- Walter "Bud" Kurtz's dying words in Conrad's The Heart of Darkness and therefore, Apocalypse Now.
"By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes."
-2nd Witch in MacBeth (I think that it was Serena to Elizabeth Montgomery's Samantha).
"There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!"
- Ebenezer Scrooge (inventor and namesake of the Scroogie) to Marley's Ghost in A Christmas Carol
"OW! That's scarrry...OK, so it's not scary."
-Count Floyd, a.k.a. Joe "Don't Call Me John" Flaherty of Second City fame.
- Dr. Clayton Forrester, Mystery Science Theater 3000
When I was a kid growing up, as is the custom, in the suburban Seventies of Philadelphia-a cross between Rush's Subdivisions and Smashing Pumpkins' 1979 video-a whole new world was opened up to me by a local TV personality called Dr. Shock. Dr. Shock appeared to be the stoical older brother of Grandpa Al Lewis of Munsters fame, oh, and I think the doctorate was honorary. He had a bizarrely normal family including a cute-as-a-button daughter named Bubbles (I think) a la Marilyn Munster. She would wake him from his coffin to start the show-nice touch.
Every Saturday, Dr. Shock would introduce the worst horror movies of all time as if he were presenting a classic like The Omen or better yet as if he were hosting Cookie Monster's Monsterpiece Theater. You have to hand it to him given that looking back the only people who could have gotten scared by the slow-footed, would-be ghouls would be Lou Costello or Shaggy of Scoobie-Doo fame ("Zoinks!"). Though I do have to admit that The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake still scares the bejesus out of me.
Joe Morgan is like Dr. Shock in a lot of ways. He introduces the most frightful bits of nostalgia as if they were as chiller-thriller as Bill Cosby's Chicken Heart broadcast. To the zombified masses, his palaverizing pontifications are pithy yet somewhat pusillanimous as Joe wavers back and forth worse than Jeckyll and Hyde. What's most frightful is that Joe began life as a sabermetrician's dream player and indeed he was one of my favorites. But as Joe aged like a teenage werewolf his erstwhile presentable, Michael Landon-esque baseball persona transformed into a creature more closely resembling a scotch terrier, or the baseball equivalent, Suzyn Waldman of the YES network.
Well, this week it appears that Joe swapped places with a Rob Neyer from another, slightly parallel universe. So this week's chat session is something of a Spock, or rather Joe, With A Beard, a complete opposite of the usual, while Neyer is having difficulty projecting out Smoltz's strikeout total for the year (even though it is on a hyperlink off the article in error). The chat session is cut short, I believe, due to some sort of abduction of Joe in order to stabilize the experiment before Neyer starts to transmogrify a la Jeff Goldblum in The Fly. Excessive expectoration is the first sign. To combat the negative reaction to the experiment, they are transferring anti-sabematrician Joe Morgan's head onto Neyer's shoulders following the blueprints that resulted from racist Ray Milland's gulliver transfer to Rosey Grier's ample frame in the classic The Thing with Two Heads.
So to quote the estimable Dr. Shock, "Let there be fright!".
The Good: Joe with a Beard
pat, alameda: hey joe! why did the mariners trade jeff nelson? i mean, when you take him out of the closer role, he is almost unhittable. I was in Seattle when he made those statements and he apologized the next day. i had benitez on my fantasy team and he is a little "shaky", but not as bad as someone as bobby ayala or anything. but i want to know why gillick did that...he could have done better. go m's!!
My feeling is they are not sure they are going to get Kasuhiro back. They need a closer. Benitez can close and be a good closer once you get him out of NY. Nelson just wasn't comfortable in that role.
[Mike: Yeah, and they traded problems, too. Though I'm not sure if the Russian judge would accept the spelling of Kazuhiro.]
Craig (Latrobe, PA): Rob Neyer just wrote a column pitching the idea of Eric Gagne (or perhaps John Smoltz) taking home the NL Cy Young. What do you think? Could one of them possibly get it over Jason Schmidt, Dontrelle Willis, or another starting pitcher?
I think they can win it. I don't think they should. I don't think a closer should win it. They just don't pitch enough innings and only pitch when their team is ahead. The starters put in the most work. They are the guys that you have to have to get to the closers.
[Mike: Huh, I agree with Joe, not Neyer. Who's the sabermetrician here? (Or "Where's your messiah now?" Thanks Edward G.) This is what tipped me off to the personality transfer thingy.]
Drew M. (Seattle, WA): Hey Joe,, that blown call by the umpire the other day in the Colorodo game was probably the worst call I have ever seen in my entire life. I know that umpires cannot get every call right but i think it showed alot of class when he admitted after the game that he blew the call and would have a tough time sleeping that night. Don't you think if more umpires would start owning up to their huge mistakes we would respect their calls alot more and thus wouldn't have everyone arguing all the time?
Once an umpire makes a call, he doesn't have a replay to watch like you or me. They have to live with their calls. At the moment, they think they are doing the right thing. I don't think owning up to the mistakes makes the game better. Everyday umpires get calls wrong. If everyone admitted to their mistakes, we would lose faith in them.
[Mike: Right, it goes back to the "There's no crying in baseball" theorem. You made a mistake-shake it off, and get back out there like a man.]
Matthew (Roswell, GA): Joe, you ever seen a manager call for a squeeze at a worse time than Frank Robinson did last night -- in the top of the 9th inning of a tie game on an 0-2 count? With the *bases loaded*? I love the squeeze play but that was just bizarre.
I did not see the play, but it does sound bizarre to do it on an 0-2 count. Maybe he just had a feeling the guy was going to throw a strike and no one would expect it. The success of a squeeze play is determined by the element of suprise and maybe that is what he was going for. But I wouldn't have done it.
[Mike: Right you are, Bearded Joe. Let's set the scene. There was one out in the top of the ninth of a tie ballgame. Right-handed Jamey Carroll was pinch-hitting for Rocky Biddle. The bases were loaded after an infield single and two walks. Lefty Eddie Oropesa was relieved by righty Jose Valverde. Carroll got two strikes, one called and one swinging, and then fouled off a ball. The next pitch was the bunt attempt and it was fouled off for a strikeout. Endy Chavez then flied out to center to end the inning. The D-Backs won the game in exciting fashion with a Raul Mondesi homer to lead off the tenth.
Now, there have been 3488 plate appearances this year with the bases loaded. Of those only one ended in a successful bunt attempt. However, they have been 89 home runs and 234 walks (though that was rather remote here). Well I guess Robinson was trying to avoid the double play, but there have been just 238 of those while there have been 259 sac flies alone in similar situations. Montreal is batting .289 as opposed to the league average of .278 in these situations and has a .757 OPS, 6 points higher than average. Robinson termed it an act of desperation. But the Expos numbers are pretty good with the bases loaded, two men had just walked, they had a new pitcher in, and lefty Endy Chavez was facing the right-hander next. Robinson just gave away an out.
OK, so you say the 0-2 count was the concern. There have been 10,449 plate appearances with an 0-2 count. The next pitch resulted in a successful bunt just 35 times, a double play 186 times, a hit batsman 149 times, and home run 128 times. Men batted just .156 in the situation. By far the greatest direct result was a strikeout, occurring 44.43% of plate appearances. So what did Robinson do? He helped tipped the odds even more in favor of a K.
By the way, Carroll has 12 bunts in just 299 career plate appearances, which may have been the reason that Robinson attempted the silly call. But if it was a good call, why not do it on the first pitch? Why do it when the hitter has already dug a hole and the margin for error is nil.
It's just a bad call.]
The Bad: It is alive! It is alive! It is alive!
Alex B (Greensboro, NC): Hey Joe, obviously baseball's image has taken some pretty heavy hits over the past few years with the contraction issue, strikes, the Marlins firesale of '98 and the list goes on. I love baseball and I hate the vibe that money is all that matters in the majors, something I still refuse to believe. What would a possible Cubs-Red Sox matchup do for baseball and if marketed correctly could this go a long way in turning around baseball'
No. There are a lot of Cubs and Red Sox fans but they are not the predominate fans in the game. There area lot of fans that aren't aligned to one particular team. It would be great historically but I don't think it would help to change the image of the game.
[Mike: The operative phrase is "if marketed correctly". It doesn't matter how many fans there are of the teams in the Series, even if it's the lovable losers who are meeting. What matters is that baseball make fandom care about the Series. Yet far they have proven incapable of this, unless you think contraction-gate was a feel-good event.
(By the way, I have Count Floyd of SCTV's Monster, Horror, Chiller, Theatre sketch as the icon, not because I thought he was bad, but rather because that was kinda the point of the sketch. You have to love any skit that tried to prove that Tip O'Neil and Dick Cavett are scary.)]
Tim (Lawton, OK): Hey Joe, love your broadcast and columns. 2 questions for you. 1. why can't the fans get to see the real Barry Bonds? In your recent Sunday night convertsation with Barry, he seemed to let go some. He seemed fun to be around. 2. Don't you think if he was a little more that way with his teamates that it would be better for the team?
First and foremost, Barry trusts me because he knows me. He does not trust a lot of guys in the media and rightfully so. He is guarded at the ballpark but a lot of guys are that way. You hear about it more because Barry is so huge. The guy from Sports Illustrated wrote a nasty article just because Barry made him wait a bit. It's not just a Barry Bonds problem, a lot of media people suffer because of what other media people have done in the past.
<>[Mike: The "Real Barry Bonds"? Has he been abducted, too? Were those giant pea packets in the San Fran dugout at Pac Bell the other day?
Again, it comes down to marketing. I find Bonds to be an interesting, intelligent, outspoken player. The media portray him as a spoiled loudmouth. Whoever is right, baseball should be trying to make Bonds the next Jordan, Gretzky, Woods, Mia Hamm, et al. But they are more concerned with orchestrating the sales of franchises to their cronies, breaking the union, and not making Bud Selig look ridiculous at another All-Star game.]
Kelso, NYC: Hi, Joe. Soriano has been in a slump since June, and Torre has dropped him to 8 in the lineup. How can he best make adjustments, now that pitchers have seemed to figure him out?
It depends on what they are doing to him on a consistent basis. I thought part of the reason he struggled was injuries, not just pitchers figuring him out. If gets healthy, I think he will be OK.
[Mike: Don't you guys listen to Mondesi? It's because he's Dominican.
Or maybe we should check out his monthly numbers:
Something started back in May and it's getting progressively worse. It's so sudden that I would have to think it was an injury. He's had a badly bruised left thumb since the first week in July but it does not explain May. Let's see what happens when the thumb heals but there is always the possibility that Soriano may be Burrelling.]
Fetu (Buenos Aires): We know Pedro is fragile. Whats the need to have him pitch a complete game (Way over 120 pitches) at this moment of the season? Is it Grady lacking some confidence on his relievers (Kim, specially) or Pedro trying to prove something (I dont think he has to)?
I think there comes a time where you have to find out what you have in Pedro and he has to find out what is left in his arm. You can't go through the whole season, "Can he give me 9 innings in the postseason?" You have to find out now, not in Sept. or Oct. Now Pedro has some confidence moving forward. They shouldn't do it routinely but at some point, you have to find out what you can get out of a guy down the stretch, as far as innings go.
[Mike: Yeah, we should find out on opening day if he's ready to handle both ends of a doubleheader too, just in case.
Look, you need at most 4 starters in the playoffs. Most teams carry either 11 or 12 pitchers even in the playoffs. That means that there are 7 or 8 guys in the bullpen. Why do need him to go 9 even in the postseason? Besides, how does wearing is ever-fragile out now help ensure that he will go 9 in October?]
Danny (Fairfax, VA): Your live in California, don't you Joe? When are you throwing your hat into the ring for governor?
Well, I live in California. I like Arnold as an actor, but not as the Governor of California. It takes different qualities. Although some will say politicians ARE good actors.
[Mike: Ah, yuck yuck yuck. That's rich...Oh my sides.
Get back to baseball!]
Scott (Honolulu, HI): Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols are blowing away the rest of the league, and neither seems likely to slow down. Who would be your MVP, if they both keep up what they have been doing?
At this point I would split my ballot. Being blunt with you, I'm a friend of Barry's but he has won 5 MVP's .. let Pujols win one. There is not doubt in anyone's mind that Bonds has the most impact on the game offensively on a daily basis. He makes everyone around him better. The pitchers have to worry about him 3 hitters in advance. Pujols is having a fantastic year and is deserving of MVP. Like the guys born in Tiger Woods' era, he is in the Barry Bonds era. He could have been MVP last year if not for Bonds.
[Mike: You can split your MVP vote!?! What is this, a presidential election in Florida?
Don't penalize Bonds for having won 5 MVPs. For all you know Pujols may win 10 in his career. Don't his first one a jaded one.
Bonds beats Pujols in on-base (by 73 points), slugging (by 55), and (of course) OPS. He also has more home runs (35 to 32) in 131 fewer at-bats. Pujols is having a terrific season but leads only in batting average, runs and RBI. Bonds is even beating Pujols in outfield defense. Bonds even has the "playoff qualifier" argument on his side.
Pujols may end up being the MVP winner but it will be an empty, Sammy Sosa in 1998 MVP. Bonds is the better player right now.]
Robert (Houston, TX): Why aren't there more knuckleball pitchers in the majors? They can be productive innings-eaters.
That's about all they can do. Knuckleball pitchers are inconsistent. You don't want that guy pitching in a close game, the ball might get away from the catcher. There are just so many variables to control. It's just not something a manager looks for. True, they can eat up a lot of innings, but you don't want him in there in the late innings of a close game.
[Mike: That's right! That's why that Hoyt Wilhelm character never caught on as a reliever.
The reason that knuckleballers are not major-leaguers is the basis of Moneyball. Baseball scouting has become a single-minded science where only 5-tool players like Ruben Rivera and pitchers who register three digits, or nearly so, on the radar gun like Rick Ankiel roam.]
James (nc): Hey Joe, Do you see Barry Bonds going to the AL and DH-ing in the next 2-3 seasons?
He made a statement that he might do that. I personally do not see him doing that. If you have played in the NL all your life, I don't think you want to go the AL for any length of time. But who knows.
[Mike: Ah, Joe you yourself ended your great career in the AL after 21 in the Senior Circuit.]
Randy (Houston): Joe, I've always admired you, and love your insight into baseball. So, what's up with the Astro's offense? On paper, they have a very strong team, but if they keep producing as they are, the NL Central lead will be gone.
It's difficult to pinpoint when I don't see them everyday. But to me, Biggio is still the catalyst for this team. The other day he was hitting around .260. Bagwell's average is under his normal and his runs batted in is under normal. I think it starts at the top. They have got Hidalgo back on track so they should be one of the best offenses in the game. If Biggio gets hot, you will see a big gain offensively on the Astros.
[Mike: Biggio is a leadoff hitter-who cares a whit about his RBI. Really, batting average is academic. What matters is how often he gets on base, "sets the table", as the analysts like to say. His .348 on-base percentage is just average (Houston is 13th in the majors in leadoff hitters OBP, .337, and 12th in runs for leadoff men, 81).
That's not great, but their real problem comes later in the batting order. Their .303 on-base average for #2 is 28th in the majors, trailed by only the lowly Dodgers and Tigers. The bulk of that are empty at-bats given to Geoff Blum (.294 OBP), who has been outplayed offensively and defensively by Morgan Ensberg.
After that, the usually stellar Jeff Bagwell batting third has been just average (.369 OBP is 13th in the majors, .501 slugging is also 13th). The cleanup hitter has been Jeff Kent, for the most part, and Lance Berkman, which has been a productive mix with the Astros 5th in the majors in OPS (.934, i.e., On-base Plus Slugging). The five-hole hitter (either Berkman or Richard Hidalgo) has been the best in the majors with a .949 OPS (43 points ahead of Boston at number 2). The number six hitter (mostly Hidalgo) has been productive as well (.822, fifth in the majors).
Then you get to the anemic Brad Ausmus at number 7, putting Houston 29th in the majors (.602, Ausmus' #5 OPS is .542!). And batting eighth, the shortstop (Adam Everett or, earlier on, Julio Lugo) the Astros rank 22nd in the majors (.624 OPS).
Overall, Houston is 11th in runs, 15th in OPS (.753), 14th in slugging (.423), and 18th in OBP (.329). This should come as no surprise as they were 14th in runs last year. And this is in a decent hitter's park.
The Astros have some very poor spots (#2, #7, and #8) and a few average players at the top of the order (#1 and #3). They have had a great deal of production in the 4-5-6 spots, but that does not make up for the other deficiencies. As Joe said, the Astros could use Biggio getting hot. But if the number 2 and 3 hitters don't deliver he may be stranded. Going more to Ensberg seemed a good move, but his offense has dropped off since he assumed a larger role in over the last 6 weeks or so (he did have a monster June though).]
Dan (Levittown, NY): Joe, with the Royals blowing another late inning lead last night,, do you think they can still keep up their pace to win the division or is Chicago or Minnesota the ones to win that race? Thanks
You can't predict what will happen, but I think Chicago has an edge right now because they have veterans on that team that have played in the World Series. Every time you want to count KC out, they bounce back. Pena is doing a fantastic job of keeping that team from folding. I would never count them out but I give the edge to the White Sox.
[Mike: Right, World Series vets are what enabled the Angels to win big last year. Wait a moment...
I think the Royals have an edge because they lead in the standings. The White Sox have been hot of late and what with Konerko finally turning his season around, they could stay hot. KC has had a torrent of injuries to key players all year, though it has not seemed to slow them, and continues to tinker with the rotation. The Twins' rotation (5.03 ERA) have been awful.
I like Chicago. I picked 'em to win the division, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Royals were this year's Angels.]
Scott Hall: What do the Cubs need most right now to get into the playoffs: Shortstop or Mid-Relief?
I think in this day and age, pitching is the dominant factor in everything. They need more offense but their relief and their closer, when you are going down the stretch, you need a guy that when he takes the mound, you know you are going to win. They don't have that yet.
[Mike: What the Cubs need most are wins in orde to make the playoffs.
Chicago has some offensive troubles at short and catcher, and third base has been a veritable sink hole, currently engulfing Aramis "Don't Call Me Porthos" Ramirez.
As for relievers, they have a bullpen ERA of 3.99 (12th in the majors), and middle men Guthrie, Veres, Farnsworth, and Remlinger all have ERA below 3.90. Alfonseca has been a disappointment but has been injured and has a salary that they can't or won't eat.
By the way, Joe's panning of closer Joe Borowski does not hold water. Yes, his 3.29 ERA and 21 saves are nothing to write home about, but he averages nearly a strikeout per inning, owns a near 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio, has only blown four saves all year, and has a 1.08 WHIP. The Royals are winning with a closer who sports a 4.5 ERA.
Shortstop is the bigger problem of the two mentioned, but then again Gonzalez's poor offense has been overexposed in the two hole most of the year. Worse yet is the third basemen who have a collective OPS of .601, worst in the majors.]
Loren (San Diego, CA: what has happened to the Angels this season? They looked so promissing at the beginning of the season. What would you do to improve this team and make it once again competitive?
It's just the opposite of last year isn't it? They looked horrible at the start of last season and turned it around. Repeating as champions is very very hard. You just don't see it that often. Sometimes you let things creep into your thinking, that things will come easy and everything will work out. They just played with more energy last year.
[Mike: Oh, it's the California energy shortage that caused it. Look, other teams improved and the Angels didn't, plain and simple. They held onto the team that won the Series last year and are paying for it.
The Angels have allowed about have a run more this year and are scoring less (about .75 runs fewer per game). Their starters have an ERA just under 5.00, about a run higher than last year (their bullpen has actually improved about 23 ERA points on last year's stellar season).
So where do you improve? Starting rotation is the most logical place, and they have already started. Gone is the aging Kevin Appier and callow Mickey Calloway, and stellar reliever Scott Shields has moved to the rotation with some success and rookie Kevin Gregg threw six shutout innings the other day in his major-league debut. In the offseason, the have to evaluate the young core of Lackey, Washburn, and Ortiz and determine if they are headed in the right direction.
On offense, they have to figure out if David Eckstein's 100-point OPS slide was a one-year bump in the road or represents his true value. They should give up on Darrin Erstad, who has not had a decent season since 2000 and hasn't had two in a row since 1997-98, even though they owe him $24 M over the next three seasons. They also should restock their bench where there have been a number of lollygaggers this year.]
Marco D. (Bayville, New York): Do you see Drew Henson ever making it to the majors? Obviously when the yankees got boone, they weren't happy with hensons progress, but have they lost all faith. As far as I know he is still very young player and can still be the dangerous hitter he was 3 years ago.
I don't think you can say they have lost all faith. The teams that have a chance to win are looking at right now. Not next season. If Henson looks like he can make it, they may trade Boone. If they still have faith, there will be a spot for him eventually.
[Mike: Joe, you said last week, "According to what I have read, he hasn't given them any reason not to give up." Oh, I forgot: that was good Joe, and this is evil Joe With a Beard. Sorry.
The Yankees have faith in the money they have invested in him. If they can get a return on that investment, good. If not, they are prepared to soldier on with Boone apparently.
Chris Haddad, Marthas's Vineyard, Mass.: Mr. Morgan, The Oakland As have not hit their usual summer upswing like they have in years past. Do you think it's because management has nailed down a philosophy of "If you do well for our club, great, but we can't afford to keep you?" Tejada, Chavez, Zito are all having down years, with Tejada a FA this winter. Am I totally off-track or right on the money?
I don't think it affects the way players play. Once you get on the field, you aren't thinking along those lines. They are playing pretty well right now but not as good as they could be offensively. Without Tejada they would not have won last year. If he stays hot, they can catch Seattle.
[Mike: Tejada was worth 32 Win Shares last year. Let's say he's on target for about half that this year. If he kicks into high gear for the remainder of the season, the difference would be about 4 Win Shares (i.e., 31-16 divided by 4 for a quarter of the season). Divide that by three to get actual wins and you get 1. By the way, since Tejada was worth about 32 Win Shares or 10 wins, a replacement-level player would have ensured a playoff spot since they led the next wild card team by 10 games.
The real problem in Oakland all year has been the outfield. They need Guillen to assert himself, Byrnes to return to his early-season form, and Terrence Long to not completely suck. Then if veterans like Tejada and Chavez can improve to their established levels for the remainder of the season, they have a shot.]
Moderator: Joe is running just a few minutes late this morning .. he will be joining us in approximately 15 minutes. Thank you.
Moderator: Sorry for the delay .. Joe should be joining us soon.
[Mike: Hey, Moderator, if that is your real name, what have you done with Joe?]
Moderator: I am here and ready to go!
[Mike: Hey, you're not Joe. Your name shows up as Moderator still. Was my first tipoff that he'd been abducted.]
Paddy (San Diego, CA): Joe, Loved the broadcast on Wednesday as well as the many years on Sunday nights. I like the Living Legends series ESPN is doing, but please tell me that Vin Scully is going to be on one of these. He is the greatest sports broadcaster alive today. He is the best part of being a Dodger fan. You don't see many broadcasters calling games by themselves (no disrespect to you and Jon Miller, you are my favorite broacast "team") and you'll never hear anyone do it better. In his 50 plus years of baseball, it's amazing the things he has seen. I hope he will be included this year.
Hi Paddy, thanks for the compliments. I love the Living Legends series too. Scully can't do it and Costas can't do it, just because of scheduling. I would love to work with both of them.
[Mike: They've been abducted as well!]
john (new haven, ct): What is your opinion on those giant televisions they have out in centerfield in most ballparks. Personally I find the idea of going to Yankee stadium and being barraged in between innings by blaring music and absurd video gimmicks offensive. Why not get rid of all that crap and let the game speak for itself?
First of all, they won't get rid of them, whether you or I like them or not. They are just trying to find something for the dead times between innings. It can be a useful tool if used properly. Plus it gives teams a chance to show highlights of the home team between inning. It's a good idea, they just don't always use them properly.
[Mike: It's part of the plot. They are using the jumbo screens to control us. John knows it's true. Bearded Joe/Moderator is just covering it up.]
Moderator: We lost our connection with Joe .. we will likely have to wrap things up here. Thanks for all your great questions .. talk to you next week!
[Mike: Oh, no! The time-space continuum is being ripped apart. Joe With a Beard is being wrenched from our universe. The real Joe is going to return! The horror! Ah, it's a cookbook! Norman, coordinate! Open the pod bay doors HAL! It's a desset topping! No, it's a floor wax! Oh, poopie!]
(By the way, I used the Mystery Science Theater 3000 logo to convey the ugliness that they see in the films they host, not the ugliness of the show itself.)