Joe Morgan once told Brandon Phillips, “Don’t try be like me. Try to be better than me.”
“That’s going to be pretty hard,” Phillips told him.
The two Reds second baseman, separated by decades and ballparks, remain close in more ways than one.
They are neighbors at Great American Ball Park. Morgan, a senior advisor for the Reds, has a locker right next to Phillips in the clubhouse and pops in from time to time. Phillips picks his brain, taking advantage of special access to who he considers “the best second baseman to play the game.”
That closeness now extends to the numbers on the back of their baseball cards. Morgan played seven years with the Reds (1972-79). This is Phillips’ seventh season in Cincinnati.
On Friday, Phillips passed Morgan in career doubles with the Reds (221). Morgan is just two home runs (150) and seven RBIs (612) ahead of Phillips.
“Those are things I never paid attention to,” Phillips said Saturday before a game against the Cubs. “Everyone keeps bringing it up to me.”
Despite the stats, no one is suggesting Phillips is a better player than Morgan, a Baseball Hall of Famer who was named National League MVP in 1975 and 1976. Morgan, for instance, had about 600 more walks in his seven years with the Reds than Phillips during the same span and over 200 more stolen bases.
Morgan concedes Phillips is a better defensive second baseman, something Phillips appreciated hearing. Morgan does have one big edge over the younger Red — two World Series rings.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Phillips said. “It’s all about the rings. There’s a lot of personal things I’ve done in this game that I love and cherish, but I want to get a ring.”
Reds manager Dusty Baker said Phillips and Morgan are different players in that Morgan was less flashy and more conventional. Morgan had more speed on the basepaths. Of course, Morgan’s career numbers are well ahead of Phillips’ because Morgan also played with the Astros, Giants, Phillies and A’s.
Baker said Phillips has “got a ways to catch Joe,” but he’s glad Morgan and Phillips talk. When Baker was with the Dodgers, he often saw Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax and others talking to the younger players.
“They’d give you one tip that could set your life and career straight,” Baker said.