Armour: The Astros’ trade of Joe Morgan

From SABR member Mark Armour at The National Pastime Museum on April 27, 2018:

On November 29, 1971, the Houston Astros and Cincinnati Reds made an eight-person trade that, most famously, moved Joe Morgan to the Reds and helped upgrade a very good team into a great one. This story is usually told from the point of the view of the Reds and their general manager, Bob Howsam, whose fleecing of the Astros was the crowning achievement of a remarkable career.

But what of the Astros? What in the world were they thinking? In this essay, rather than treating the latter question rhetorically, we will try to answer it head on. What were the Astros thinking? What were they trying to accomplish with the deal?

In 1971 the Reds and Astros had actually finished tied for fourth in the NL West, 11 games behind the San Francisco Giants. The Reds standing was considered a fluke—they had won 100 games in 1970 but suffered through a series of devastating injuries and off years. They still had Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, and Tony Perez, all in their primes. The Astros’ 79-win season was not surprising at all—this was a repeat of their 1970 record, and they had never finished about .500 in their 10-year existence.

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