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Classy - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
I'm watching the Giants-Dodgers game, for obvious reasons. I'm glad Joe Morgan is doing the color commentary, since he's a favorite of mine. He and Chris Berman, whom I also like, just had Al Downing in the booth, the man who surrendered Hank Aaron's historic 715th home run on April 8th, 1974. That was my first year of watching baseball with interest. And Al, partially because of what I saw that night, was one of the first players for whom I developed a fondness. Vida Blue was another. I'll write more about the experience of what it was like to be a five-year-old boy told he was going to be "watching history" in another entry, most likely after Barry stops trying to hit home runs so that he can actually some more. I also want to write about the reasons why all my favorite players seemed to be black in those days. For now, though, I just want to say how impressed I was by Downing's time on the microphone. He and Joe got a really good conversation going. Then, when Berman asked him how Bonds breaking the record will be viewed, Downing made an eloquent statement about the creeping cynicism in our society. He also had some interesting things to say about his early years on the New York Yankees of Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra. Maybe ESPN should hire him to do color commentary too. The world could always use some more color.

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masoo From: masoo Date: August 2nd, 2007 05:13 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I think you're on to something. Hire Downing to be the color commentator. That way, I won't have to listen to Joe Morgan anymore. Maybe Joe can take Berman with him (we seem to have different tastes in broadcasters).
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 2nd, 2007 05:59 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I still don't understand why you don't like Joe Morgan. I mean, he's not a stat-head favorite. But I like his voice and the way he dissects a game. I've learned more from him discussing finer points of hitting, pitching and fielding than I have from other former players or any other announcer, for that matter. Then again, I used to play baseball a lot -- as I recall, you didn't -- so that might explain why I find Morgan's contributions more valuable than you do.
masoo From: masoo Date: August 2nd, 2007 06:36 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Joe Morgan regularly says stupid stuff. It's all the more amazing because when he says dumb things, he directly contradicts the way he played. Morgan was one of the all-time stat-head favorites as a player ... that happens when you are one of the handful of greatest secondbasemen of all time while posting a BA of .271 ... but his commentary suggests someone who thinks the strategies of the 1910s are still relevant.

He has a flaw which is common to great players, I guess. Joe Morgan was a great player because he knew how to play the game ... he averaged 114 walks a year, was not only a prolific basestealer but a smart basestealer (his success rate was very high). You'd think Joe would be passing along some of that kind of knowledge in his commentary. Instead, he talks about commitment and team spirit and resolve, talks about championships being a sign of greatness ... and the underlying meaning of this is not "I was a great player because I had talent and knew how to use it" but rather "I was a great player because I was a good person." Championships didn't follow Joe Morgan around because he was a great guy ... they followed him around because he was a great player.

I don't suppose any of this would matter if Morgan wasn't such a great player ... certainly there are plenty of announcers who still think the #2 hitter should be a guy with "bat control" who is good at laying down those all-important sac bunts in the first inning ... we just thought Joe Morgan would know better. He certainly knew better when he was a player.

I think he and Jon Miller have a good rapport, and Joe has a decent voice for broadcasting. But he is obsessed with the kind of small-ball tactics that are mostly useless in the 21st century, and to top it off, he is proud to be pigheaded about it (his endless rants during the "Moneyball" period were laughable when they weren't sad or outrageous ... saying on the one hand that he never read the book and never would read the book, and on the other hand saying the book was stupid).

There is value in passing along what players are thinking and experiencing. You don't get Mike Krukow down there, I guess ... Kruk annoys people because he's a homer, and because he's got stock phrases and such. But he goes through nine innings of baseball, 162 times a year, and sure, he and Kuiper spend a lot of time talking about the goofy fans at the park, but Krukow also talks about pitching. He explains why pitches get thrown in a particular sequence, he suggests what the pitcher is thinking about in various situations, he analyzes what went wrong and right. He doesn't talk much about strategies, he talks about the art of pitching, and he is very informative. Joe Morgan talks about how a team needs to steal more bases and move those runners up with productive outs ... not only is he uninformative at times like that, he is wrong.

Here's an example of how most stat-heads see Joe Morgan's analysis: http://www.firejoemorgan.com/2007/08/joechat-trade-deadline-edition.html (the Dmitri Young comment alone is worthy of Sabean himself).
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 2nd, 2007 06:47 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Hmmm. You've probably watched more games where Morgan was doing color commentary than I have. But I've watched a lot. And my sense of your characterization here is that it's skewed to make him look worse, from your perspective, than he really is. Yes, I've heard him promote small ball tactics a lot. Yet I've also heard him talk over and over about the importance of getting on base, whether by a walk or a hit. I also think that his strength comes in analyzing the interaction between pitchers and hitters, more than in a espousing a total worldview. That is, he may be wrongheaded about the whole, but has good things to say about the parts. I've actually heard Krukow quite a lot and think he's quite good, though not as sharp as Jim Palmer used to be back in the day. In my book, though, Morgan is providing many of the same insights that Krukow provides, though from a perspective aligned more with hitters. Oh, and I don't think he promotes the team unity stuff to the extent that you seem to believe. That was more of a Dusty Baker thing, from where I sit.
masoo From: masoo Date: August 2nd, 2007 06:49 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Truth be told, I don't mind Morgan nearly as much as some do. Now, Tim McCarver, that's the guy I can't tolerate :-).
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 2nd, 2007 07:28 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
McCarver was never much good and now he is loathesome. He's made me forget that I liked him when he was on the Phillies as Steve Carlton's designated catcher. And then some. I also despise Joe Buck.

There was an interesting moment tonight when Berman and Morgan were talking over a shot of Vin Scully doing his call in another booth. They pointed out that Vin doesn't need a color commentator. I still get annoyed by Scully's Dodgerness, but you have to admit that he does a classy job of calling a baseball game. That video game recreation of the Game 6 conclusion in 1986 was a fine example of what his voice can do.
masoo From: masoo Date: August 2nd, 2007 06:57 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
You've really got me thinking about this, because I'm not sure we can't both be "right" here. Morgan does a fine job of offering the kinds of insights you mention, so you're on target in that regard. What he's offering, though, is time-tested stuff ... the great verities of baseball, from someone who played the game as well as anyone ever did. The problem is, you can get pretty lazy after awhile. There's nothing new under the sun and all that. So over the years Joe will have diminishing returns for the viewers ... there's only so many times he can say the same things. What he needs is to be able to also see how the game changes over time, so that he could apply new analytic methods to the great personal experience he brings to the table. But he not only doesn't do this, he specifically dismisses the entire notion.

Clearly there are plenty of things about Joe Morgan's work that are admirable. But they were the same things two decades ago and they'll be the same things two decades from now, because Joe already has it all figured out.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 2nd, 2007 07:25 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
But, as anyone who has taught will tell you -- you can tell yourself -- just because something is a time-honored truth doesn't mean that people don't need to be reminded of it. The things he says about where fielders should position themselves or how a hitter should orient his swing to get a baserunner further along-- well, those are things that need to be heard over and over. I mean, even a lot of the stat-head stuff qualifies as time-honored truth these days, but it needs to be advocated for. Sure, I get bored with Joe's standard routines sometimes. Yet I'm also regularly riveted by how he focuses on the now, as in the discussion of different types of swing tonight, when I could visualize what he was saying even though I'd never thought along those lines before.
masoo From: masoo Date: August 2nd, 2007 07:43 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Fascinating stuff ... I don't want to go to bed, I just want to keep chatting!

It will always be interesting and useful to have a player like Joe Morgan explain about the different types of swing. That's when he's at his best. But if he uses that discussion to promote "advancing baserunners," well, he needs to rethink that part, or at least get into the complexities. All else being equal, a groundball to the right side with a runner on second and no outs is preferable to a groundball to the left side. But both of those groundballs are outs. Outs are precious ... you don't want to give any up if you don't have to. This is becoming more and more common understanding, so that, for instance, the Detroit Tigers of 1968, playing in a time of low offense, laid down about about 60% more sac bunts than did the Tigers of 2006, an era of more offense and designated hitters.

The point being that it's very interesting to know how a batter might change his swing to accomplish various acts, but that doesn't mean making an out is a good thing just because you hit it to the right side. And "small ball" simply isn't as useful when teams are scoring five runs a game like they do nowadays, then it was when they were scoring 3 1/2 runs a game, like they were doing in the late 60s. Joe Morgan will always be able to better articulate how to hit a baseball than I will. But he'd be a much better commentator if he'd get up to speed on modern baseball analysis. And his public comments on the subject have convinced me I should give up hope in that regard.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: August 2nd, 2007 06:02 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
That said, though, these Barry-focused telecasts are awfully tedious. I'm so sick of seeing those same shots of the crowd, of hearing the broadcasters make the same vague speculations over and over and over. But that's what they're getting paid to do, so I won't hold it against them.
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