Spring still makes spring in the mind,
When sixty years are told;
Love wakes anew this throbbing heart,
And we are never old.
-Emerson (i.e., the inventor of crappy electronics equipment)
Today in the Northeast people are more concerned with snow than baseball. Spring seems as far away as a Barry Bonds home run ball. But unbeknownst to the locals, the new season has begun. How do I know? The first Joe Morgan Chat Day is in the books. And unbeknownst to Speed, Racer X is actually his long-lost brother Rex, but I digress.
We-I can't decide if that's the royal We or I'm schizophrenic, and so am I-here at Mike's Baseball Rants love the Joe Morgan and we love the Joe Morgan Chat Days even more. Joe was the greatest second baseman we've ever seen. He had one of the greatest stances in baseball history. And he was a member of the 1983 "Wheeze Kid" Phils, not to mention an earlier team referred to as the Big Red something-or-other. Joe is also a charming and affable gentleman, or appears to be so. He knows tons more about baseball on the field than we will ever know.
But as a baseball analyst, Joe is the most infuriating in the business. He is not as execrable as the di-a-bo-lical sab-o-tag-E (to quote Bugs) that is being perpetrated during a Steve Lyons- Thom Brennaman broadcast. Joe is far more subtle and insidious. He can make a great point followed by one of the most inane and backward statements you will ever hear. Sometimes he does both at the same time. This is JMCD nirvana for the initiated.
Joe has spent the offseason holed up somewhere out of the baseball spotlight, probably playing golf as is his wont. He has chosen this propitious time (i.e., right after the Veterans' Committee failed to elect anyone to the Hall) to spring his head out of his self-imposed hibernation like a groundhog and survey the baseball landscape. Indeed, Joe casts himself as a baseball harbinger, a precursor foreshadowing what is to come.
Joe is baseball's intrepid groundhog. In this pivotal year in which labor strife, contraction, Bud's ugly mug, and decent major-league pay (apparently) are a distant memory, baseball needs to forge ahead and in a forward-thinking, fan-tabulous spirit. It needs new ways to attract fans like demanding that it's players sign autographs before games and that its mascots give that little extra when he is sweating off 10 pounds on a sultry summer night.
Joe, the most stalwart of the new generation of "it was just better in our day" curmudgeonly old-timers needs to instead embody a new spirit of open-minded analysis. The first step this offseason wasn't the most positive: the old Hall-of-Fame Vets rejected all candidates. However, perhaps Joe in his new State of the Unionized, i.e., his chat session can change that direction.
If groundhog Joe comes out of his hole and does not see his shadow, it means that there will be murkier baseball horizon but one rife with positive change in the near future. That is, Spring, a new dawning is near.
If Joe casts his eyes down and sees his shadow, he and stalwarts like him will forever be dwelling on their baseball pasts. This means that we will remain in the cold baseball winter of our discontent for some time to come.
C'mon, Joe, we need Spring very badly.
I can't say that he starts with the most positive step:
Joe Morgan: As Vice Chairman of the Hall of Fame, I think we have to give the Veteran's Committee Process one more chance before we say it doesn't work. I think it needs one more turn. As a player and HOFer, I wish there was voting again next year. I think a lot of people understand the process better now. Instead we have to wait two more years. Therefore, I'm not pleased with that. But as Vice Chairman, I do think the process will work in the long run.
[Mike: Ok, there's positive tone in there. I disagree with him though. I think that the Mike Schmidts of the Committee are of the mindset of, "These bums weren't selected by the writers, so why should I pick them? They're just not Hall of Famers"-not realizing that that mindset invalidates the existence of the Vets' Committee in the first place. It's also incorrect in some cases. But I'm afraid that the Vets will be unable to agree-at least to the required degree of 75% concordance- on any candidate. No one was over 60% this year and given that the only new candidate in two years will be Jim Kaat, the odds do not increase. I think that the Vets Committee embodies the same stagnation that the writers had in the mid-Forties and it will be scrapped by the time that the next vote is released, if not sooner. Maybe they'll let 'em vote again next year instead of waiting.
But that's not very positive of me. Let's give it another chance, Mike. Who cares if White Herzog is dead by the next time he is eligible or if arguably the best available manager, Gene Mauch, is not even on the ballot? There, I feel better already.]
The Good: No ShadowAndy Nunez, NY: Joe,
Do you think the Veteran's Committee was being objective in their decision or just trying to prove a point that they won't be practicing cronyism? I think it is a shame that Gil Hodges didn't make it in. What do you think? Joe Morgan: I don't think anyone was trying to prove a point. You have to respect everyone's opinion, even if they differ with yours. My voting differed with most of them but they have that right. It's a big step. The HOFers are deciding who will sit next to them. That's important. They take it very seriously. It had nothign to do with anything that has happened before.
[Mike: I agree: It was not cronyism. You have to like someone for cronyism to work. They didn't like anyone. They don't want anyone to "sit next to them". They're the women on the subway who take up an extra seat with her shopping bags. "It's my Hall of Fame and you can't have it." But I have to hand it to Joe for respecting everyone's opinion.]
Thom..Providence ,RI: Joe: What's your take on Red Sox GM Theo Epstien's new "Bullpen By Commitee" approach? Dud or Stud? Joe Morgan: My understanding is they hired Bill James and are using his stats to set up the bullpen. They think they can get it done with lots of folks. They are basically pinning their hopes on Bill's stats. We'll just have to see how it works. Some teams have been successful that way. There isn't just one way to do it.
[Mike: OK, that's fair. I'm not sure that it will work either, though I think James' theories are superior to the approach bringing in Jay Witasick and Aaron Fultz in the middle-to-late innings of the World Series to blow a lead, thereby never allowing you to use your best reliever, Robb Nen.
Think positive, Mike. He's keeping an open mind. Right!]
John: Has Reds managemetn strained its relationship so much with Ken Griffey Jr. that they will be forced to trade him? If so, wouldn't Atlanta be a perefect fit for everyone involved? The Reds get young pitching, the Braves get more offence, and Griffey gets to play closer to his family. Joe Morgan: I don't think they will be forced to do that but they have strained the relationship. I'm sure the Reds felt the same way when Griffey said he wanted to be traded. In my opinion, they are even. From what I have heard from Ken, that's OK. I think he will prove he is still one of the best, if he can stay healthy.
[Mike: Well, I think Griffey has fallen off since his prime. He had an OPS that was just the league adjusted average in 70 games last year. He wasn't that great in his last full year in 2000 either. But who knows how much of that is due to injury, though some may be attributed to age as well.
That said, Joe's point is a good one. If Griffey is healthy his play should improve and everything in Cincy will be hunky-dory. That's 3-for-3 for Joe. Maybe he's turned over a new leaf. Uh oh!]
Carl (Chicago): Why hasn't Ron Santo been inducted into the Hall of Fame. The numbers are there, and everything he's been through should defintely put him in. And 5 gold gloves! Joe Morgan: IHe got one of my ten votes. That's all I can say. I was shocked that Marvin Miller didn't make it. I thought Gil Hodges would make it. I thought Maury Wills and Ron Santo would make it. I voted for ten guys I thought would make it including Tony Oliva. I just get one vote for each guy and I used on on Santo.
[Mike: OK, Joe. I'm not such a big fan of Wills, but kudos for knowing enough to vote for Santo, one of the top 10 at his position all-time.
Well, Joe finally got another "Good", but it took him a half-dozen questions to get there.]
The Bad: ShadowPete (Washington DC): Is Jeter as lazy and unfocused as George thinks he is? I think he will be a distraction this year, how did your teams handle problems like this when you were a player? Joe Morgan: I don't think it will be a distraction. He is not unfocused. I just think George has a way of trying to push buttons. Some players respond to that and I think Jeter will. It's not the party life or any of that that has affected his BA. Hitting .349 was very special. He's a good hitter but he's not a .350 hitter. His actual average is lower than that and we should find out this year.
[Mike: Look, Jeter had an off year in 2002. No one is really arguing that. But he batted .297 and is 65th all-time in batting average with a .317 (actually, .3168 which ties him with Larry Walker and is right ahead of Edgar Martinez). His career high yet far is .349, but he also batted .339 and has never been lower than .291. Batting average is a spurious basis for a player's worth at best (Jake Stenzel batted .339 for his career for crissake), but to hold him to being a .350 hitter is just not fair. There are only three players who have batted over .350 in their careers. Tony Gwynn and Todd Helton are the only men since Musial to bat over .330 for their careers. The problem with Jeter is the 130-point dropoff in his slugging percentage. I don't think the Yankees will complain if he bats his average and slugs a good .475.]
Jake, Bloomsburg PA: Mr. Morgan, how do you feel about the comeback seasons of Hampton, Alomar, Juan Gonzalez, and Kevin Brown? Joe Morgan: I think if you put them in order, it's Hampton first. He'll be with Leo Mazzone and he gets the best out of his pitchers. He just needs his sinker to work again. Then Roberto Alomar. He has been such a good player and was adjusting last year. Gonzalez just needs to stay healthy. Kevin Brown is a different story. He has had so many injuries, you just don't know what is going on. No doubt, when he is healthy, he is one of the top pitchers in baseball.
[Mike: I couldn't disagree more. Hampton is most suspect from where I am sitting. He had a couple of decent seasons and one great one, so he wasn't that great a pitcher to begin with. Then he fell completely apart in Colorado. True, his sinker didn't work at Coors, but it didn't work on the road either. Nothing worked for him. He may bounce back to his, but he has a quite a journey ahead of him to get there.
Alomar had an awful season in 2002. He was literally half the player he was the year before. If you took a number of his stats (HRs, RBI, etc.) and divided his 2001 totals in half, you would approximate his 2002 totals. He had the worst year of his career by far. It has to be a little more than "adjusting." This is a man who has played for five different teams, 3 in the AL and 2 in the NL, in his 15 seasons. He's used to re-adjusting to new surroundings. He will also 35 in April. Comebacks get harder for players as the get up in years. I think Alomar will bounce back but wouldn't be entirely surprised by another sub-par season.
As for Gonzalez, he is passing the magic age of 32 and may be just finding his level for the final third of his career. He wasn't that great in 2000 either. He'll probably recover somewhat, but his glory years may be behind.
I agree with Joe about Kevin Brown, his injuries and advanced may catch up with him like they did in 2002. That said, if healthy he has the best chance to bounce back. He has had a nine-year stretch in which he was one of the best in the game. That's hard to ignore. It's something that Gonzalez and Hampton cannot say about their careers.]
Adam (NY): Yo Joe!
Ya think Soriano can eclipse 50 home runs this year? I sure think so. Also what do you think of Matsui's potential? Joe Morgan: 50 is a lot of HRs even in today's game. I dont think he can do that, he only hit 39 last year. Matsui won't have the same impact that Ichiro had, they are different players. Ichiro was immediately one of the best. Matsui can become one of the best, but not right away.
[Mike: C'mon, Joe. 50 home runs is a lot, but it's only 11 more than Soriano hit in 2002. It's only his second full season in the bigs, and he hasn't yet hit his prime years.I wanted expect him to hit 50 but it would be far from unprecedented. I don't know much about Matsui, but he is a different type of player than Ichiro. He has much more power. Whether that power translates into the game on this side of the ocean remains to be seen. But if it does, I don't know why he wouldn't have as big an impact as Ichiro.]
Chris(Cincinnati): Joe, my Dad says that you were the best second baseman who ever played the game. What was the locker room like during the hey-day of the Big Red Machine? Joe Morgan: It was indescribable. Fantastic. To walk into a lockerrom with all those guys, Seave, Rose, Griffey Sr., Bench, etc. Just imagine. There were about six or seven HOFers in that room each day. It's a pretty special feeling.
[Mike: By the time Joe is done, they will all be Hall of Famers. The friggin' bat boy will be in Cooperstown. That is pretty special.]
Birdie (STL): How does the Cardinals pitching look to you? Is Eldred healthy? All we get is propaganda in STL... Joe Morgan: You have to remember you won the division last year! But it will be more difficult this year. LaRussa always gets the best out of his guys. The one thing about baseball, there aren't any great teams. The Cardinals have a pitching flaw, but every team has a flaw. The one thing in this game today, you can go right from last to first. Anyone can win .. with a few exceptions.
[Mike: Joe, offer an opinion. If you don't know about Cal Eldred's condition, you can always say that he has not been a good pitcher since the mid-Nineties, so who cares if he's healthy? Morris should continue to be the staff leader. Williams and Stephenson should be reliable starters if healthy. The rest (Tomko, Carpenter, Simontacchi, Hermanson, Eldred, whoever) should be able to round out a decent staff. As always for the Cardinals' rotation, injuries will be the issue. That was the issue last year (along with Darryl Kile's untimely death) and they still were fourth in the NL in ERA.
Besides, every team has holes. You're storied Big Red Machine had a rotation in 1976 led by the ever-average Gary Nolan. And " you can go right from last to first"-I thought that we were adrift in a sea of predictability in which the big-money teams always win. Isn't that what the analysts have been telling us for years. Sorry, negativity. I'm back on board.]
Tom Nampa, ID: I was wondering why doesn't baseball follow all of the other sports and have drug testing like they do? Joe Morgan: I've said this for a long time, that they should. The real reason is Kim Caminiti, Jose Canseco, when they said a lot of guys were using steroids, that's coming from actual players. It's not writers speculating. I thought at that point, they should have started trying to prove that the problem wasn't as bad as Ken and Jose said. But they should be testing.
[Mike: Way to support the Union! The last CBA settled this for steroids. Maybe the players could have been more forthcoming, but it's done. As for the rest of the drug world, the union is proceeding very slowly and cautiously. We'll have to wait to see if we can add wisely to that list. You could have mentioned ephedera, Joe.]
Joe, Queens, NY: Mr. Morgan, how do you think the Mets will do after so much expectation was put on them last year and they were horrible. Joe Morgan: You have guys who have proven they can have good years. Vaughn, Alomar, they all have great potential. The addition of Floyd will help. Art Howe will be a little different than Valentine. We'll just have to see how that works.
[Mike: Who are these young players, Alomar and Vaughn, with so much potential? I've never heard of them. First, the Mets had a .466 winning percent last year, not great, not good, but also not "horrible". They are a team that is getting long in the tooth that had some veteran players have off years. Whether that trend can be reversed, we'll have to see, but the odds should not improve as they get older, not matter how many tons Vaughn sheds this offseason. Also, Howe will be much different from Valentine. Unfortunatley, Steve Phillips is still Steve Phillips.]
Brandon, Spencer: why isnt roger maris in the hall? Hes a legend but i see he only gets 22% of votes to get in. I dont care if he only had a couple of good years he should be in the hall. What do you thing? Joe Morgan: Again, that's the great thing about baseball. It's more sujective than you realize. I voted for Maris as well. But it's not all stats. Some have said he wasn't consistent enough. He didn't have 400 HRs. So a lot of people didn't feel he deserved it. But I felt breaking Babe Ruth's record was so special and he won two MVP's. I believe he should be in the Hall, but again, I just get one vote.
[Mike: Hey, how about puuting Ned Williamson in then? He held the homer record before Ruth. How about Earl Webb, who owns the doubles record? Maris had some great years, but he was basically washed up by thirty. Is that a Hall of Famer? He was a home run hitter who hit 275 home runs. Bob Allison is the most similar batter in Maris in history. Maris is not a Hall of Famer. Make a nice display case for 1961 and move on.]
Lindsay, Seattle: Do you really think the Tigers will lose 100+ games, or do they even have 1/2 of a chance of being .500? Joe Morgan: I don't think they will lose 100. There will be a differnet attitude with some of the guys from the glory days around. To say they will be .500 is difficult. But they will be better.
[Mike: What, is Alan Trammell going to pitch for them? Guys from the glory days mean nothing. This is a bad team, a very bad team. Wish it into the cornfield.]
Teddy (Milwaukee): Hi Joe. Love your chats! You're the best ESPN analyst. A question for you--I'm very worried about my Brewers and don't know whether the front office has a real plan to compete. What's your take on this? Joe Morgan: A lot of changes were made when Lopes left. Even in the front office. Wendy Selig is not the President anymore, so you expect some chaos. But they will have to get their act together. I don't know much about Ned Yost.
[Mike: They lost their best player and cut payroll wherever they could. What do you think their direction is? To the head of the welfare line to take Steinbrenner's money away by the wheelbarrow-ful.
Jeff (Ohio): Joe, have you had a chance to see Great American Ballpark? Will it truly be a great American ballpark? Joe Morgan: I haven't seen it. I should have seen it but I haven't. I was there for the final game in Riverfront and meant to go look at it but I was running late. But I hear it is going to be something special. I will be there for Opening Day.
[Mike: Thanks for taking an interest in the old club during the offseason, Joe.]
Doug ( Detroit ): Joe, Will the DH ever leave baseball...I hope so.... Joe Morgan: No. Most of the folks in the NL want to do away with it but it's an AL thing. If the leagues every truly combined you would probably lose it. But as long as there is an AL and NL, probably not.
[Mike: Why? Opinions change on a yearly basis. I remember a time when there were strong rumors that the NL was going to institute the DH. I also remember a time when the AL was discussing ridding itself of the artifice. Baseball has been too concerned with beating down the players and fleecing the Yankees of their wealth to deal with this issue.]
Doug ( etroit ): Quick Joe, i have the third pick in Fantasy baseball draft....A ROd and Randy Johnson are gone.....Should I take Vlad??? Joe Morgan: That's not a bad choice!! Somebody asked me for about the most underrated player the other day and he may be it. He is as good as anyone. He just plays in a bad situation. If he played for the Yankees or Dodgers, he would be considered the best player in the game. He is among the best .. as good as ARod.
[Mike: You've got to be kidding me. Vlad is so underrated that he's overrated now. It's trendy to select him as the most underrated. The media jump through hoops to prove he's more valuable than A-Rod and Bonds (or just ignore Bonds altogether). I have to update my "About Me" because I still list him as underrated. How about Brian Giles, languishing in Pittsburgh. Vlad is a great player, but not as good as A-Rod or Bonds, not yet.]
The Ugly: Bill Murray and Punxsutawney Phil going over a cliff in flames in Groundhog's Day after being awakened to Sonny & Cher's I Got You, Babe for, literally, the umpteenth timePhil - St. Cloud, MN.: Greetings to the man I regard as the greatest 2B of all time (yes, greater than Eddie Collins)--Who, in your opinion, is history's best LF? Has Mr. Bonds eked his way past Williams, Musial & Henderson with his single-season OBP & SLG records and monster World Series, or will his so-called "attitude" drag him down in history's eyes? (You can probably tell that I think he's already there.) Thanks Mr. Morgan-- P.S: My wife thinks you're handsome & wants to know if you're ever mistaken for Quincy Jones... Joe Morgan: That's a generation type of question. Baseball, you used to be able to compare guys, Cobb to Mays, etc. But the game has changed so much. It's hard to compare across decades. The parks are smaller and the parks aren't as big. Barry is unbelievable. But my point is if Williams and Musial played in the game today, their stats would be far better than what they were. Williams would hit 50 HRs every year and probably be close to .400. It's just not fair to compare guys that far back. It's 'hard to even compare Bonds to a guy like Willie Stargell. There is no doubt in my mind Stargell would hit 60 HRs in today's game. But Bonds have certainly set himself apart from everyone else in his era.
[Mike: This is Classic Joe if I have ever seen it. "Things were better in my day, you young whippersnappers. Stargell would hit 60 homers today." There's just so much to choose from. Where do I start?
First, you can not compare Cobb and Mays straight up, and you never could. Mays played in an era with much lower batting averages and on-base percentages than Cobb. And Cobb played in an era with fewer home runs and a much lower slugging average. In Cobb's first full season (1907), the league leader in home runs had eight, eight dingers!. At 35 Cobb batted .401 and finished a distant second in the batting race to George Sisler's .420 average. I would feel more comfortable comparing Mays straight up with today's players. Even though that is problematic at best, the stats mean the same thing today for the most part as in Mays' day.
Second, yes the stats of Williams and Musial would be better but that does not mean that players like Bonds who have better stats than Williams or Musial ever recorded can just be ignored.
Third, thanks for patronizing us, Joe. "Bonds to a guy like Willie Stargell. There is no doubt in my mind Stargell would hit 60 HRs in today's game. But Bonds have certainly set himself apart from everyone else in his era." Bonds is a nice player today, young'uns, but Stargell now that was a real ballplayer. Stargell broke 40 home runs in a season twice and amassed 475 homers in his career. There's doubt in my mind that he would hit 60 in a season. He's far behind contemporaries like Schmidt, Jackson, Killebrew, and McCovey. Bonds is 114 home runs ahead of the next active player. Besides that Bonds has stolen fitfty bases in a season, something Pops never came close to. Bonds has eight Gold Gloves; Stargell, none. Bonds' OPS is 77% better than the adjusted league average; Stargell's is 47% better. No offense meant to Stargell, who is a clear-cut Hallof Famer, but he couldn't carry Bonds' body armor.
Last, nice sidestep of the Quincy Jones comparison.]
Jamison(Fair Lawn, NJ): Hi Joe, I like to compare my swing to pros. Which ones do you think have the nicest overall swings? I like Piazza's, but is he a good choice? Thanks Joe Morgan: Barry Bonds! It's the most effective! There are a lot with nice swings but Barry's is so short, quick and powerful.
[Mike: This would have gone under The Good, but Joe cannot have it both ways. Either Bonds is exceptional or he's not.]
Juan (New York): What if any, do you see as a common misjudgement amongst GM's and other team officials when assessing talent? Joe Morgan: When they just look at stats, esp. power stats. Many teams do that. Oh, he hit 24 HRs last year, instead of looking at when they happened, what he does to start rallies, how he hits with guys on base, etc. You can't judge a player with just two stats.
[Mike: You mean like evaluating pitchers based on wins? Now, who would possibly do that?]
Joe Morgan: In closing, I know a lot of fans are disappointed that no one was elected by the Veterans Committee yesterday and I'm disappointed myself. Let's hope in the future some of these guys get in. This Committee was set up to help guys who had fallen through the cracks. It wasn't set up to be on a par with the writers. There have actually been more guys elected by the Committee than the baseball writers in the time period that the Committee has been around. The Committee has inducted a lot of guys, just not this year.
I'm looking forward to talking with you again after the season starts when I start up again with my weekly chat. Take care and enjoy Spring Training! [Mike: Ah, now I feel bad for castigating him. He's really a nice optimistic, cheerful sort. Take care, Mr. Morgan.]