Repeat thy song, till the familiar lines
Are footpaths for the thought of Italy!
Thy flame is blown abroad from all the heights,
Through all the nations, and a sound is heard,
As of a mighty wind, and men devout,
Strangers of Rome, and the new proselytes,
In their own language hear thy wondrous word,
And many are amazed and many doubt.
Four seasons fill the measure of the year;
There are four seasons in the mind of man
—John "Tim" Keats
Q: "Pete and Repeat were in a boat. Pete fell out. Who was left?"
Q: "Pete and Repeat were in a boat. Pete fell out. Who was left?"…
—Anon. "Slaughter", probably the same person who came up with the "Wash; Rinse; Repeat" instruction on shampoo bottles
So it didn't take very long for the baseball season to reassert the expected form. Those surprise teams, which seemed so plentiful in the first week or so of the season, are now starting to dwindle. The Phils have won four straight. The Brewers, Mets, Tigers, D-Rays, and Reds are sliding down in the standings. Sure, there are still a few surprise clubs (the Dodgers and Orioles in the over-achieving category and the D-Backs, M's, and Royals in the under-performing category).
It's like that old pair of shorts that you have to dust off once winter has become summer in the hour-long spring we've experienced at least here in the northeast. At first it feels odd to not even wear a jacket given that one was wearing gloves, scarves, boots, and parkas just a week or so before. But the summer togs are trudged out and after a while life, and the shorts, assume their usual form.
So too do Joe Morgan's chat sessions quickly return to their typical substance with the usual pace and cadence that one has become accustomed to over the years, like the muscle memory that helps you return to your mid-summer softball throwing form after a session or two of "catch" (though, boy, don't it hurt the next day!). They're lobbing them in and Joe's batting them out with his typical laundry list of solutions. Or better yet, he ignores the original question and picks the response to which he wants to pigeonhole it. It's Joe's second turn in the chat rotation and he's already at midseason form. It's actually a bit suspicious: maybe it's the extra stretching and the chat exercises that he did in the offseason, but did you notice how much larger this chat session has been than the first week's? I don't want to accuse someone of being on the juice, but since there is barely a stitch of circumstantial evidence, I would be willing to tell every media source available. Now that Jose Canseco is retired (again) and allegedly writing his autobiography, which is taking longer than it took Margaret Mitchell to pen Gone With the Wind, I hear that steroid use among baseball writers has skyrocketed.
Now without further ado, here's a chat session that feels like one cobbled together from last season's oeuvre and of course, they have to be qualified given the suspicion of steroid use.
Joey, Nj: Can Barry catch the Hammer by next season?
(10:36 AM ET ) I don't think he will next season. It's going to take at least 3 seasons .. or 2 and a half .. of great performances. We'll wait and see.
[Mike: Joey from Jersey? How you doin'?
Next season seems unlikely given that it would require his hitting almost 100 within two seasons. Can Bonds do that? Sure. Will he? Probably not given his age and the fact that he had only hit 91 over the last two seasons. Given that injuries and the opponents' strategy limit him to around 400 at-bats a year, hitting one hundred in 800 at-bats makes it that much less likely. Also, consider that Bonds' career AB-to-HR ratio is around 13.25. Averaging one homer in every eight at-bats over two seasons for any soon-to-be forty-year-old is a bit much to expect. Yes, he did it for a season (2001: 6.5 AB-to-HR), but a) he was healthy, b) it is probably one of greatest, if not the greatest offensive season in baseball history, and c) they game has changed immensely in the intervening seasons.
Boy, that was quick.]
Mikek(Boston): Big Joe! Long Time fan here, no one calls a game like you (thankfully) I was wondering with Mussina and Brown both reaching the 200 win mark this week, who's got a better chance of making it to the hall of fame?
(10:35 AM ET ) I think both of them obviously have put themselves in position to make the Hall. It will depend on what they do the new few years. 200 wins is a great milestone. But it's what you do the lat 3-4 years of your career. 200 wins doesn't automatically get you in, just like 2,000 hits doesn't get you in.
[Mike: Big Joe? Oh yeah, remember when Joe and Robbie Rist were in that 70s sitcom, "Big Joe, Little Joe"? Joe would all of a sudden turn into Cousin Oliver at the most inopportune moments, like the seventh game of the World Series, or visa versa, say during a math exam. Hilarity tended to ensue. But it would come out alright in the end, and we would all learn a good lesson. Thank goodness for Sherwood Schwartz.
By the way, no one calls a game like you (thankfully)? To quote Archie Bunker, "Was that a shot? I think that was a shot."
Anyway, 200 wins doesn't automatically get you in…? 287 isn't even enough. Ask Bert Blyleven.
As for Brown and Mussina, they're both longshots at best. I think Brown's been a better pitcher all around, but Mussina is four years younger and can yeoman his way to 300. But when two pitchers have never won a Cy Young and have one twenty-win season between them, they aren't going to garner a lot of votes five years after they retire, especially given the unfairly high standard that recent retirees have been held up to in order to get into the Hall. They already have Blyeleven, Jim Kaat, Tommy John, Ron Guidry, Luis Tiant, and Jack Morris ahead of them, not to mention current guys like Clemens, Maddux, Johnson, and Glavine.]
Giovanni(San Diego,CA): The other guy asked about the "Moose" and K.Brown entering the hall that's not possbile. Will Tom Glavine make it into the Hall of Fame?
(10:39 AM ET ) I think Glavine has a best chance of them all. Glavine has Cy Young Awards and has been very consistent. But again, it will just depend on how he closes out his career.
[Mike: Don Giovaaaaaani, sheez, can't Brown and Mussina even buy tickets to the Hall? That's tough.
As for Glavine, he is, or should be, a lock. He has had a Hall-of-Fame caliber career. He is 47th all-time in pitching Win Shares ahead of Hall-of-Famers Newhouser, Marichal, Walsh, Bunning, Ford, and Wilhelm. He also qualifies as a slightly below average HoFer according to James' tests. He has two Cy Youngs, five 20-win seasons, and 8 All-Star appearances. He is not my favorite pitcher, but he fits the standards of the Hall no matter how he closes out his career.]
Ben, Coconut Grove, FL: It took three straight shutouts for someone to finally pay attention to my home team this season. Why do you think the Marlins have been so overlooked by the media and especially by the experts?
(10:37 AM ET ) Last year they sort of came out of nowhere to win it all. They weren't favored last year either. They are still a group of young guys that have to prove they can do it consistently. I've been a believer from the beginning because of Tony Perez. He told me they had a great rotation that would take them a long way. It takes time when you have young players without a long track record.
[Mike: Well, not to drop names, but I based my believe on Rene Lachemann's recommendation. What is this Gammons quoting his drinking buddies and passing it off as research? Add a couple of Susan Tedeschi lyrics and it's Gammons.
Why are the Marlins overlooked? Because they lost three starting position players and a closer over the offseason mostly due to money (and Miguel Cabrera's presence). They have a good young rotation but, historically, have abused those arms. Besides not many people, including me, are convinced that they were all that good last year. It's not that they're overlooked. It's that they are under-looked, I believe deservedly.]
Michael (Starkville, MS): Joe, is Atlanta's rotation as bad as it seems?
(10:38 AM ET ) Fans are worried because they are used to a rotation that dominates games. They don't have that anymore. Doesn't mean they will be horrible. They will have to find their niche. It just won't be the staff they are used to. They will have to adjust.
[Mike: Joe, answer the question. Yes, the probably have the worst rotation in the division even including the Mets and have very little prospects of improving much in the short term. These are, for the most part, veteran pitchers who have already found their "niche". ]
Adam, Monroe, WI: Joe, do you think that the Brewers will be the suprise team this year? How many wins do you predict they will have by seasons end?
(10:42 AM ET ) I think they are going to be a surprise, but I don't' think they will duplicate what the Marlins did. Nobody expects anything from them but they are certainly a better team with the additions and the pitching staff pitching better. But it's a long season. How will they handle the losing streak that will surely come their way at some point?
[Mike: Hey, I'm surprised that Milwaukee still has a team. Two words, Joe: Richie Sexson. But seriously folks, how many wins with they have? Oh, 65 or 66…or to quote Pete Puma, "A whole lot of lumps."
Oh, and before I forget: Adam from Monroe? "Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Rush." That is all.]
Mickey (Washington DC): Where do you think the Expos will end up, is MLB really gonna make the decision by the allstar break?
(10:43 AM ET ) I would like to think they will end up in DC but that's just my wishful thinking. The Washington area would be great.
[Mike: Will the owners make a decision by the All-Star break? To quote Geddy Lee, "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."
Where will they end up? They have a limited field of candidates: Washington, D.C.; Northern Virginia; Portland; Monterrey, Mexico; Norfolk; San Juan, Puerto Rico; San Antonio; and Las Vegas. Northern Jersey tried to muscle in on the action late last week and were rebuffed. DC seems the most likely choice. I think finding a viable owner in Montreal would be the best solution, but that seems the most remote.
And thanks for the gumball, Mickey.]
Mike in Mechanicsburg, PA: As a small boy, I absolutely idolized the 1975-'76 Big Red Machine. What do you think of the idea of moving the outfield fences farther back, since so many guys can hit the ball over feet easily? Maybe they could make the left field wall 350 feet from the plate, the power alleys at 375 and straight away center at 400. And make the fences 20 feet high. This would create more doubles and triples, thus making for more action on the basepathes. What do you think?
(10:44 AM ET ) It might be what we would prefer but not what baseball prefers. People love the longball .. Maddux was right .. chicks dig the long ball. People watch SC to see HRs, not doubles and triples.
[Mike: Buttering up Joe with a reference to the Big Red Machine is a sure way to get your question answered. Bonus points for using "idolize" to define one's sycophancy.
To trade clichés, Joe, "size doesn't matter" (necessarily). The dimensions of Coors are 347' in left, 350' in right, 415' to straight-away center, and 390' to 420' and 375' to 424' in the power alleys. Sure they've built some real band boxes lately too, but imposing some new standard isn't the solution. And by the way, even though triples have died, there have been more doubles per at-bat (5.29%) from 2000-2003 than in any other decade (Next is the Thirties at 5.03% and the Nineties with 4.95%). Also, if you sum doubles and triples, 2000-2003 still is third (5.85%) behind the Twenties (6.23) and Thirties (6.19).]
Mike: Hey Joe. You gotta love the Mets turn around this year. With Reyes and Floyd set to return at the end of April, how do you like our playoff chances? Thanks.
(10:46 AM ET ) The great thing about the beginning of the season is everyone has a chance to get off to a good start and set the tone for their season. The Mets are like many teams that had tough seasons last year, they have come out of the gate well this year. Again, the key is how they bounce back from their first tough stretch. The good teams can handle those stretches.
[Mike: Playoff chances? Slim and none, and Slim just left town. Way to let him down easy, Joe. You're like a guy trying to break up with his girlfriend but ends up buying a diamond ring instead.
By the way, you don't gotta love anything about the Mets unless you enjoy the rumble of aircraft and enormous decorative apples.]
Abe(NH): Joe, What do you think of Pedro's terrible outing last night? Think Theo and the boys are relieved that they haven't signed him to a long term deal yet?
(10:50 AM ET ) Part of their reason for not signing him was his durability and health of his arm. He will have to prove that over the course of this season, at least by the All-Star break. He has to show he is the Pedro they saw a couple years ago before his arm started bothering him.
[Mike: And boy, are they rejoicing over Nomah's injury. Now if only all their other players were injured or underperforming, that would be nirvana.
I loathe Martinez but have to admit that he has pitched magnificently when healthy for the last seven or so years. There is no indication that this is anything more than an early season slump.]
Jason, Fredrick, Md: Joe, who will be the first team to win the AL East that is not named the Yankees or Redsox, who will it be and how many years will we have to wait?
(10:51 AM ET ) I think Baltimore. I like the additions they made this year. They are capable of hanging with them right now in a race. They made to add a pitcher or two to win in the next couple years. Baltimore is capable of being right there in the mix with the Yanks and Red Sox.
[Mike: I say the New Jersey Generals in 2015. Baltimore has improved but will be lucky to finish third in the division and to clear .500.]
Joey, Nj: Do you think Roger Clemens has what it takes to win the NL Cy Young this season?
(10:53 AM ET ) At the beginning of the season, everyone is fresh. Clemens is no exception. We'll have to wait until about 20 starts into the season and see how strong they are then. I expect him to have a great year in Houston. They will score some runs for him. To win the Cy Young Award would be a real accomplishment at his age.
[Mike: To get out of bed in the morning at his age is an accomplishment. Does he have what it takes? He has an arm and is pitching for a major-league team. That's all you need. That and the girl that makes the foam in the mouth, according to Latke Gravis.
I didn't expect much from Clemens after the last couple of years in New York and given his age. But, then again, the Red Sox thought he was done 8 years and three Cy Youngs ago.]
Mike (rochester, mi): Joe, realistically, how do you think the tiger's will do this year?
(10:55 AM ET ) Well, I see them a much improved team because they have brought in some new players with winning attitudes. I think they are going to be fun to watch and will win their share of games, esp. at home. They are much improved from last year.
[Mike: Realistically, they will be lucky top escape the basement in the worst division in baseball. Winning 70 games would be a feat.]
Jeff (NYC): Joe, can a team's injuries ever be a reflection on the training staff? Over the past few weeks on the Mets alone, Jose Reyes, Cliff Floyd, Scott Erickson, and now Mike Cameron (who was held out of last night's game for "precautionary" reasons) have all had leg injuries. Is this just some sort of cruel coincidence, or is it a reflection on the team's training staff's methods?
(10:56 AM ET ) I'm not close enough to the Mets habits to be able to say that is the problem in NY. But training absolutely has effects on performance and therby injuries. Some teams have better offseason regimens than others. But I'm not close enough to talk about the Mets.
[Mike: How about the condition of the field? Or luck?
By the way, what happened here?: But training absolutely has effects on performance and therby injuries. Ancient Chinese secret, huh?]
Alex (Chicago): Joe, we Cub fans are already worried about Greg Maddux after two outings in which he got shelled. Should we be worried?
(10:57 AM ET ) He got off to a slow start last year as well. That's part of age creeping in. Maddux always finds a way to win and I expect him to do that this year. His start this year is similar to last year when he won his usual 16 games.
[Mike: Well, it's not hard to win 16 games on a team that scores 5.6 runs per game. Maddux was just average last year (actually slightly better than average: he had an ERA 5% better than the park-adjusted league average).
Should the Cubs be concerned? If they think that they are getting Greg Maddux circa 1993, then they should. If they think instead that they are looking to upgrade the tail-end of their rotation from Shawn Estes and Juan Cruz, then no worries, mate.]
Dominick - CT: Joe - Is it too early for Yanks-Sox? The season just started. These teams should have met with more games under their belts. Agree?
(11:00 AM ET ) So, we'll just make the schedule for the Yanks-Red Sox? A lot of teams that are going to challenge each other are playing early .. the A's-Angels play this weekend. You don't change the schedule just for two teams.
[Mike: Actually, they do. They try to match up contending teams in September, especially in the season finale. And they have to gerrymander the schedule to fit intraleague games. But who's to say they didn’t set this up on purpose. The Red Sox-Yankees kick off the season and get some spring Fox audiences, why not?]
Joe, Chicago: Hi Joe...why no questions on the white sox??? Do you think they will contend in the Central?
(11:02 AM ET ) They are a tough team to get a handle on. They have blown some leads and win the game anyway. Consistency is not something I have seen from them recently. They look great at stretches and not at others. Consistency has been the problem and until that is corrected, they will just be a good team that we wonder about.
[Mike: Billy Joe, this is a question on the White Sox.
Lil Joe, was that a yes or a no? I say yes myself. Given that it's the weakest division and the amount of talent the Sox have, why not? I picked the Royals, but I imagine it will be at least a three-team race.]
Julian(Chapel Hill,NC): Joe, if Maddux wins 300 how high would you rate him among the gratest pitchers of all time?
(11:03 AM ET ) Yeah, if you win 300! That puts you right among the greats. He has been so consistent throughout his career, it automatically makes him a great. Consistency is what I look at in pitchers. Many others who have won 300 haven't been nearly as consistent.
[Mike: Yeah, if you win 300!? A) Maddux is 11 wins shy of 300. It's almost inconceivable that barring his being hit by a bus, he won't win 300. B) 300 wins does not mean the same now as it did 20 or 50 years ago. It's a nice feat, but not a be-all-and-end-all. Maddux will probably be ranked right behind Clemens as the best pitcher of the last 20 years. If Martinez stays healthy, he'll probably edge ahead of Maddux. And there will be those Randy Johnson devotees, who'll pipe in, too. Whatever, Maddux will be ranked in the top dozen or so pitchers of all-time, I would think.]
Jason, Boise, ID: What is your biggest suprise that you have seen in the early baseball season?
(10:47 AM ET ) I'm surprised the Marlins appear to be the best team in the NL right away. I'm surprised how well the Tigers have played. I'm a little surprised at the fact that ARod is off to such a slow start in NY. But there are a lot of surprising things in baseball. Those stand out.
[Mike: I'm surprised that everyone is keying on the unexpectedly fast/slow starts for teams like the Phils, Marlins, Tigers, Reds, and M's. I'm surprised that the writers who two years ago passed off propaganda justifying baseball's contraction euthanasia/Pohlad buyout as news while telling us that two-thirds of the teams don't have a chance before the season starts, haven't printed retractions after the parity that we've seen so far this year.]
Cody, Pulaski, VA: All this talk about who the greatest baseball player ever is wrong. Each Player (Bonds, Aaron, Ruth) defined their own era. What is your opinion on this?
(10:41 AM ET ) I agree it's become more difficult in the last 15 years to compare eras. It wasn't as hard from the 40s to 60's but it's become harder and harder. Each era defines itself. Definately more of a difference now than when Mays played. And Mays played in a different era than Ruth. The game has changed so much recently, you just can't judge stats against stats from previous eras anymore.
[Mike: Just lob 'em into Joe. Joe's response #15: "Baseball is worse today, and therefore so are the ballplayers, than in my day." Every era is different. Just adjust for the era and move on.
All this talk about who the greatest baseball player ever is wrong. Each Player (Bonds, Aaron, Ruth) defined their own era. Why are these mutually exclusive? Dan Brouthers defined his era, too. It's a separate argument. When you get to the top handful of players, it comes down to what and how finely tuned your criteria are. But when an analyst doesn't even trust on-base percentage, he's not getting very far.]
Rich (Waldorf, MD): Good morning, Joe. Do you think the assertion that a team with four solid turns in their rotation is a contender?
(10:49 AM ET ) If you have four good starters, you are head and shoulders above 90 percent of the teams. 4 is all you need in today's game.
[Mike: Yeah, keep lobbing 'em in, meat.
I tested this. I found all teams with four starting pitchers who started 20 games and had an ERA no worse than the league average. Then I summed up their win and losses per decade. Here are the results:
Note that a) the number of teams that qualify has been gradually (the 2000s project to 260) and b) the winning percentage has been decreasing. We'll have to wait another 6 years to see if the rise in the 2000s is meaningful. However, there is some indication that having four quality starters has become more of an advantage in the last few years though it's far from the slam dunk that Joe makes it out to be (except in the George Tenet sense).]
Mickey (Washington DC): What is the Yankees biggest question mark right now?
(10:58 AM ET ) I think it's the starting pitching. And defens.
(10:59 AM ET ) Contreras, Brown, Vasques, Mussina .. will Brown hold up? Will the middle relief step up? Will the defense come through?
[Mike: How many biggest question marks is that?
Our chief weapon is surprise...surprise and fear...fear and surprise. Our two weapons are fear and surprise...and ruthless efficiency. Our three weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency...and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope. Our four...no... Amongst our weapons.... Amongst our weaponry...are such diverse elements as fear, surprise.... I'll come in again…
How about a sub-par second baseman? I guess it's not a question mark. It’s a certainty. However, it's their greatest weakness.]
Brian (Baltimore, MD): Good Morning Joe, I'm a young fan only 21, but with the rule changes and testing that appear imminent in the future, Do you think Barry Bonds record of 73 HR's in a season is here to stay, I do.
(11:01 AM ET ) I thought McGwire's 70 was here to stay. So I definately think Bonds' record is here to stay. So I could be wrong. I sure thought 70 was the pinnacle.
[Mike: And I thought Ned Williamson's record would stand forever. The record is largely the result of the proper stars aligning. First, you need someone with the talent and then you need an environment that allows that person to excel. Those circumstances come and go. Who's to say that a player won't hit 80? Then again the pendulum will probably swing in the opposite direction first, towards guys hitting 35 and leading the league a la Mike Schmidt.
It's great that Joe doesn't even realize that he's contradicting himself though: I thought McGwire's 70 was here to stay. So I definately think Bonds' record is here to stay.]
JK (Cambridge, MA): Mr. Morgan: I have grown weary of the Steroids debate/acle, and do not need to ask who will win the NL East (the Mets, of course). Rather I would like to revive an old topic of discussion, and ask: Why won't MLB get rid of the DH???!!!
(11:06 AM ET ) Well, the DH was brought in to stimulate interest in the AL because they were losing their older stars and attendance was down. That's no longer the case now. But it's part of the league. The Player's Association doesn't want to see it go because it would take a job away. I'm not a fan but I don't see it leaving anytime soon.
[Mike: Mets…oh that's great! Now, that's comedy.
Actually, it was introduced to stimulate offense and therefore, attendance. It was also not surprising that it happened in the AL given its decrease in interest relative to the NL in the Sixties and early Seventies. One could argue that it a large extent that was due the Yankees and Red Sox eschewing African-American ballplayers. Whatever, the reason, the AL consistently outdrew or at least drew about as many fans as the NL from 1950-55. However, the AL would attract only about two-thirds the fans as the NL by 1965. The DH increased that to about 80% and it slowly returned to around the NL average by the early Eighties.]
It seems that maybe other fans are getting tired of the steroid issue as well. It doesn't come up as much anymore. Everything that can be said has been said. Let's wait unti the FBI figures out the Balco situation. If you read my column, I'm upset they haven't concluded this case. Just say these guys are guilty and they guys aren't!
[Mike: Gabby Johnson is right! I have no idea what Joe was saying here. "These guys are guilty and these guys aren't"? "You stay 'ere and make sure 'e doesn't leave"?
As for steroids, well, now that you've broached the issue, Joe. Here are some cherce moments from your article.]
The 660 milestone probably doesn't mean as much to fans nationwide as it does to fans in San Francisco, who have always identified No. 660 with Mays.
[Mike: Mays was with the Mets when he hit #660. He had just 646 when he left the Giants.]
Certain home-run numbers in baseball stand out to me: 755 and 714, of course, but also 521 (Ted Williams) and 512 (Ernie Banks), among others. I couldn't tell you (without checking) how many home runs Reggie Jackson or Mike Schmidt or Harmon Killebrew hit, but I know they each hit 500-plus.
[Mike: Jackson, 563. Schmidt, 548. Killebrew, 573. But you did successfully name nine of the 19 men to hit 500 home runs in their careers. That's batting almost .500. Way to research that article, Joe!]
If the FBI has proof that any players involved in the BALCO investigation are guilty, it should release the information outright instead of leaking information, as it has been doing.
[Mike: Huh? I haven't been following this issue to closely, but has the FBI been leaking info? Maybe they should just keep their mouths shut altogether and do their jobs. Besides, if they have proof, maybe they should arrest the individuals involved.]
But based on the numbers released by MLB from last year's testing during spring training, we know that 5-7 percent of players tested positive for steroids (this spring's numbers have yet to be released). And I believe the actual percentage is higher.
[Mike: Why? Because Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco said so? Yes, the tests were announced, but are you so inherently distrustful of the players? The Sox wanted to forego the tests to force the numbers to hit the threshold. Doesn't that deserve a modicum of respect?]
I would like to see a stronger testing policy, one which administers both scheduled and unscheduled tests. The current system employs only scheduled tests, but it's important to have tests where players have no advance notice -- not randomly at MLB's whim, but at a time players don't expect.
[Mike: Wrong. From Doug Pappas' CBA summary, "If more than 5% of players test positive, mandatory random testing starts in 2004 and continues until 2.5% or fewer test positive over two consecutive years."
If a player is guilty of two steroid-related offenses ... ban him from competition (not for life, but for a long time).
[Mike: Already done. Again from Pappas, "The first time a player tests positive, he is placed in a treatment program; subsequent positive tests bring suspensions of 30 days to two years." Does that qualify for a "long time"?]
I'll tell you what could solve the problem, though. If a player is guilty of two steroid-related offenses, he should be treated the same way the Olympic committee treats offenders: ban him from competition (not for life, but for a long time).