“I get a call from Joe’s lawyer and he says, ‘Johnny, I don’t think Joe will make it through the night.’ And I mean, you hear that and are stunned. You sit there and are deaf and you remember and remember and remember. “
He went on.
Of all the dead players, he was the closest to Morgan. “We just got along,” he said. “As a catcher, I was in control of the game. If someone came in to speak to the mug, I went out, but so did Joe. And when I got there and they were already talking, I knew Joe was telling that mug exactly what needed to be said. We had this thing, this little telepathy. We got along in the field and in life. “
By the time Morgan died on October 11th, the losses among the sizes of baseball had grown inscrutable. Three other Hall of Famers had passed away in the past few weeks: stolen base king Lou Brock and pitching ace Bob Gibson, 1964 and 1967 World Series winners at the St. Louis Cardinals; and Whitey Ford, the cunning left-hander who helped the Yankees win six of their eight World Series from 1950 to 1962, missing the 1951 and 1952 seasons in the Army.
How could it get any worse?
Then came December and the death of the knuckle ball player Phil Niekro, whose best years were played as the Atlanta Brave. When 2021 began, it was Tommy Lasorda, the charismatic manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers for three decades and two World Series titles. And shortly thereafter, one of his dominant pitchers, Don Sutton.
Then, on January 22nd, the beating heart of baseball: Henry Aaron.
“He was just about a man,” said Bench. “I called him Henry and did I ever respect him?”