Some thoughts on Joe Morgan

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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.

And That Happened: Tuesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Cubs 7, White Sox 2: Chicago wins! Willson Contreras hit a three-run homer and drove in four in all. The talk of the game, though, was John Lackey who plunked four White Sox batters. Three of them in the fifth inning. It put me in mind of Dock Ellis’ famous “do-the-do” game, except Lackey is about as far from Dock Ellis-level cool as one can possibly get. Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon struck out 11 batters but lasted only four innings. Should’ve given up some more ground balls. It’s more democratic. The Cubs have won nine of 11.

Yankees 4, Reds 2: Todd Frazier hit into a triple play in his first at bat as a Yankee in Yankee Stadium. A run scored on the play — out number three came on a time-buying rundown — and the Yankees still won, so I suppose he doesn’t mind much. Jordan Montgomery allowed one run while pitching into the seventh. Didi Gregorius hit a sac fly and homered. Here’s the triple play:

Brewers 8, Nationals 0: Zach Davies pitched shutout ball into the eighth and Oliver Drake took it the rest of the way. Travis Shaw, Eric Thames and Manny Pina all homered. Shaw’s was a three-run blast. “Oliver Drake” sounds like a fake name a guy gives to the police after the party gets raided. He’s a little drunk and has to think fast, scans the room, sees his DC comic book collection and just blurts it out.

Astros 5, Phillies 0: Houston can bash your brains in or they can shut you out. Well, they can shut Philly out at least. Old friend Charlie Morton did the honors here with seven shutout frames. Speaking of Morton and the Phillies, remember when he was supposed to have turned into a Roy Halladay clone? For that matter, remember Roy Halladay? That was some Ric Flair-Buddy Landel falloff there, brother. In other news, Jose Altuve only went 1-for-4, so I assume he had a compound fracture or something.

Blue Jays 4, Athletics 1: Fun with earned runs. A’s starter Sonny Gray gave up four runs in the second — all the runs the Jays would score in the game — but they were all unearned. Tough luck? Well, they were unearned because Gray himself made the throwing error that caused them to be unearned. Oh, and he also uncorked a wild pitch that put a runner in scoring position. He gave up four hits in the inning — two doubles — but all the runs were “unearned.” Stats are dumb.

Indians 11, Angels 7: You don’t see many walkoff grand slams, but Edwin Encarnacion hit one here in the bottom of the 11th. All three of the baserunners reached via a Bud Norris-issued walk, one intentional, two accidental. That was the second grand slam allowed by Angels pitchers in the game, by the way, as Bradley Zimmer hit one in the second. The Indians had a 7-0 lead after two and blew it before Encarnacion’s heroics. In other news, the AP gamer reads like Coppola’s discarded first draft of “Apocalypse Now”:

CLEVELAND — Bradley Zimmer didn’t care one bit that his mouth was filled with talcum powder.

To the rookie, it tasted like victory.

Royals 3, Tigers 1Whit Merrifield homered on the game’s first pitch and Danny Duffy was solid into the seventh. That’s seven straight for Kansas City. Meanwhile, Ned Yost just rendered every studio analyst and color commentator’s job obsolete with what is, really, the only commentary you need:

The Kansas City Royals are keeping the pressure on in the AL Central, and manager Ned Yost has no big secrets to offer about their impressive winning streak. “There’s no key to staying in it. You just keep playing good,” Yost said. “If there was a key to staying in it, then we would stay in it forever. You just play good. That’s all you do.”

Rays 5, Orioles 4: Baltimore closed the gap late and threatened in the ninth but the Rays held on to break their five-game losing streak. Tim Beckham hit a three-run homer. Rookie starter Jake Faria pitched into the eighth inning and pitched well before running out of gas and stalling out.

Rangers 10, Marlins 4Joey Gallo hit two homers and Mike Napoli and Rougned Odor each had one as well. Christian Yelich had a three-run homer and drove in all four of Miami’s runs in a losing cause. Adrian Beltre went 0-for-3 and the Rangers have a day off on Thursday, so, barring a 16-inning game in which Beltre goes 7-for-7 today, the march to 3,000 will go at least into this weekend. That’s unreasonable, of course. The Rangers could never play a 16-inning game with their bullpen. If they did. Beltre’s 7-for-7 and 3,000th hit would be the sidebar story.

Cardinals 3, Rockies 2: The Cardinals called up top prospect Harrison Bader yesterday. He made a good first impression, doubling to lead off the ninth inning and then scoring the walkoff run on Jedd Gyorko‘s sacrifice fly. He had to slide and everything:

Braves 8, Diamondbacks 3: Kurt Suzuki homered twice and Matt Kemp homered and tripled. Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz allowed two runs over six, striking out nine. He hasn’t lost any of his last nine starts, going 6-0 in that time.

Mariners 6, Red Sox 5: The Red Sox took a one-run lead in the 13th inning with a Sandy Leon RBI single, but Seattle came back in the bottom half via a walk-fielder’s choice-single-wild pitch-walk-infield single combination, proving that you don’t have to bash anyone’s brains in to win this crazy game. Jean Segura hit the walkoff single. Doug Fister was the Sox pitcher responsible for those thousand cuts.

Dodgers 6, Twins 2: Chris Taylor hit two run-scoring doubles and continued his torrid post-All-Star Game hitting. Dude’s 23-for44 in those 11 games and is at .321/.388/.545 on the year. Dude can play five or six positions too. The Dodgers win their 70th game.

Mets 6, Padres 5: Yoenis Cespedes homered, doubled and tripled, driving in three. He scored on that triple too, thanks to a Wil Myers throwing error. Cespedes even threw a bullpen session before the game, so even if the Mets can’t contend in the last two months of the season, maybe they can be fun and let Yo pitch:

Giants 11, Pirates 3: Madison Bumgarner finally earned his first win of the year, allowing one run over five innings. The San Francisco bats were winners too, as Bumgarner singled and scored, Buster Posey had three hits and an RBI, Joe Panik added a bases-loaded triple and the now-departed Eduardo Nunez drove in two before he started hugging his mates.

Red Sox acquire Eduardo Nunez from the Giants

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A trade went down in the wee-wee hours: the Boston Red Sox acquired third baseman Eduardo Nunez from the San Francisco Giants. The Giants will receive minor league pitchers Shaun Anderson and Gregory Santos in return.

Third baseman for the Boston Red Sox have, obviously, been terrible this year, with Pablo Sandoval being released and Brock Holt being injured for most of the season. top prospect Rafael Devers was just called up and got his first start for Boston last night, but it may be a lot to ask of a 20-year-old to carry third base every day for a contender.

Nunez can play other infield positions, but it’s not like second base and short are problem areas for Boston. Better too have too many options than not enough, I suppose. And of course, Devers has options in another sense of the term, so I’d expect him to spend a bit of time with the Sox but to soon be sent back down.

The news of the trade broke in what has become classic trade deadline style: via cameras catching the player who was traded gathering his equipment and hugging his teammates during the broadcast:

Nunez is hitting .308/.334/.417 with four homers 31 RBI and 18 stolen bases on the year. This is the second year he’s been moved at the deadline, getting sent to San Francisco from Minnesota in 2016. He’s making only $4.2 million this year and can be a free agent after the season.

The Giants get Shaun Anderson, a third round selection in the 2016 draft out of the University of Florida. He’s still in A-ball, pitching alright but obviously not close to the bigs yet. Gregory Santos is only 17 and is currently playing in the Dominican Summer League. All in all a pretty low price, but better than the nothing the Giants would’ve gotten for Nunez if they kept him for the final two months of the season.

And hey: now there’s room for Pablo Sandoval in the Giants big league lineup!