He was told as a youngster that he was too short, told as a man that he was too small. He fit the profile of a ballplayer who would benefit from artificial edge, a little Homer Helper.

If performance-enhancing drugs could inflate the statistics of such naturally strapping athletes as Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun and Mark McGwire, what might they have done for a guy like Joe Morgan?

Yet Morgan says his performance enhancer wasn't a drug, wasn't even visible.

At 5-foot-7, 160 pounds, Little Joe managed to gild the Morgan name and build a Hall of Fame career by utilizing a very mundane fuel: the prejudices of doubters and skeptics.

Joe Morgan, former ESPN baseball analyst.  (Photo Courtesy ESPN.)
Joe Morgan, former ESPN baseball analyst. (Photo Courtesy ESPN.)

"Some people thought I was at a disadvantage," the East Bay resident said Tuesday, from his office in Cincinnati. "I didn't think I was, but I know a lot of the scouts that would come around thought I was too small.

"So I compensated by working harder, or concentrating harder, or being smarter. That's how a guy without that perfect physique can survive. Being small helped me because I realized I needed a special work ethic to compensate. I continued that throughout my career."

When Morgan retired in 1984, his accomplishments included two MVP awards, five Gold Gloves, 10 All-Star games -- and two World Series championships.


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Morgan, 69, insists he'd do nothing different if he were playing today -- even though at least one of his Hall of Fame brethren, 77-year-old Bob Gibson, concedes he might experiment with the designer PEDs available in the 21st century.

"Tony Perez (a former Reds teammate) also said it, and that bothers me, because these are guys I know very well," Morgan said. "I know that both of those guys are of high integrity. That bothers me because some kid may read that and get a certain impression.

"We tend to forget the impact these comments have on people who follow the game. If you're a kid in math class and you're asked to take $4 million away from $145 million, like Ryan Braun had to do, that kid is smart enough to see he still comes out ahead."

While attending Hall of Fame ceremonies in late July, Morgan was saddened by much of what he heard and saw -- and did not see. There were, by his count, only 34 Hall members present, as opposed to the usual 50-55, and zero living persons were enshrined.

As vice chairman of the Hall's board of directors, Morgan approached Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig and pleaded for tougher sentences for those caught or otherwise fairly deemed to have violated laws and policies related to PEDs.

"They're calling this the steroid era, but it's obviously not over," Morgan said. "Until you make the risk outweigh the rewards, it's going to continue to happen.

"Look at Braun. What was his risk, a 50- or 60-game suspension? (65, actually) But he got a $145 million contract and has to give a few million back. You tell me if the risk is worth the reward. It's not going to stop. They're going to have to make it where there is no reward at the end of the rainbow."

The most effective way to wean the game away from steroids, Morgan implies, is to deny the financial incentive. It's evident that many athletes in this age -- like many people these days -- place far higher priority on wealth than integrity.

Money, after all, is the primary goal of those who cheat. There is a disproportionate amount of Latin American players getting penalized, perhaps because they are more likely to be products of impoverished conditions. They take the risk because it could mean multigenerational financial security.

"Look, if I was playing today, and playing as well as I did, I would make a lot of money," Morgan says. "But whenever somebody asks if I would like to play today, my answer is always no. I would love to have the money for my family. But I played the game for the competition and to try to win. I played for free a lot longer than I played to get paid."

Maybe this is a stubborn, old-school stance. Maybe it's denial. Or maybe it's a matter of principle.

"I don't ever think about what else I might have done, or how many more home runs I might have hit," Morgan says. "My integrity was more important because of the way I was brought up. My father would say, 'You're responsible for the Morgan name.' That meant something.

"What does the Braun name mean today? What does the Rodriguez name mean? Whether or not you make a lot of money, shouldn't your name be worth something?"

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/1montepoole.