id=cin
Shortly after that, Morgan went to the podium to speak to the crowd and, fighting back tears, said thank you.
“Today is the toughest speech I ever had to make. And that's because I’m talking to the greatest group of players to ever play on one side, and I’m speaking to Big Red Machine fans here today,” Morgan said.
Video: Watch Morgan's speech at the pre-game ceremony Saturday at http://wapc.mlb.com/play?content_id=30416867
At that, Morgan quickly regained his composure.
"I’ve obviously been thinking about this speech for a long time, but I got relieved last night when the Great Eight was introduced on the field and my best friend, Pete Rose, shed a tear. That took the pressure off me.
“I really want to say, when I got here in 1972, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t realize that I was going to be a part of something great."
Morgan pointed out that Bench won an NL MVP award before he did, was inducted into the Hall of Fame before he was, was elected to the Reds Hall of Fame before he was, and was immortalized in bronze at the ballpark before he was.
"I guess the question is, Johnny, what's next?" Morgan asked.
He finished by saying: “Anytime you pass my sculpture, I would hope you would not only think of Joe Morgan, but you’ll think of all the great players who helped to make that statue possible.
“Long live the Big Red Machine.”
Between Saturday's ceremonies, Morgan and the Great Eight took questions at a news conference and talked about their friendship. They said they got together for a private dinner Friday night and had a great time reminiscing.
“Obviously we don’t get together as much as we’d like to, because we’re like brothers, but that’s what makes this so special,” Rose said.
“Last night to me was very emotional because we are all great friends,” Concepcion said.
Then Rose spoke up again, catching Concepcion red-handed.
“Tell them what you said a little while ago. He said 10 years from now he’ll be the only one living from the Big Red Machine,” Rose said.
That brought a laugh from all of the Great Eight.
“This is true,” Concepcion admitted.
They aren't getting any younger. Rose is 72, Perez 71, and the others are in their 60s. Concepcion is 65. Griffey, the youngest, is 63.
Morgan wants all of them to reunite again soon.
When a questioner asked if they have any thoughts on who should get the next statue, Morgan jumped in right away.
“I do. All eight of them,” Morgan said. “I’m just honored personally to have received one. I know that there are plans to honor other of the players up here. It’s easy for me to sit here and say this now because I have a sculpture up there. Years ago I talked to John Allen (former Reds general manager) about something that would depict the entire team, the Big Red Machine. Obviously, over the years, Pete, Tony, Johnny and I have received a lot more accolades and awards than some of the other guys, but as everyone is telling you here, as you could see, we were a team.
“It’s not Johnny Bench and the Big Red Machine, it’s the Big Red Machine, and I would love to see something. We have a mural on the wall down there that kind of depicts it, but I would love to see something that says these guys were here together.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Watch or read Morgan's 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
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