Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
June 27, 2008
BASEBALL: Things Joe Morgan Used To Know

Joe Posnanski, who's been working on a book on the 1975 Reds, notes that Joe Morgan's Luddite tendencies seem to represent a curdled cynicism left over from his playing days, when he was far more enlightened:

I cannot tell you how many stories I have read where Morgan is trying to explain to some reporter why on-base percentage is the most important statistic, why slugging percentage is so telling, why it isn't important how MANY stolen bases you have but how often you are successful.

Really. If you go back to 1975 ... and you read a bunch of sports sections, you will see that there was something fundamentally different about Joe Morgan. The guy was absolutely ahead of his time, not just as a player but as a thinker too. So many of those things that seemed so fresh and new in Joe's much hated Moneyball - the concept that it isn't about how good a player looks, the notion that popular statistics didn't tell you much, the philosophy that scoring runs and winning baseball is about simple and tangible things - heck, Joe was preaching this stuff back when Gerald Ford was in office.

The thing is ... nobody really got him then. Owners didn't pay you to walk. Managers didn't always look beyond size. Reporters didn't get what REALLY won the game. Every day, in the paper, you saw batting averages, and RBIs, and stuff that Joe understood were secondary, selfish stats, not directly in line with winning. I think THAT'S when Joe Morgan lost any real use for statistics ... they didn't TELL you what mattered. I think that was when Joe thought: "Statistics are useless. You have to watch and play baseball to really understand it."

Random note here: one of the more horrifying things I have heard was earlier this season when President Bush was in the ESPN box and Bush confirmed for John Miller that he had, in fact, once offered Morgan a front office job with the Rangers.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:56 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

I think, when you look at it, one can't make any predictions about who is ahead of their time since things can change but that's just my personal observation. I would say I was ahead of my time but anything can happen so it's difficult to say for sure but since there are many factors to consider I don't know if I would say that at this time.

Posted by: Joe Morgan at June 27, 2008 1:13 PM

Crank, thanks for posting this. Morgan is one of my favorite players of all time and, 30 years prior to Moneyball and a few prior to Bill James he was a secondary average deity. He was short, had a funny armpit hitch in his games, and hands down was baseball's best player for several years, a fact recognized twice in a row even by a media obsessed with BA and Rbi. And it is sad to see that he intersperses his brilliant in-game commentary about baserunning or tactics or minutiae with a disdain for Moneyball/Jamesian approaches to winning, which ironically he embodied perhaps more than any other player in history. I'm not sure why that is or even that I buy the article's premise that he just threw up his hands due to the inertia of the conventional wisdom within the game, but it'd make for a fascinating interview. If that really is Joe Morgan who posted above me perhaps you could solicit his reaction to it. Great posting.

Posted by: seth soothsayer at June 27, 2008 1:37 PM

Wow, if the left ever needed evidence that Bush surrounds himself with incompetent people, they can look no further than that bad idea.

Posted by: Tom G, at June 27, 2008 2:08 PM

Yeah, I was appalled.

Posted by: The Crank at June 27, 2008 2:13 PM

I really think Joe P. is onto something here concerning why Joe M. is how he is.

In a nutshell: In the 60s and early 70s, because the traditional stats and traditional thinking about baseball players didn't show Morgan to be a "great" player, Morgan, knowing he was a great player even then, decided that stats were worthless. And he still thinks that way, distrusting any analytical study of baseball players' values. It is really ironic because now we have the tools and the knowledge to measure a player's value in non-traditional ways, all of which show Morgan is a top-20 player of all time, and Morgan remains distrustful.

Posted by: alex at June 27, 2008 2:44 PM

Was I great player? Hard to say, since things change and all sorts of facets need to be examined and I could only provide my personal experience and opinion. All things being equal with the nature of change in the game maybe Joe Morgan was a great player but maybe there were other players that were better but it's hard to say if they were great players since you have to look at all the aspects of everything to determine whether or not you could maybe make a decision about whether or not someone was great. Or not. Just my opinion which may or may not be right. Or wrong.

Posted by: Joe Morgan at June 27, 2008 4:49 PM

I'm not so sure, Joe. You looked like a pretty great player to me. And so does this Dustin Pedroia. One on two away here in the fifth. He's 1-1 with a walk and he's become the heart and soul of these Red Sox the last couple of years...

Posted by: jon miller at June 27, 2008 4:59 PM

I'm not so sure, Joe. You looked like a pretty great player to me. And so does this Dustin Pedroia. One on two away here in the fifth. He's 1-1 with a walk and he's become the heart and soul of these Red Sox the last couple of years...

Posted by: jon miller at June 27, 2008 4:59 PM

Thanks Jon. Dustin Pedroia certainly does seem to be the catalyst for this Boston offense, of course that is just my personal opinion. I don't want to make any predictions about the rest of the season but I think that when it is all said and done Pedroia will be seen as the catalyst of this team by the end of the season. Although things do change during the season so we might see a different outcome later on but that remains to be seen.

Posted by: Joe Morgan at June 28, 2008 12:10 PM
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