New manager Joe Morgan shows Midas touch with Red Sox so far

Call the FBI and the Bureau of Missing Persons! Maybe one of them can get a line on the new manager of the Boston Red Sox. His name is Joe Morgan, but people keep getting him confused with two-time National League MVP Joe Morgan, now retired, who had his best years with the Cincinnati Reds.

In fact, one Canadian paper got so excited when the Red Sox immediately went on an 11-game winning streak under their new skipper that it ran the other Joe Morgan's picture by mistake. Any homeowner who has ever gotten a piece of junk mail addressed to ``Occupant'' should be able to sympathize with Boston's new leader.

When the Red Sox fired John McNamara and moved Morgan up from his third base coaching post into the manager's office right after the mid-July All-Star break, they didn't even say it was for the rest of the season. ``Interim'' was the word they used, and they made it clear that this was the standard scenario of replacing a fired manager with one of the coaches on a temporary basis. The real news wasn't about the upgrading of Morgan, but that Boston had already begun talks with former New York Mets Manager Joe Torre, who is now a broadcaster. How insensitive can you get?

But Morgan handled the situation well, joking that the word ``interim'' wasn't in his vocabulary and saying he considered himself the manager - period. And for the moment at least, with a perfect record going into Monday night's game in Texas, and with his team now in a three-way battle with Detroit and New York for the American League East lead, he looks like just that.

The rap sheet on this Joe Morgan is that he is a 57-year-old family man who is about as Boston-oriented as you can get. He was born in Walpole, Mass., graduated from Boston College, and signed his first baseball contract with the old Boston Braves.

Joe played 15 nondescript seasons in the minor leagues as an infielder who wasn't afraid to catch a sliding baserunner in his midsection if it meant completing the double play. He also played briefly with five major league teams (88 games overall); managed 16 years where a bus does the work of an airplane; and was a coach in 1972 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Morgan joined the Red Sox organization in 1974 and managed its Triple-A farm club in Pawtucket, R.I., from 1974 through 1982, and was voted International League Manager of the Year in 1977. He scouted for Boston in 1983 and '84, then joined McNamara's staff in 1985 as a coach. Boston papers handled the news with the same urgency as they would have treated an announcement by the Cambridge Audubon Society.

But Joe Morgan was and is a career organization man who was always there when somebody needed him. He unlocked the mysteries of the curveball for a host of young players; taught more than one rookie infielder playing back on his heels to get up on his toes; and was an excellent traffic cop at third base for the Red Sox.

At this point there isn't much anyone can teach Morgan about running a ball club, making up a lineup, or spotting a pitcher who has lost his control and replacing him with just the right reliever.

The question is: Can Morgan handle players at the major league level, string all the super egos on his ball club together until they play like a symphony, and convince the front office that it made a mistake in not having paid more attention to him years ago?

Morgan got two early tests of his authority last week when (a)the Red Sox signed free-agent slugger Larry Parrish from the Texas Rangers, and (b)Joe had to deal firsthand with the skyrocket personality of veteran Jim Rice.

With a bunch of good hitters already at his disposal, Morgan could have ignored Parrish, whom the Rangers considered washed up and dry cleaned. Instead, Joe risked the displeasure of some of his own players and put Larry at first base. The result has been a barrage of Parrish hits, including two home runs.

The Rice problem got its start when Morgan pinch-hit for the fading superstar in the course a 10-inning come-from-behind 9-7 victory over Minnesota.

Morgan not only had the courage to replace Rice, but to do it in the person of Spike Owen, a banjo-hitting shortstop whose whole body doesn't weigh as much as the muscles in Rice's right arm.

Jim, who is having the kind of year that suggests he is playing from memory, not only took exception to Morgan's strategy but dragged the manager down some dugout steps to make his point. Later there would be a shouting and shoving match between the two men.

Morgan's reaction was to suspend Rice for three days without pay. This makes Rice, who earns some $2.3 million a year, about $38,000 lighter in his wallet.

Once this paper's research department was alerted to the name of the new Red Sox new manager and got itself into high gear, it soon discovered that:

Joe Morgan is not related to actress Morgan Fairchild, Morgan the Pirate, English novelist and playwright Charles Langbridge Morgan, singer Helen Morgan, financier John Pierpont Morgan, or actor Frank Morgan of ``Wizard of Oz'' fame.

Hopefully, by World Series time, everybody will know that Joe Morgan's middle name is Michael, as in Dukakis. If someone were to ask me if Joe still drives a 1948 Studebaker Champion, I'd be tempted to say yes.

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