Morgan and Miller yellow

Some thoughts on Joe Morgan

30 Comments

I was reading a great interview of “Bloom County” cartoonist Berkeley Breathed yesterday, and came to the following exchange:

RUSSELL: The Internet’s biggest impact on culture has been the fragmentation of discourse — there’s no one central album or TV show or comic strip that’s a universal discussion point any more. How blessed do you feel for having gotten out of the game before that fragmentation really set in?

BREATHED: Your question is my answer. Blessed. The last hurrah. People think that things will unravel with rising sea levels. I happen to think that it’s because we won’t all ever be humming the same song at the same time around the country… or laughing at the same cartoon.

I found myself nodding my head because I realized that, no, I don’t read the same comics as everyone else anymore. I don’t watch the same shows. I don’t listen to the same music. If I didn’t work from home I wouldn’t be able to stand at the water cooler and discuss whatever the current version is of last night’s “Seinfeld,” because there isn’t such a beast anymore.

It’s not that I’m hip and have rarefied tastes. Even those of us with awful taste have our own niche interests these days thanks to the Internet and iTunes and Netflix and hundreds upon hundreds of TV channels at our disposal.  There just isn’t as much room for consensus on pop culture as there used to be. The only exceptions are a handful of reality shows.

Oh, and sports. Sports have to be one of the last great common meeting places, because why else would the news that ESPN was kicking Jon Miller and Joe Morgan to the curb make for such a common discussion point last night?  Maybe it’s only consensus within a niche, but everyone in this little niche of baseball had an opinion on the news last night.  For all of our localized rooting interests and TV work-arounds like MLB.tv or watching games  with the sound down and the Twitter feed providing silent commentary, we all pretty much watched Morgan and Miller on Sunday Night Baseball because, hell, what else are we gonna watch? “Desperate Housewives?”

And in keeping with the consensus of watching those two, there’s a consensus on ESPN’s decision to end their run: mild disappointment that Miller won’t be calling the games anymore, but considerable happiness that Morgan won’t be providing the commentary.  Not surprising. Miller is one of the best around. Morgan, well, we all know about him.

Here I break a little from the consensus. I agree that Miller was fantastic. I like his announcing style. I like his voice. I even like his corny humor. Most of all, I think he rises to the appropriate level at dramatic moments — high enough to make it clear that something big is going on, but not so big that he’d have you believe that history was being made every other damn play — and keeps things moving along.  To the extent he ever found himself in the weeds it was because he was dutifully trying to retrieve some rhetorical ball Morgan sliced in there.

About Morgan: I take no issue with any of the specific criticisms of the guy. As has been painstakingly chronicled on FJM and countless other websites, he seemed aggressively ignorant calling games at times, unwilling to acknowledge that any given bit of old school conventional baseball wisdom could be wrong or that any bit of new thinking — sabermetrics or otherwise — could have any insights.  This is not uncommon, or course, as many broadcasters are resistant to such things. But it was particularly galling from Morgan, because every account I’ve ever read about the man personally talks about how sharp he is, and everything about Joe Morgan the player suggests that he was among the smartest baseball players to ever play the game.

Indeed, Bill James even once determined that Morgan had the highest baseball I.Q. in history, measured in terms of on-field decision making when it comes to things like base running, defensive positioning, when to swing and when not to swing, etc.  Stuff that takes thought and strategy as opposed to pure athleticism. Stuff to which Morgan, as a commentator, was consistently hostile. Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine Morgan the announcer disdainfully discounting the skills of Morgan the player, and that’s what made us tear our hair out listening to the guy. In large part because we all suspected that he knew better and was taking contrarian positions rather than saying what he believed. We all felt, didn’t we, that if we found Morgan sitting next to us in a bar that he’d give us a wink and let us know that, no, he did not believe that a double was better than a home run because “home runs kill rallies.”

All of that said, I depart a bit from my fellow baseball fans when it comes to my reaction to the news of Joe Morgan’s departure from Sunday Night Baseball.  To be clear: it was a good move for ESPN to go in another direction. New blood is needed and I certainly won’t miss him. But at the same time, I can’t bring myself to join in to all of that “ding dong the witch is dead” nonsense I read all around the baseball web last night.  Morgan annoyed me, but never so much that I’d celebrate his departure. Mostly because, for as wrong as he could be at times, he was fairly easy to ignore. His voice wasn’t assaulting. He didn’t inject his commentary at the wrong times. He didn’t distract us from the game going on in front of us. He’d occasionally offer some good insights to go along with the bad stuff. In fact, it was often exciting to hear him say something insightful, because it was like catching someone trying to get away with something.

The point is, Morgan was never an announcer that would keep me from watching a game or who would cause me to turn off the sound. And believe me, there are a lot of guys who are that way. Guys who call baseball like they’re watching football games. Guys who seem to be paid by the cliche. Guys who think that Every. Single. Thing. That. Happens. On. A. Baseball. Diamond. Has. To. Be. Analyzed. Guys who, as they do all of that, have voices of annoying pitch and cadence who make watching a baseball game a hostile experience. Indeed, after catching some of them during  midweek games, it was almost refreshing to ease into a Miller-Morgan broadcast because, even if it wasn’t fabulous, it wasn’t openly assaulting like a lot of guys I could name but won’t.

Damning with faint praise? Nah, because my point isn’t to praise Joe Morgan. Like I said: not good, and better gone.  But I do think some perspective is due here. Morgan was not the worst guy calling games. Not by a longshot. He even had some charms.  I can’t help but think that if, at some point, maybe 15 years ago, an ESPN producer sat down and tried to work with him to reign in his worst excesses he even could have developed into a good commentator. OK, maybe that’s a stretch, but not a gigantic one.

The point: I think the reaction to his dismissal, like that to his commentary itself, is a bit overblown.

Manny Machado, Jake Arrieta highlight MLB’s monthly award winners

Baltimore Orioles' Manny Machado celebrates scoring on a two-run double by Gerardo Parra during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday, Sept. 4, 2015, in Toronto. The Orioles won 10-2. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press via AP)
Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

Major League Baseball announced the winners of its monthly awards today. Your April standouts…

Player of the Month

American League: Manny Machado

All Machado did in April was play his usual elite defense while hitting .344/.394/.667 with 10 doubles, seven home runs, 16 RBI, 20 runs scored in 104 plate appearances.

National League: Bryce Harper

Harper followed up his MVP award winning 2015 season by looking arguably even better in April 2016. The 23-year-old hit .286/.406/.714 with nine home runs, 24 RBI, and five stolen bases in 96 plate appearances.

Pitcher of the Month

American League: Jordan Zimmermann

Zimmermann didn’t get a lot of fanfare for his dominant opening month. The right-hander went 5-0 with a 0.55 ERA and a 23/7 K/BB ratio over 33 innings. The Tigers signed him to a five-year, $110 million contract back in November. Hard to ask for a better start.

National League: Jake Arrieta

Yes, it was the Reds. Yes, he walked four. Still, it’s impressive that Arrieta threw his second career no-hitter, just nine starts separated from the first one, authored on August 30 last year against the Dodgers. Arrieta finished April 5-0 with an even 1.00 ERA and a 32/10 K/BB ratio in 36 innings.

Rookie of the Month

American League: Nomar Mazara

Mazara debuted on April 10 against the Angels, going 3-for-4 with a homer. He hasn’t cooled off much since. He went hitless in only four of the 17 April games in which he played, racking up a .333/.392/.460 line. The Rangers made a blockbuster trade last year for Cole Hamels and they made sure to hang onto Mazara. It’s a good thing they did.

National League: Trevor Story

Depending on how much one values recency, Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz was arguably as or more deserving of the honor. Story, however, grabbed headlines for more than a week after opening up the season with homers in each of his first four games, two of which featured multiple dingers. He finished the month with 10 homers, tying a rookie record. Along with that, he hit .261/.324/.696.

Diaz, in April, hit .423/.453/.732 with eight doubles, a triple, four homers, 13 RBI, and 18 runs scored in 75 plate appearances.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Monday’s action

Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole throws to a San Diego Padres batter during the first inning of a baseball game Thursday, April 21, 2016, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi
4 Comments

10 games on the slate for Monday evening. The pitching match-ups aren’t too awe-inspiring, but the 7:05 PM EDT game between the Cubs and Pirates will be interesting if only because the two pitchers’ last names kind of form the name of another pitcher. Jason Hammel will pitch for the Cubs against the Pirates’ Gerrit Cole. Cole Hammel. Cole Hamels. Get it? Tough crowd.

In all seriousness, Cole-Hammel has the chance to be a fun game if you’re a fan of great pitching. Hammel has started off the year on fire, boasting a perfect 3-0 record with a minuscule 0.75 ERA and a 22/9 K/BB ratio in 24 innings. For most of his career, Hammel floundered with an ERA often north of 4.50, but when he joined the Cubs in 2014, he seemed to figure things out. The right-hander posted a 2.98 ERA in 17 starts with the Cubs in 2014 and reprised that with a 3.74 ERA in 31 starts last year.

Cole hasn’t been as dominant as Hammel thus far, but still solid nevertheless. He has a 2.78 ERA with a 19/6 K/BB ratio in 22 2/3 innings. Cole has yet to pitch into the seventh inning, but he’ll hope to change that tonight. The 25-year-old finished fourth in NL Cy Young balloting last season. If he didn’t pitch in the same league as Clayton Kershaw and Jake Arrieta, it would be a lot easier to forecast him winning the NL Cy Young Award. Cole’s good enough to earn one, anyway.

The rest of Monday’s action…

Texas Rangers (A.J. Griffin) @ Toronto Blue Jays (R.A. Dickey), 7:07 PM EDT

Atlanta Braves (Mike Foltynewicz) @ New York Mets (Bartolo Colon), 7:10 PM EDT

San Francisco Giants (Johnny Cueto) @ Cincinnati Reds (Brandon Finnegan), 7:10 PM EDT

Los Angeles Angels (Jered Weaver) @ Milwaukee Brewers (Jimmy Nelson), 7:20 PM EDT

Minnesota Twins (Jose Berrios) @ Houston Astros (Dallas Keuchel), 8:10 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies (Jeremy Hellickson) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Adam Wainwright), 8:15 PM EDT

Washington Nationals (Gio Gonzalez) @ Kansas City Royals (Edinson Volquez), 8:15 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Nathan Karns) @ Oakland Athletics (Kendall Graveman), 10:05 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Jon Gray) @ San Diego Padres (James Shields), 10:10 PM EDT

Today is the anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s Iron Man streak ending

ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, MARCH 31 AND THEREAFTER - FILE - In this Oct. 5, 1938 file photo, New York Yankees' Lou Gehrig scores the first run of the 1938 World Series against the Chicago Cubs as he crosses home plate in the second inning of Game 1 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. A dozen years before Babe Ruth’s famed ‘Called Shot,’ teammate Lou Gehrig hit an equally dramatic homer. Gehrig was 17 when his high school team traveled to Chicago to take on a Chicago team. In the bottom of the ninth, with two outs and his team down 8-6, Gehrig hit a ball over wall and onto Sheffield Avenue to win the game. The historic ballpark will celebrate it's 100th anniversary on April 23, 2014. (AP Photo/File)
Associated Press
5 Comments

Today is a significant baseball anniversary. On this day in 1939 Lou Gehrig asked out of the lineup as the Yankees played the Tigers in Detroit. It both ended his Iron Man Streak at 2,130, but also marked the beginning of Gehrig’s very public acknowledgement of ALS, the disease which would come to bear his name. Gehrig would never play again.

While it was clear that Gehrig’s body was betraying him and his baseball skills were abandoning him in the first few games of the 1939 season, some say the ultimate impetus for Gehrig asking out of the lineup happened earlier that day. The story goes that Gehrig collapsed on the grand staircase of the Book-Cadillac hotel where the Yankees were staying and that later, as he sat in the hotel bar, he told manager Joe McCarthy that he couldn’t play anymore.

The Book-Cadillac is still there. It deteriorated over the years and then was renovated. It’s a Westin now — the Westin Book-Cadillac. It’s a wonderful hotel and the bar area still has much of its old charm, but the grand staircase is gone, replaced with a couple of escalators. I stay there whenever I’m in Detroit. I’m friends with one of the Book-Cadillac’s bartenders and I try to see him whenever I’m there. When I sit in that bar I often wonder if Gehrig sat near where I was, telling McCarthy that he just couldn’t do it anymore. There are a lot of ghosts in Detroit. Gehrig’s is mostly in New York, but there’s a little bit of him in Detroit too.

Cal Ripken would later break Gehrig’s record. I doubt anyone breaks Cal’s. But in some cases the record holders are less interesting than those who were surpassed.

More talk of a juiced ball

VIERA, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Washington Nationals practice balls  during spring training workouts on February 18, 2014 in Viera, Fl.  (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
14 Comments

At the end of March we linked a story from Rob Arthur and Ben Lindbergh at FiveThirtyEight which sought to figure out why home run rates have spiked. Their theory was that it was either randomness or a juiced ball. They tested baseballs and found no evidence of a different ball, so that seems to have ended that.

Except it didn’t end it because, as so often is the case in the early part of a season, we are seeing some statistical, well, let’s just call it “interestingness” and people don’t like to let such interestingness go. To that end Yahoo’s Jeff Passan — acknowledging the Lindbergh/Arthur study — asks once again if the balls are funky.

It’s all based on exit velocity of baseballs, which Passan notes has spiked. He doesn’t come to any conclusions — just not enough data — but the very act of asking the question in a column and Passan’s acknowledgment that he sounds like a conspiracy theorist tell you that that’s his hunch. And it could be the case. I still think the ball got juiced in 1987 and again, on a more permanent basis, in 1993, but there’s no evidence to really support that. Just one of those “can’t think of anything better” sort of situations.

For now, though, it’s May 2. And I suspect that for as long as there have been May 2nds in a baseball season, people have looked at the stats and suspected something weird was afoot. Maybe something weird is afoot. We just can’t really know.