BOSTON -- Joe Morgan has done something that Joe Cronin, Dick Williams, Darrell Johnson and John McNamara couldn't do; he has finished first twice with the Red Sox.
This is no small achievement. Cronin, Williams, Johnson and McNamara would tell you that the second one is harder. None of those men lasted two full seasons after managing the Sox to the top. It's clear that once you win in Boston, expectations are high.
Morgan leads the Red Sox into the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, and that makes him the most successful Boston manager in 74 years. To find a better record, you have to go back to 1915 and '16 when Bill Carrigan led Boston to back-to-back World Series victories.
Despite this success, there remains the impression that Morgan is constantly falling out of trees and landing on his feet. Morgan's John R. Tunis dialect, his one-word sound bites, and his "I had a hunch" strategies have created an image that the man is more lucky than skilled. Much of this is by design. Morgan's friend, Red Sox hitting coach Richie Hebner, is quick to state that "Joe doesn't put the dog on for anybody," and there's plenty of evidence that Morgan's thoughts run deeper than what he gives us on the evening news.
There is always going to be debate about Morgan's strategies, his deployment of the bullpen, his toughness with the players and his attentiveness to detail. But this much we know: Morgan has the roots and temperament needed to hang on to a tough job in a tough market.
It helps that he's from Walpole. Tollway Joe is the first home-grown Red Sox manager since Charlestown-born Shano Collins worked here in 1931-32. A Walpole native understands the peculiarities of the New England mind. A Walpole native understands why the locals all know as much about the Red Sox as he does, and why the media and fans fear the worst at the slightest sign of trouble.
Morgan's temperament is ideal for his job. He reads the papers but doesn't react to them. He doesn't store nasty clippings in his drawer like Don Zimmer did. He understands that debate is one of the things that makes baseball great.
Morgan's managing forever will be second-guessed. He leaves himself wide open by going against the grain. Who else would let Jeff Stone make his first 1990 at-bat in the bottom of the ninth inning of the biggest game of the season? Who else would let Jeff Gray surrender a homer to Junior Felix when Jeff Reardon was ready to pitch?