Mookie Betts tunes up the Dodgers’ machine like Joe Morgan once did for Reds – Press Enterprise

Mookie Betts tunes up the Dodgers’ machine like Joe Morgan once did for Reds – Press Enterprise

Mookie Betts rubbed his glove into Atlanta’s face three times. Since there was always a baseball inside, it hurt.

He levitated twice in right field and made home runs disappear, and he charged and leaned and somehow didn’t fall while he snagged a sinking liner, and thus conned Marcell Ozuna into leaving third base early.

No one can tell how many runs the Braves might have scored if Betts hadn’t turned right field into his own National League Championship Series control center. But Betts certainly snuffed three big opportunities that, against the Dodgers, must be redeemed.

What Betts really did, and what he has done, was provide faith.

He showed he was still the change agent, the newcomer who didn’t bear the scars of the 2017 World Series, the 2018 World Series, the 2019 NL Division Series and everything that surrounded them.

Granted, the Dodgers still have to beat the dangerously anonymous Tampa Bay Rays in the 2020 “Play 60” Series, sponsored by Sprint and Keurig. But Betts brings the ring that he and Boston earned at the Dodgers’ expense. It would be natural if the Dodgers lost a bit of self-belief. Betts is there to prevent that leakage, primarily because they can believe in him, too.

The trade that brought Betts in January has karmic similarities to the Joe Morgan trade, coming into 1972.

Cincinnati won the National League pennant in 1970 and lost to Baltimore in the World Series. Injuries shoved the Reds below .500 in 1971.

General Manager Bob Howsam, who should be in the Hall of Fame, brought in his scouts and assistants and Manager Sparky Anderson proposed a trade and demanded honest feedback. When the meeting broke up, the Reds made an eight-player deal with Houston.

Stripped to the essentials, they got Morgan, pitcher Jack Billingham and center fielder Cesar Geronimo for slugger Lee “The Big Bopper” May and All-Star second baseman Tommy Helms.

It wasn’t quite like the Betts deal because it wasn’t dictated by finances. The other difference was the fan reaction. L.A. applauded. Cincinnati grabbed pitchforks.

Morgan’s offense in Houston was hidden by the massive Astrodome and by Harry Walker, his manager, who wanted Morgan to hit opposite-field singles. May and Helms were cornerstone players. But Howsam, like the Dodgers’ Andrew Friedman, needed a different ingredient.  Riverfront Stadium had Astroturf and demanded speed. Morgan had it, and he knew how to draw walks.

No one dreamed Morgan would contribute one of the best five-year stretches of any middle infielder in history. The Reds won four of the next five titles in the powerful National League West and got to the World Series in 1972 and won it in 1975 and 1976. Morgan was the MVP both those years and led the NL in on-base percentage four times.

Morgan also stole from 58 to 67 bases five times and won five Gold Gloves. Beyond that, he was the loudest voice in a loud, distinguished clubhouse, and he inspired Pete Rose, Tony Perez and Johnny Bench with his vision of imminent victory.

Billingham also brought two 19-win seasons and Geronimo was a brilliant defensive center fielder.

“I never would have been in the Hall of Fame without that trade, without the Big Red Machine,” Morgan said.

Morgan died last week, at 77, the latest in a breathtakingly sad purge of epochal players.

“He was the smartest person I ever met in baseball,” said Marty Brennaman, the Hall of Fame broadcaster for the Reds. “He could have been a manager, general manager, even commissioner. I never saw a player that could win a game so many ways. He’d go 0 for 2 with three walks and two steals, and sometimes that was the difference. He could do everything.”

The Dodgers got Betts because the Red Sox wanted to duck beneath the luxury tax threshold, and he would become a free agent after 2020. Boston’s fans weren’t happy, but they tried to understand. They emphatically failed to understand what happened next. During the hiatus, the Dodgers signed Betts for 12 years and $365 million.