SABR

Ed Morgan

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Eddie Morgan played six seasons for the Cleveland Indians and a final one for the Boston Red Sox, with half of his 52 career home runs all crammed into the 1930 season for the Tribe, when he drove in 136 runs, 50 more than in his second best year. He was first and foremost a first baseman, but also played 121 games in the outfield and another 18 at third base. Morgan left the majors with an impressive .313 career batting average and a .398 on-base percentage.

Edward Carre Morgan was born in Cairo, Illinois, on May 22, 1904, or 1905. (The record books say 1904, but he himself reported 1905 as late as 1961, when he completed a questionnaire for the National Baseball Hall of Fame some 25 years after he’d left baseball and would seem to have had no compelling reason to understate his age by a year.) By 1910, however, the Morgan family was living in Baton Rouge, where Eddie’s father, Joseph P. Morgan, became the manager of a box factory. The company made both paper and wooden boxes.i Joseph and Margaret (Maggie) had three children at the time, with Edward the eldest.

J.P. Morgan may not have had the wealth of his namesake, the Wall Street financier, but for more than 20 years he was the proprietor of the Louisiana Box Factory, and he later did in fact form an investment firm with his son that was named J.P. and Ed C. Morgan.

Ed, known as Buddy as a boy, graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans, where he played on the baseball, basketball, and football teams. The family had moved to the outskirts of the Crescent City not too long after 1910 ,and Buddy went to elementary school in Kenner, then spent four high-school years at Rugby Academy, an all-male military academy in New Orleans. He graduated from Tulane in five years with a degree in pharmacy, as a pharmaceutical chemist. The family ancestry was, as Morgan himself put it, “White-American.” He added, “No Family Tree and haven’t opened any closets yet.”ii

He was right-handed, stood an even 6 feet tall, and was listed with a playing weight of 180 pounds.

Morgan’s time in the minor leagues was exclusively with New Orleans’ own Pelicans, beginning in 1927, the year he received his college degree. He played in 134 games for the Pelicans in the Southern Association, Class A ball at the time, batting .354 and homering 12 times. He had some speed, as witness his 14 triples. He had 36 doubles as well, in his 215 base hits.

Fielding was not Morgan’s forte at the time; his 14 errors for the Pelicans gave him a .956 fielding percentage. He left the majors with a .986 percentage, but in 1929, his 11 errors led all right fielders, and in 1931 and 1932 he led all first basemen in errors.

When Morgan first signed with the Pels, manager Larry Gilbert had apparently intended to farm him out, but before he did, Morgan “began to thump the ball and Gilbert hung on to him.”iii At least eight major-league teams entered bids to try to sign him from New Orleans, but the Cleveland Indians won out. Not only did they come up with enough money to satisfy New Orleans President E.S. Barnard, but Cleveland had already dealt New Orleans two winning pitchers, Hap Collard and Benn Karr. Even a newspaper as far away as the Los Angeles Times reported that scouts who followed the Southern Association were “unanimous” in feeling that the Indians had landed “the outstanding young player of the country.”iv The Pelicans held on to Morgan after the August 13 deal was done, and he helped them beat out Birmingham and Memphis for the 1927 Southern Association pennant.

The Indians franchise changed hands over the winter, and Roger Peckinpaugh was brought in to manage the team in 1928. Morgan joined the Indians for spring training in New Orleans and made the team. It wasn’t a good year for the Indians; they finished in seventh place. Morgan had some big shoes to fill, as Gordon Cobbledick of the Cleveland Plain Dealer made clear: “Eddie Morgan, the Tulane collegian who burned up the Southern Association last year, has been assigned to center field and is expected to solve the problem created by Tris Speaker’s departure. Last season the Tribe used eight men in center field and not one came within a thousand miles of filling the great Texan’s shoes.”v With the 1905 birthdate, Morgan had been born the year before Speaker started his long career.

“Tulane Eddie” played 36 games at first base, 21 games in the outfield, and 14 at third base. In 76 games he accumulated 265 at-bats and hit for a .313 average, with 42 runs scored and 54 RBIs (no one on the team had more than Johnny Hodapp’s 73 RBIs.) Morgan was 1-for-2 on Opening Day, April 11, a single.

In 1929 Morgan appeared in 93 games, and all his work on defense was as an outfielder. He notched his average up to .318 and scored 60 runs, but saw his RBIs decline to 37. A much-improved Cleveland team finished in third place. First baseman Lew Fonseca won the AL batting crown with a .369 average.

Fonseca was seriously injured on May 27 in a collision with Art Shires of the Chicago White Sox, and Eddie Morgan got into 150 games in 1930, his personal best, almost exclusively at first base after Fonseca’s accident. It was said that he’d been a “play-boy” until that time, doing such things as climbing down the fire escape from hotels to avoid curfew checks – but now that the occasion demanded it, he buckled down and got serious.vi

He hit for a .349 batting average, scored 122 runs, and had a very impressive 136 runs batted in 1930 (though that year, in which the major leagues introduced a far livelier baseball, his RBI total was good only for sixth in the league, and his .349 average ranked him ninth). He homered 26 times, half as many in the one year as in all of his other seasons combined. When he hit his 19th homer, on July 23, he established a new team record for Cleveland.

Understandably, Morgan was looking for a sizable increase in pay, and when the Indians failed to meet his expectations, he said of the offer the team had made him, “If that’s all the money I can make after the year I had last year, I realize now that I am foolish to stay in baseball when I can make so much more in business with my father.”vii His father, the Chicago Tribune reported, was wealthy and had been trying to get Eddie to quit the game and join him in business.viii

To make matters worse, Morgan married debutante Frances Tobin on February 26. The Cleveland club suspended him several days later. But things were worked out, as he brought his holdout to a close on March 16, and for the fourth year in a row Morgan hit for a higher average than the year before, and registered a better on-base percentage, too. In 1931 he hit .351, third in the league, in 462 at-bats. He drove in 86 runs and scored 87. His on-base percentage was .451.

After the season Cleveland let it be known that Morgan could be had in a trade, but no offer was sufficiently enticing. Morgan was back for another full season at first base again in 1932 and had a good year, though not as superb as those of ’30 and ’31. He hit .293 (with a .402 OBP) and scored 96 runs, driving in 68. The Indians finished in fourth place in both 1931 and 1932.

About a third of the way into the 1933 season, Walter Johnson took over as manager of the Indians, and he wasn’t a fan of Morgan’s fielding at first base. “When he was pilot of the Nats, Johnson held very little respect for Morgan’s first basing ability,” wrote Shirley Povich in the Washington Post. Povich called Morgan “lackadaisical.”ix

Harley Boss got most of the playing time at first base for the Indians. Morgan had opened the season with the team and played steadily for the first 2½ months of the season, but his last game came on July 1. He was batting at only a .264 clip and his run production was off, too; in his 39 games he scored just 10 runs and knocked in 13 (with only three RBIs in the month of June). Morgan was eventually sent to New Orleans, whose Pelicans won the Dixie Series that year, beating the Texas League champion San Antonio Missions.

On October 3, 1933, the Red Sox selected Morgan from New Orleans in the Rule 5 draft. The Red Sox had first seen him in the spring of 1927 when the team had its spring training home in New Orleans and Morgan played several games against them. Morgan was recommended by Joe Judge, the Red Sox first baseman, who thereby more or less brought manager Bucky Harris the man who replaced him at first base.x

Morgan was Boston’s first baseman for most of the 1934 season and performed pretty well, driving in 79 runs and scoring 95, but his average was just .267 (81 walks helped boost his on-base percentage to .367). That November the Red Sox assigned Morgan’s contract to Rochester. Babe Dahlgren took over first-base duties for the Red Sox in 1935, and Morgan wound up with the Pelicans again, for two full seasons, batting .310 in 1935 and .270 in 1936 under manager Larry Gilbert.

Morgan is listed as planning to attempt a comeback with the Dodgers for 1937, but nothing came of it and he finally joined with his father full-time … though there was still some interest. The Phillies did a deal in March 1938, buying Morgan’s still-active contract from Brooklyn on a conditional basis. Morgan himself claimed to have found out about all this only when he asked who owned him and where he was supposed to report.xi

Morgan was married a second time, to Ruth Borne, in 1959. He died on April 9, 1980, in Kenner, Louisiana.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Morgan’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

i New York Times, August 25, 1932.

ii Player questionnaire, filed 1961 with the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

iii Unattributed clipping found in Morgan’s player file at the Hall of Fame.

iv Los Angeles Times, August 28, 1927.

v As printed in the Washington Post, March 24, 1928.

vi Hartford Courant, December 28, 1930.

vii New York Times, January 25, 1931.

viii Chicago Tribune, January 25, 1931.

ix Washington Post, June 10, 1933.

x Washington Post, January 31, 1934.

xi Unattributed March 31, 1938, clipping in Morgan’s Hall of Fame player file.

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