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Joe Morgan, of Big Red Machine, dies

CINCINNATI — At 5-foot-7, he was the smallest cog in the Big Red Machine. And to his star-powered teammates, Joe Morgan was a driving force, too.

Morgan, the Hall of Fame second baseman who became the sparkplug of dominant Cincinnati teams in the mid-1970s and the prototype for baseball’s artificial turf era, has died. He was 77.

He died at his home Sunday in Danville, California, family spokesman James Davis said in statement Monday. Morgan was suffering from a nerve condition, a form of polyneuropathy.

“Joe Morgan was quite simply the best baseball player I played against or saw,” Reds Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench texted to The Associated Press.

Morgan’s death marked the latest among major league greats this year: Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Tom Seaver and Al Kaline.

“All champions. This hurts the most,” Bench said.

Morgan was a two-time NL Most Valuable Player, a 10-time All-Star and won five Gold Gloves. A dynamo known for flapping his left elbow at the plate, Little Joe could hit a home run, steal a base and disrupt any game with his daring.

Most of all, he completed Cincinnati’s two-time World Series championship team, boosting a club featuring the likes of Pete Rose, Tony Perez and Bench to back-to-back titles.

“Joe would always amaze me,” Rose told the AP. “He was by far the most intelligent player I’ve ever been around. He rubbed off on all of us. A big part of the Big Red Machine.”

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