The transcendental promises a vacation from history.
—Mason "Mel" Cooley
Orlando. Who stays it still withal?
Rosalind. With lawyers in the vacation; for they sleep
between term and term, and then they perceive not how Time
—William "Author" Shakespeare As You Like It
I envy people who can just look at a sunset. I wonder how you can shoot it. There is nothing more grotesque to me than a vacation.
—Dustin "Don't Call Me Trevor" Hoffman
Oh, Margie, you came and you found me a turkey on my vacation away from workey.
—Sung to the tune of "Mandy" by the great "Dancin'" Homer Simpson
Your wife's on my Wham-O
—The great John Candy "Maldonado" in "Summer Rental" trying to retrieve an errantly thrown Frisbee
Hey guys! I'm back!
—Steve "The Big Frank" Frankel, said often in public places to no one in particular for no particular reason.
I have just returned from four days at the beach, and boy, are my arms tired. But seriously, I was without any news from the outside world even through "telephones, faxes…" by which the president admittedly runs the country while on his many vacations. Imagine four days with no news on Amber Frey, Paris Hilton, Swift Boats, or baseball! It seems unimaginable, but to quote Lili Von Shtupp, "it's twue."
And the baseball world of course fell into complete chaos while I was gone. As you remember the Phils were the juggernaut of the NL a mere four days ago. Led by the capable management team of Ed Wade and Larry Bowa and owned by Judge "You'll get nothing and like it" Smails, the 2004 Phillies sliced through the National League like a knife through a schmear of schmaltz. Even with the many injuries they endured, their capable management team plugged every hole with top-tier talent like Steve Finley, Freddy Gracia, and Anna Benson. Then in four short days they fell to 75th in the NL East alone.
Meanwhile, those media darlings and heroes to everyone in the commissioner's office heck-bent on trampling on the remains of the players' union, the Texas Rangers sans A-Rod, owned the AL. They had three dozen MVP candidates, and that was in the bullpen alone. You see, their skills were just held in abeyance when the evil A-Rod controlled the team. They were just waiting for their chance and got it when the evil dictator was deposed, kind of like the Ents in the Lord of the Rings but not as tall. However, they have now fallen to second to last in their division, just one spot ahead of their lowly A-Rod infested days. Never mind that they are just a game and a half out of the lead and one game out of the wild card: like Senator John Blutarsky, I'm on a roll.
Taking even a short vacation, gives one pause to consider many things, most of which stem from the living hell that is work itself, something that Scott Adams has turned into a cottage industry. We return to work the full vessel of humanity, which work drains with an unerring yet subtle constancy like some sort of metaphysical, Kafka-esque water torture.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's good to be back. And yet one has to wonder what it's like to never have to work, to be on a constant vacation, either due to virtually unlimited funds or via connections. But enough about the president, I'm here to speechify on one Joe Morgan, a man whose baseballian analytical skills reside in his Hall-of-Fame pedigree. But Joe has been left pristinely innocent and unchanged by the burden of facts and evidentiary experience, like a rock bravely turning back unkind waves for aeons. But enough about Joe's head, I've noticed that Joe has been on vacation since the day he retired, and I don't just mean the four-month golf tournament that Joe seems to play in the off-season.
Joe Morgan hearkens back to the halcyon days with the Big Red Machine to answer or at least inform every issue. What I wonder is if there are negative consequences for such defiance of, well, reality. What we seemed to learn in almost every Star Trek episode was that, contrary to the media's response to the current administration, human beings need to be challenged to exist, oh, and that Jim Kirk likes to tumble unnecessarily when he fights. Otherwise, we turn into the slow-moving but incredibly strong lizard men, one of whom Kirk was forced to fight instead of just outrun in one episode, and we'd just sit around and drink tranya all day with Ron Howard's brother. Remember when a transporter malfunction split Kirk into two separate entities, one his good self and the other his evil self (sans beard), and the good Kirk couldn't make decisions? He needed the evil half to survive. That was awesome!
Oh, what was I talking about? You weren't listening either? Oh, well, without further ado, here's this week's Joe Morgan chat review and water treatment plan:
Ari (Newark, DE): If San Fran. claims the wild card position to make it into the playoffs, does Barry Bonds get another MVP? or do you think the MVP comes directly from the big three in St. Louis : Pujols, Rolen, and Edmonds?
Over the years I've watched Barry Bonds and I know that he has more impact on a game than any other player. I think this year St. Louis will have the best record, and that is directly related to the big three that you talk about. I think Rolen and Pujols are the two most likely MVP candidates at this point, but Barry Bonds is always the most valuable to me simply based on the impact he has on a game.
[Mike: Right you are, Joe. Bonds is the most valuable, but Rolen and Pujols will get more attention from the voters. Of course, using the voters' logic, Bonds will have the most impact on a playoff team, if the Giants make it. Without any one player the Cards would still have won their division; without Bonds, the Giants would be a pretty poor team.]
Dennis (NY, NY): Good morning, Do you the Cleveland Indians get too good to quick? I mean I think they were so successful b/c they played w/no pressure and just played hard. Then being just 1 game back, it looks like they didn't let the game come to them and lost that innocence that made them successful.
It sounds like you've hit the nail on the head, Dennis. I haven't seen too much of the Indians, but I think you're right. Things are different when you are expected to win. They are a young team and they may not be ready for that yet. It's a lot of pressure to handle. We'll have to see how they respond.
[Mike: Yeah, they should have sucked longer. Whence comes many a dynasty has been spawned, from the festering cesspool of putrescence. Look how many dynasties the lowly Phils have had.]
Henry, CA: Hey Joe, do you think Ichiro could have got MVP if he gets 257+ hits and the M's were little better?
Well, I think the latter is the key -- if the Mariners were a little better. I'm a big Ichiro fan but the Ms aren't really in the race so the award will probably go to one of those other candidates who are running right up there in the standings.
[Mike: This is like when Homer Simpson finds his long lost twin, Unkie Herb (played by Danny DeVito), the owner of a successful automobile company, who let's Homer run the place while Herb hangs out with the rest of the family. One day, an engineer calls to complain about Homer's ideas. Herb tells him to hang up, call back, and say the exact opposite of everything he just said. Herb plays the second completely complimentary phone call on speaker phone for Bart and Lisa. I don't remember the entire litany of complaints cum praise but it ends: "And his personal hygiene is beyond reproach."
Well, Joe's answer is the complete opposite of everything I would say on the topic. It's like when my five-year-old says it's opposite day and everything we say is the opposite of reality. Take his answers and reverse them. It's fun! Just like using that ibby-dibby language on "Zoom".]
Wes(Atlanta): Joe, Do you think this years Braves team has the best chance since 95 to win the world series since they seem to play with more heart and desire than the past business type mentality type teams?
I'm a big fan of Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone. Both of them over the years have done a great job to get Atlanta those 12-straight division titles. I'm a big fan of their coaching staff, but I don't think this is the best team they've had there. They ARE playing great. Agreed. If you got back to my first column of the year, I said that the Braves would still win their division -- a statement a lot of people disagreed with. We'll see what happens when October rolls around. ... On a side note, I DO NOT agree with Bobby Cox -- or anyone else-- who says the post season is just a crap shoot. You are not respecting or giving credit to those teams who consistantly play "October baseball" -- which is very different than regular season baseball. Realinzing that is what brings success in the post season.
[Mike: I agree with Joe's assessment of the 2004 Braves. However, I have to point out that Joe did not, in fact, pick them to win the division in his first column of the year. As a matter of fact he refused to pick anyone. Let's watch: "Every year people want me to predict who will win the division titles and the World Series, but I refuse to get sucked into that." This is from his April 2 article in the section titled "Predictions? No Thanks".
Joe refuses to go out on a limb and pick any teams at the beginning of the year, a pointless exercise, true, but something usually expected of baseball analysts. But then he just waits for the frontrunners to, well, run in front (ergo the name). Then he bounces saying he picked them the entire way. Sheer genius!
Of course, I made predictions at the beginning of the year and that's why I can state emphatically that I picked the Braves to win the NL East. I can state it, but it would be a lie. I picked my underachieving, hometown Phils, of course. From now on I will emulate Joe, not pick anyone, and then say that I picked the teams that came out on top. Never fails.
CORRECTION: This article was mislabeled in Joe's column index. It's actually from last year. Joe's first article this year was about Hank Aaron and contained no predictions. He made no predictions that I could find for 2004. He did however have this to say about the Braves in his first chat session in 2004:
The Braves have won 12 consecutive division titles so obviously someone over there knows how to win. That’s Bobby Cox. I’m not picking them to win their 13th this year, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised.
That's close enough in my book.]
Jason Quincy Illinois: Can the Cardinals win 110 games?
I don't know about numbers. I know they are the best team in the league. Their line-up is awesome. They are good hitters, they hit for average, they hit for power and they have speed. It's a combination of all good things on offense. 110 wins won't mean anything once the post season starts ... but that lineup will.
[Mike: Is that Jason from Quincy, IL or Jason Quincy from Illinois?
Anyway, Joe's "I don't know about numbers" reminds me of Han Solo's "Never quote me the odds!" Joe is such a swashbuckler, flying by the seat of his pants. Sheez, Joe lauds the team but refuses to go out on a limb and answer the question.
Mr. Quincy-Illinois Jacquet, the answer is no. The Cards are on a pace to win 106-107 (106.71 to be exact) now. They were on a pace to win 105 at the time of the chat. This team will be way up coming down the stretch and I expect Tony LaRussa to rest his starters to get them ready for the postseason. Besides down the stretch they will be playing teams like the Astros, Dodgers, and Padres (but not the Cubs), who may be in the playoff hunt or at least be jockeying for a better playoff position.]
Robert (Wash, D.C.): Hey Joe, is Major League Baseball dragging the move of the Expos because they are trying to find any other choice option other than D.C. to move them?
They've been dragging their feet for three years. The Expos should have been out of Monteal years ago. I hear Washington is the number one choice, but their must be some roadblocks that we don't know about that are holding up the selection process b/c everybody wants them to go there.
[Mike: Everybody? Everybody wants the Expos in DC?!?
Joe, it's been pretty public that Peter Angelos does not want anyone infringing on his territory.
Angelos told WBAL's Sportsline another team in Washington or Northern Virginia would hurt the team. He says quote -- "There are no real baseball fans in DC." Angelos says the fans are mainly in the Maryland suburbs, and those pushing for a DC or Northern Virginia team are trying to steal Orioles' fans.
The wild card in any relocation to the nation's capital is, of course, Baltimore attorney Angelos. Only 37 miles separate Camden Yards, the Orioles' downtown stadium, from Washington, and Angelos has spent most of the 10 years he has owned the club fending off the threat of new competition. The Orioles claim 25% of their fans hail from D.C. suburbs. "I don't believe a franchise--any franchise--should be confronted with competition 25 miles away," says Angelos.
That's not exactly rolling out the red carpet. Oh, and the few remaining Expos fans aren't too excited about it, I bet.]
Andrew (Tucson): Do you find the current trend of mound charging ridiculous? Why not just take your base and let your pitcher settle the score?
First of all, the pitchers do not get a chance to settle the score. There is a warning issued immediately and the pitcher may not get a chance to even things out. I don't believe in charging the mound -- i never did but I think that's b/c I was too small -- but I can understand why guys do it. If you think somebody threw at you and could have seriously injured you or injured you or worse -- end your carreer-- you want to retaliate. You want to get after the pitcher, I mean, they are the one that hit you. Not the second baseman or the shortstop who your pitcher could hit next inning. I understand why guys do it.
[Mike: If I've said it once, I've said it at least two or three times: Enforce the batter's box. Do that and you eliminate the high strikes that enrage batters by being "too close", a la Manny Ramirez in the ALCS last year. You eliminate the wide, flat strike zone that the umps ceded to the pitchers in the Eighties to compensate for batters sitting on top of the plate. I documented all of this in a study last year called "Zoning Out?" You no longer need QuesTec, which somehow became a non-issue this season.]
Oh by the way, someone explain this passage to me: If you think somebody threw at you and could have seriously injured you or injured you or worse -- end your carreer… It reminds me of the line in "Blazing Saddles" in which Hedley LaMarr is interviewing bad guys and an applicant lists his qualifications as "Rape, murder, arson, and rape." LaMarr says, "You said 'Rape' twice," and he responds, "I like rape."]
Nick (Greensboro, NC): Hey Joe!! What's your opinion of a World Cup of Baseball? Thanks
I think it's a great idea ... with a lot of drawbacks. I'm not sure if they are going to be able to remedy those in order to make it the fun and successful event that they hope for. Any time you can put your sport on a world stage, it really helps the marketing. I really hope this comes together.
[Mike: Now that the "Dream Team" has tanked, we need a sport with which we can still beat up on the rest of the world. I don't think baseball has promoted itself well enough internationally to make this more than a curiosity. There is plenty of talent in what used to be called Latin America and the Pacific Rim—I don't know what we call them today in the PC world. And Australia used to be a hot spot for young players, though it seems to have cooled off of late. Besides that, I don't see where else the talent will come from.]
Pete, NY: Joe, can you give a "baseball for dummies" definition of a balk? I can identify the obvious ones, but most of the time I have no idea what just happened. Thanks.
Well, there are so many different ways to balk. One of the keyes is from the wind-up, starting your motion and then stopping. Another way is not pausing at the belt in your stretch. In general, it's a start-and-stop without stepping off the wind up. There are many ways to balk. Throwing to an un-occupied base is also one of the many.
[Mike: Nice simple explanation, Joe. The definition of a balk is an "illegal act"
meant to deceive a runner. If he stops or hesitates in his motion while on the rubber to catch a runner off base, if feigns a throw to a base but throws to another or throws to an empty base just to deceive the runner(s), if he sneaks a "quick pitch" or doesn't face the batter or starts a funky delivery to get a trick pitch in, if he pretends to throw the ball without actually having the ball or he drops the ball, all of these things are deceptive.
By the way, Joe's "Throwing to an un-occupied base is also one of the many" is much too facile. A pitcher can throw to first after a double on an appeal play. That's legal. It's when he throws to a base without actually making a play.]
The Ugly: Part I—Phillies
Noonan (Philly, PA): Big Joe, Is there a bigger disappointment in baseball than the Phillies? They're killing us here in Philly! What changes should they make this off season to improve?
I haven't seen the Phillies enough to say whether Larry Bowa should be fired, which I know is a hot topic. What I see is the injuries in Philly. That takes its toll. (That's why I have such respect for the Angels). The Phillies have gone through a lot. I haven't seen the atmosphere in the clubhouse first hand, so I'm not sure what else is going on over there. They need their guys healthy.
[Mike: Miss it, Noonan! Sorry, I had to.
Way to take a stand, Joe. They just need to get healthier. Oh, that explains it. Take your vitamins and you win a pennant. An apple a day, keeps the Marlins at bay.
But even when the team was pretty healthy (prior to the Burrell, Wagner, and Madson injuries around the end of July), the Phils had played .500 ball for the better part of three months. They had had some injuries to the rotation (Padilla and Wolf) and management had failed to get a viable replacement (Paul Abbott?). Bowa had gaslighted leadoff hitter/center fielder Marlon Byrd down to Triple-A without a viable replacement. Byrd then became his own replacement at the trade deadline after an unremarkable tour of the minors.
Besides, Joe, you are a professional baseball analyst and can't follow all 30 teams? How about just those who, like the Phils for some time, are in contention? That's probably only about half of the thirty. Why even have a chat if you can't offer opinions on any but a handful of teams?]
Eric, MD: Hey Joe. If you could change one thing about modern day baseball, what would it be?
Probably the practice of building smaller and smaller ball parks. I think that's one of the problems Philly has. The other teams come in and it feels like they have an advantage rather than playing on the road. The balls are just flying out of the stadium.
[Mike: Joe knows nothing about the Phils but he thinks that their new stadium is their problem. I wonder why they hadn't won in the last decade in the Vet?
Somehow the opposition feels like they have an advantage playing at CB Park even though the Phils have guys like Thome and Abreu who can hit one out once in a while themselves? Maybe the opposition thinks they have an advantage because of the Phillies' pitching. Here's a home/road breakdown for the team with runs and home runs for and against:
Note that the Phils are getting beaten up at home, but it's not because of the long ball. Yes, they are out-homered at home but by not as much as on the road (.11 vs. .13 per game). The difference is that their pitching has given up an addition .38 runs per game at home while their offense has only created an additional .11 runs per game.
By the way, how are smaller ballparks a problem? That's more of an aesthetic preference, isn't it?
As I said before, the biggest problem in the game is the lack of enforcement of the batter's box. It affects everything else on the field.]
The Ugly: Part II—Griffey
Tom(Huntsville, AL): Joe, that was a great article you wrote about Ken Griffey, Jr. Part of me agrees with you that Junior needs to move on for his sake and the Reds. Junior would make a great DH in the AL, but if I were the Reds I would ask a lot for him because he's still very valuable, especially at the DH position. He's proven he can still hit. Do you think the Reds could get some top-quality pitchers in return for Junior going to an AL team?
I'm trying to figure out which part you don't agree with, Tom. Except, you can't get too much for him if he's not healthy. My point about Griffey is, you can't wait till he's healthy. AL, NL, whatever. I think he needs to be out of Cincinnati and everybody needs to just move on.
[Mike: First let's go to that article. Joe's two point are:
If he has a change of scenery, maybe his luck will change -- you never know.
And from the Reds' perspective, Wily Mo Pena has done a good job filling in while Griffey has been hurt.
[Mike: But then Joe says:
If not for the injuries, Griffey might still be the best player in the game.
[Mike: That's a patently ridiculous statement—Bonds was a better player in the Nineties and got better in the 2000s while Griffey declined prior to the injuries. However, what about the two points in favor of trading Griffey.
Pena has hit for power but has just a .307 OBP. He's 22 and deserves a spot in the lineup, but who's to say that Griffey and Pena couldn't inhabit the same outfield? Who'll play right for the Reds next year anyway?
And why would Griffey's luck with injuries improve outside of Cincinnati? Is Joe an actuary whose run the data for personal injury in all major US cities?
What Joe leaves out is what other team would take him if he is so severely damaged that he can no longer play in Cincinnati even though he is the "best player in the game" when healthy? How much are they going to get for him if they are just going to up and cut bait now, especially with his healthy contract?
Besides, the Reds were 46-41 when Griffey went down July 10 and are now 60-65. That's a 14-24 record while he was out (actually, he returned briefly and they went 2-1 in his return, meaning that they are 12-23 without him). Aren't they better off by having him in the lineup? Joe can't tell you one thing wrong with the Phils themselves, and yet he believes Griffey must go in Cincy. Huh?
Oh, by the way, Joe said this in a chat last August about Griffey:
My feeling, just a personal feeling, is that they need to sever that relationship for Griffey and for the Reds. It just has not worked. Sometimes you just need a change. The Reds need a change from Griffey and Griffey definately needs a change from the Reds. They need to sever that relationship.
Sound familiar? Then he spent this entire season jumping on the Griffey Bandwagon. Now, he's off again after another setback. He's more mercurial than Randy Quaid in "Major League II". In fact, isn't this just a peeved fan whose team didn't make the playoffs after a promising start rather than an informed baseball alayst?]
Jeff (St. Louis): Joe - agree with your assessment of Griffey Jr needing a change of scenery. (Anything to get him out of the division!) With Edgar Martinez retiring and Junior still beloved in Seattle, would he be a perfect fit to DH for the Mariners? Less stress on his body not having to roam CF, perhaps?
There was a time during the early part of the season that they were talking about trading him back to Seattle, I thought that was a pretty good idea -- at the time. But now, it looks like Seattle is not going to have a good team for awhile. I think he needs to go to somewhere in contention to be his best, but, you're right, Seattle is not a bad fit for Jr.
[Mike: Ooh, the precious Junior can't bother to put his best effort forward unless he plays for a contender. So the Reds have to trade him and to a contender? Talk about limiting yourself.
And by the way: I thought that was a pretty good idea -- at the time Joe, the Reds fan salivated all over Griffey all season, writing homages aplenty. Why would he think a midseason trade of the player he calls the Reds' best would be a pretty good idea? Again, some revisionist history from an embittered fan.]