Joe Morgan once told Brandon Phillips, “Don’t try to be like me. Try to be better than me.”
“That’s going to be pretty hard,” Phillips told him.
The two Reds second basemen, separated by decades, remain close in more ways than one.
They are neighbors at Great American Ball Park. Morgan, a senior adviser 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 the man 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 eight seasons with the Reds (1972-79). This is Phillips’ eighth season in Cincinnati.
On Friday, Phillips passed Morgan in career doubles with the Reds (221). Through Friday, Morgan was two home runs (150) and seven RBIs (612) ahead of Phillips.
“Those are things I never paid attention to,” Phillips said. “Everyone keeps bringing it up to me.”
Despite the stats, no one is suggesting Phillips is a better player than Morgan, a Hall of Famer who was named National League MVP in 1975 and 1976. Morgan, for instance, had about 600 more walks and 200 more stolen bases in his eight years with the Reds than Phillips during the same span.
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.
Choo’s collection: Every series, Reds centerfielder Shin-Soo Choo has a different jersey or two hanging in his locker. Until Saturday, they had always been of opposing players.
The newest addition to his collection is a LeBron James Miami Heat jersey. Choo said Baker gave it to him.
Ball story: Ever wonder what happens to the foul balls that don’t get thrown into the stands or the pitches in the dirt that get taken out of play? Every ball is immediately authenticated by a Reds official next to the dugout, and many are auctioned on the Reds’ website.
On Mother’s Day, for example, as Aroldis Chapman closed out the Brewers, every time a baseball was fouled off or rolled to the backstop, it was taken out of play, and the speed of the pitch was recorded. One of the balls, a 97 miles-per-hour pitch, was going for $115 on the Reds’ website as of Saturday afternoon.