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Joe Morgan Chat Day of Mourning
2004-06-16 01:11
by Mike Carminati

Mourn for me rather as living than as dead.
—"Kelvim" Aeschylus

Most of the ladies and gentlemen who mourn the passing of the nation’s leaders wouldn’t know a leader if they saw one. If they had the bad luck to come across a leader, they would find out that he might demand something from them, and this impertinence would put an abrupt and indignant end to their wish for his return.
—Lewis H. "Winthorp" Lapham

It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.
—General George "Scott (Not C. Scott)" S. Patton, Jr.

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work ... I want to achieve it through not dying
—Woody "Fryman" Allen

This past week America lost one of its most influential and important citizens. We all mourn the loss of someone who shaped the country and whose legacy will surely outlive us all.

Of course, I'm speaking of Ray Charles. What, you thought I meant someone else? Ray Charles is thought of as some sort of whimsical, avuncular piano player who shilled for Diet Pepsi and countless other products while being surrounded by beautiful backup singers but whose beauty he could never enjoy. He was thought of as an innocuously light entertainer—almost a caricature—in the Dooley Wilson mold when in reality he was a groundbreaking artist, who gave birth to and shaped soul music. Ella Fitzgerald went through the same cultural reinterpretation in doing Memorex ads.

Charles (born Ray Charles Robinson, September 23, 1930 in Albany, GA) went blind at age six due to an unknown illness that was probably glaucoma, but not until after seeing his younger brother drown in a washtub. He thrilled the neighborhood kids by appearing regularly in a juke joint owned by his neighbor Wylie Pittman. Charles's influences were found there on the jukebox, a wider range of blues, swing, even the Grand Ole Opry, everything but gospel, which he encountered at church. He then studied at St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind, a state-run Florida institute, playing a variety of instruments and learning song composition and was said to be able to arrange and score all the parts for a big band or orchestra by twelve years old. He lost his parents in his teens and started earning a living as a musician in Florida and then Seattle, moving there at the age of 17.

At Atlantic Records, Charles's home throughout his classic period, they called him "The Genius." However, he started out imitating another misremembered performer Nat "King" Cole. Cole's own classic period as a musician is being reassessed and he is now regarded as one of the most influential piano players in jazz history even though to the wider audience he is remembered almost exclusively for his mellifluous voice, just as Charles is remembered for his gospel-informed soul style. After beginning to earn a living playing in the smoother Cole style (as well as the polished style of Charles Brown), Charles, taking the advice of his mother from his youth to be himself ("Do it right or don’t do it at all. That comes from my mom"—Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, 1998), decided to risk his career and finally perform in his own style. "I was getting over with imitations, but I didn’t know if people would accept me, as I am. It took me awhile to get the nerve to really go whole hog and just do only Ray Charles…I was still afraid to really turn it loose." Then he signed with Atlantic.

That style was what he called, "a crossover between gospel music and the rhythm patterns of the blues, which I think came down through the years from slavery times, you know, because this was a way of communicating." (From the liner notes to Birth of Soul box set) This approach was initially seen as "sacrilegious", according to Charles, by both sides, the church and the musical community, as most revolutionary things are. To his credit, Ray Charles both underplayed his brilliance and compared it to baseball: "It's like a manager who makes a decision. If it works, he's a genius, and if it doesn't, he's an ass. What we did worked. So I became a genius for it."

The first hint of that style appeared on the Guitar Slim (aka Eddie Jones) classic and number-one hit "The Things That I Used to Do", with Charles as arranger and pianist, in 1953. It is here where he first evinced his soon-to-be idiomatic style with chromatic passing chords and turnaround in the horn parts. Charles continued to work with Slim at Specialty Records and headed a band for Miss Ruth Brown. Then he came up with "Mess Around" with its Cow Cow Davenport-inspired jump boogie woogie piano style. Soon the gospel influence began to come to the fore and his unmistakable moaning, soulful vocal style began to gel. It all came to a head in the opening, hesitating "Well" at the beginning of "I Got A Woman" and interspersed throughout the song.

Then came a string of classics in the yet-unnamed soul genre: the bouncy This Little Girl of Mine", the slowly percussive throbbing pain of "Lonely Avenue", the plaintive "Drown in my own Tears", the call-and-response style of "The Right Time", etc. Then in 1959 came his masterwork, "What'd I Say", a song reportedly improvised at the end of a long performance. At 6-1/2 minutes it had to broken into two to fit on a 45, one half of the song per side. He used his whole toolbox for this one. From the classic electric piano opening and fills throughout the song, to his soulful call and the sultry response from the backup singers, which turns quickly into a sexually implicit purr, to the complex polyrhythm of drums. The inspired response actually grew from a standard clustered syncopated response from the horns. The song was covered by just about everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to Johnny Cash, from Roy Orbison to the Tony Sheridan Beatles, from Solomon Burke to zydeco master Clifton Chenier, from Bobby Darrin to Bill Haley, from Jimi Hendrix to Lightnin' Hopkins, from the Bluesbreakers to Hound Dog Taylor. It was even used in an Elvis movie, the great "Viva Las Vegas", sung by Elvis and Ann-Margaret.

Then when Brother Ray was at the summit, he crested and fell back. He still had the talent that he could decant with ease but the driving force was no longer there. It's as if he had created everything that he could. The originality bled from his work. What was left was the charm, wit, and talent, enough to sustain him as a highly recognizable American institution for the rest of life.

Charles again using baseball terminology summed up his career, "What makes my approach special is that I do different things. I do jazz, blues, country music and so forth. I do them all, like a good utility man." (Los Angeles Times, 1986) At least, it does seem that the ebullient personality that came through in his performance was genuine. The man was happy and perhaps a bit too self-satisfied, but who can blame him: "You ask me what I’d like to do that I haven’t done and I say 'Nothin'!' I haven't any mountains to climb or oceans to swim. I’ve been an extremely blessed individual. ... I’m not clamorin' for more trinkets. If I were to die tomorrow, I could say I’ve had a good life." (Los Angeles Times, 1986)

Who could say what he might have done if he had had the desire to continually change like Miles Davis and James Brown, men who were musical chameleons over very long stretches of their careers (and neophytes today think Madonna reinvents herself!).

Anyway, again you are left saying, "OK, but what does this have to do with Joe Morgan?" What does a eulogy (or "eugoogoly" if you're Derek Zoolander) for Ray Charles have to do with Lil Joe? Morgan hit his peak on the field with a stellar career but then resting on his laurels allowed himself to become another mediocre, closed-minded, preachy baseball analyst. He's stuck in neutral but is using that to become an institution unto himself. Charles should serve as a cautionary tale for Morgan and indeed for all of us.

So without further ado I give you the musical stylings of one Joe Morgan:

The Good

Jimmy, Brooklyn, NY: I think that making the All-Star game result determine which league has home-field advantage is ridiculous for an exhibit game. What is your opinion?

I won't go as far as to say ridiculous but I think it's not fair and it goes against the traditions of the All-Star Game and it's just another reality TV show. That's what it is. ... And I never liked any of those.

[Mike: Right you are, Mr. Morgan. I always say that baseball is my reality TV. We don't need baseball to condescend to reality TV's level.

What's next have a singing competition to pick the Royals' closer? Hey, wait a minute, maybe that's not a bad idea. I heard the just-release Curt Leskanic has a beautiful falsetto.]

Jay (Greenbelt): Barry Bonds and the Giants are at Camden Yards this weekend, wouldn't it be special to see if Barry could hit the Warehouse past the right field wall? Can/will he do it?

Well, it would only be special to Giants fans, I don't see how it would be special to the Os fans trying to keep their playoff hopes alive. The only one to ever hit it is Ken Griffey Jr. I think Barry is definitely capable but everything would have to be perfect for that to happen.

[Mike: Well, it was close but no cigar—he hit a ball just in front of the warehouse and it was in batting practice.

What's all the talk of it being special? What is this, the Church Lady show? "Isn't that special?"]

Nick (chicago): Some reports say Griffey has begun to resurge because of how close he is to hitting 500...that he swings for the fences every this true or do you think its because he's finally healthy?

Well, he's just finally healthy. It's very healthy to chase numbers when you are on the disabled list. If he stays healthy I think he'll hit closer to 50 HRs this year. As long as he stays healthy he'll put up big numbers. I think he wants to hit these two home runs and get it over with.

[Mike: Well, he projects to around 46 and this is a hitter's park, but he is having a good year. It's still not as good as his prime, but his .938 OPS is nearly identical to last year's (.936)_ which was 40% better than the park-adjusted league average. Not too shabby for a 34-year-old. What ever happened to all the Junior trade talk anyway?]

Brett (Houston, TX): Will there be a better pitching matchup this season than on Monday when Prior goes against Clemens? Who will get the better of the other??

First of all, people think that Mark PRior is back -- well, I think you have to wait before you see how Mark Prior is going to pitch before the rest of the year. Roger has been pitching well all year. He's 9-0. Prior is still trying to find his groove but, you're right, if they were both healthy, this is a great matchup.

[Mike: Well, that's not the way it went down, but I can't really fault Joe for that. It seemed a fair assessment at the time.]

The Bad

Joe (Yardley, PA): As a Hall of Fame 2b, Joe, is the sophomore jinx simply a result of opposing pitchers adjusting to you and you not to them? See Angel Berroa.

Well, it's obviously a combo of a lot of things. MOre is expected the second year. There is more responsibilites and more pressure. Then, as you said, pitchers are familiar with a second year guy, they know where to pitch him.

[Mike: As a Hall of Fame 2b? "Joe, as a denture wearer…" "Joe, as someone who is not a doctor but who plays one on TV…"

You really have to make sure to get that ass-kissing in quick to ensure Joe answers your question.

As for Berroa, maybe he just wasn't all that great in 2003. His OPS wasn't over .777 except for June (.975) and July (.907), and he hit 11 of his 17 HRs in those two months. Here is a breakdown of his 2003 season by month and then totals for June/July and the rest of the year:


Berroa's numbers this year (.225/.255/.351/.606) are lower than those from the bulk of 2003 (i.e., ignoring June and July), but not tremendously. Besides, Berroa's OPS overall was 4% worse than the park-adjusted league average. We're not talking Joe Charboneau here. Remember that his facile ascendance was rather unexpected given his past issues.]

Jesse (Ithaca, NY): Could the "Crime Dog" Fred McGriff be the first player with 500 home runs to not be inducted into the Hall of Fame?

I don't get a vote, but in the past, 500 HRs have been almost automatic. Maybe not first ballot, but it will usually eventually get you in. Writers are taking a closer look at players rather than just their numbers these days, that's for sure.

[Mike: Yes, he could but he still has to get to 500 first. He is still 8 short and has just one in his mini-comeback this season. Given his numbers (.240/.296/.400/.696), he may not get the chance.

But let's say he reached the magical milestone. Is there any reason not to put him in the Hall? I know some will say that presuming Hall-worthiness goes counter to our society, like presuming guilt, but indulge me. McGriff's adjusted OPS is 134, which we showed last week was better than Joe's buddy Tony Perez and which is tied for 101st all time. What about Bill James' Hall of Fame tests? He's about average for a Hall of Famer (except the "black ink test" on which most modern players have trouble). How about similar batters? Of the six eligible for the Hall, five are in and the sixth (Dwight Evans) has a pretty good argument. Two of the not yet eligible similar players (Palmeiro and Bagwell) have very good cases themselves. McGriff is basically a hitter's version of Don Sutton. Sutton had the 300 wins but didn't get wide support. However, as Bill James later said, the Hall had to include Sutton or it would be selectively excluding him. McGriff more than has the stats. Who cares how writers misevaluated his career. Let the guy in.

As far as, Writers are taking a closer look at players rather than just their numbers these days, that's for sure: no, the writers have decided to mete out plaques at the usual slow-as-molasses pace. It's just that rule changes like the 5% rule, which drops players from future ballots once they fall below five percent of the overall vote, have made it easier to ignore qualified players. And the veterans committee has gone from selecting everyone under the sun (or at least those who were the panel's buddies) to selecting no one.]

Alex (Lincoln in England): Hi Joe, I really enjoy your work on Sunday Night Baseball, which we receive live in the UK. My question is this, who of the following three returnees is most likely to drive their team to the postseason? Mark Prior, Nomar Garciaparra or Garrett Anderson? Thanks for taking my question.

I would say Garrett Anderson or Nomar b/c players that play every day have more impact than a pitcher -- no matter how great he is -- that pitches every five days.

[Mike: Ah, isn’t that Monday Morning Baseball in England?

Well, that's a good rule of thumb, Joe, but how much were the players missed? Without Nixon, the Sox right fielders (mostly Millar and Kapler) have had a .775 OPS. That's about the league average (park-adjusted). Nixon was 49% better than that last year.

The Angels without GA in left, have had an .862 OPS, slightly worse than Anderson's .885 OPS last year (37% better than average).

Prior's spot in the Cub rotation had been taken by Segio Mitre. He was 2-4 with a 6.54 ERA. He also only pitched 47 innings in 9 starts, meaning that the bullpen was overused whenever he started impacting other games.

Also, one should evaluate their impact by the position their teams are in in their division. The Sox are now 5 games behind the Yankees, the Angels are 1.5 behind the A's, and the Cubs are currently 2 games behind the Cardinals in what appears to be a potential 5-team race. Boston also leads Anaheim by one game in the wild card.

So who should help most upon returning? I would say that it's probably Nixon , then Prior, with Anderson a very distant third.]

Kevin Aumiller (Park Ridge, IL): Is Jose Vidro simply going through a huge slump or are we finally seeing how important Vlad was to protect Vidro in the lineup? Will his numbers stay down or will they return to those of an all-star second baseman?

Well, he has been a very consistant hitter the last few years. I'm surprised that he's not doing so well. Taking Vlad away, yes, that had a huge impact, that would effect any team. Take away Barry Bonds and what happens to the Giants. It's the same thing. But, that said, I still think Vidro is a good solid hitter who will get his numbers back.

[Mike: Well, they problem in San Fran, as you, Joe, are wont to point out, is that the Giants don't have that second hitter on a par with Jeff Kent or even Jose Vidro. Take out Bonds, and you have a poor lineup. Take Vlad out of Montreal and you still have, or had, Vidro.

Vidro could just be having a bad Mike-Schmidt-in-1979 year, but there may also be other factors. The Expos have played eleven games at Hiron Bithorn Stadium in San Juan. Here are Vidro's numbers overall and at "home" in both Montreal and San Juan:

2004 - Tot.5922816585242424.254.323.373.696
OLYMPIC STAD.14534163845.302.351.528.879
HIRAM BITHORN1135060393.171.333.200.533

Maybe, this experiment is starting to wear on Vidro. Or maybe he's partying it up with his family and friends back in Mayaguez whenever the 'Spos play there.

Also, take a look at his numbers batting second and third in the lineup this year:

Batting #210341112920.252.330.417.747
Batting #3114112121501.263.328.351.679

His numbers batting second are respectable, but batting third they stink. Could it be that he doesn't like batting third? Let's look at last year's numbers:

Batting #2208721312201.308.394.500.894
Batting #3234432282431.303.390.402.792

There is also a 100-point difference last year between batting 2nd and batting 3rd.]

Devin (Milwaukee, WI): Joe, do you consider yourself the best 2nd basemen of all time? if not, who do you think is?

I have been asked this several times recently. I don't make those distinctions, but obviously Rogers HOrnsby, Jackie Robinson ... Roberto Alomar in the modern era. How I stack up against them would have to be calculated by someone else. But I'm very very pleased and happy with my carreer as they are with theirs I'm sure.

[Mike: First, I don't think Hornsby or Robinson are to pleased and happy about anything. They’re kinda dead.

Second, that's kind of a mixed bag you mention.You got Hornsby, good. I think that naming Robinson second is problematic at best. Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, and Charlie Gehringer were all arguably better than Robinson. As far as "modern" players, if that means current active but not currently a second baseman, Biggio isn't a bad choice either.

The Ugly

Manchester, NH: Does Jim Rice belong in the HOF in your opinion ? I think he's clear cut and the media is getting it wrong. His numbers are almost identical to your former teammate Tony Perez.

This is about the third week somebody tried to compare these guys. It's not just numbers, there are a lot of intangible that you have to consider. I happen to think Jim Rice deserves to be in the HoF -- becuase he was one of the most dominant players in the National League -- NOT because he had Tony Perez-like numbers.

[Mike: Manchester, New Hampshire, New Hampshire—across the Atlantic Sea…

Well, that was actually Fred McGriff that people were comparing to Perez the least two weeks. Actually, Rice AND McGriff are better candidates for the Hall than Perez. He is one of the worst selections among those active in the last 50 years or so. Rice is borderline—his career was too short—and McGriff is a solid choice.

Oh, and not to undercut your argument but Rice played his entire career in the American League, for the Red Sox. Maybe you're thinking of Sam Rice. Uh, no, he played for the Senators for all but one year and that year was with the Indians, who I think might be in the AL as well. I know, it's got to be Del Rice, the old Cardinal/Brave catcher. He's a poor Hall choice, but he did play for in the NL.]

Tim (Bloomington, IN): I saw a comparison of Griffey and Bonds in an article the other day and it made me sick. "The Kid" has been rejuvenated and I'm happy for him. But in case you didn't notice Barry Bonds in 80 less ABs Barry has 1 less homer. Bonds does deserve to be drug into these comparisons with anyone in this era. He is in the pantheon of players in greatest of all-time argument with Mays, Ruth and Aaron.

I didn't write the article and I didn't see it so I don't . Griffey was the player of the decade in the 90s. Bonds is definitely the player of the millenium. I agree with you. Bonds is definitely one of the best players of all time ... but so is Griffey. Griffey was the only EVERYDAY player voted onto the All-Century team. (Roger Clemens was on it too, but he's not everyday).

[Mike: There are some who call me... Tim.

Thanks, Joe, for admitting that Bonds is the best player over the last four years (millennium?) Given that he's won three straight MVPs, that's really going out on a limb.

We covered this last week. Morgan's position is completely indefensible except in Joe's own head. And defending his opinion—he is a well-known baseball analyst after all—with the popularity contest that was the All-Century team is ludicrous. Does that mean the Pete Rose is one of the best outfielders of the last hundred years or so? C'mon. That Clemens is on the team shows that a thousand, or rather a million, monkeys punching out holes in a card can write Shakespeare. Most of the time, we end up with George Bush in the White House.]

Nick (Philly, PA): Is Manny Ramirez a legitmate triple crown candidate. With the way he's playing playing, I think he is.

Yes, I think he is because he is the one of the best hitters in the game today when you consider power, clutch hitting and batting average. He's won a batting title, he's capable of winning a RBI title and a HR title, but I don't think it's likely. Guys are so specialized these days. It was always difficult but I think it's especially difficult now. More people hit home runs now than ever before.

[Mike: Nick's your buddy. Nick's your pal. Nick doesn't mind if you throw up in his car, excuse me, vomit.

I don't know if Ramirez can outrun Smarty Jones and he's a bit old for a miler, but he can probably beat Beetlebum.

He's 5th in batting average, tied for first in homers, and 7th in RBI. So could he win a triple crown? Sure, is it unlikely? Probably. There's still two-thirds of a season to play after all.

Now to Joe's palaverations. OK, let's see: "Guys are so specialized these days…. More people hit home runs now than ever before." So if more guys hit HRs than before, how are they specialized? Wasn't hitting more specialized when only the top 1-2 guys in the lineup would beat you with the long ball? Back in the '70s guys like Larry Bowa, who would hit maybe a homer per season, could actually be employed as an offensive player.

Isn't that the complaint that Joe always uses: back in his playing days things like speed, bunting ability, making contact, etc. were key offensive skills. Now, it's all the power game.

By the way, more players are not hitting homers home runs now than ever before. You could say that in the late '90s, but offenses are down a bit now.

By the way, with expansion and talent compression, it's harder for players to lead in three separate categories, especially one like RBI that are not entirely under their control.]

Andrew, Glendale, CA: Do you think players of the 70's and 80's are getting enough serious HOF consideration? i.e. Dale Murphy, Ryne Sandberg, Steve Garvey etc?

That's hard for me to say b/c as I said, I don't vote, and I am vice chairman of the board of HoF so I try not to criticize the writers for what they've done or the way they've voted. I do believe that there are guys out there -- we mentioned Jim Rice -- who have been slighed. To start to get into guys who have been overlooked for votes would take me all day.

[Mike: Is Joe an analyst or a the vice chairman of the Hall boars? A dessert topping or a floor wax? I would like to see a little more of this kind of chutzpah, said by the title caharacter in Citizen Kane:

As Charles Foster Kane who owns eighty-two thousand, six hundred and thirty-four shares of public transit - you see, I do have a general idea of my holdings - I sympathize with you. Charles Foster Kane is a scoundrel. His paper should be run out of town. A committee should be formed to boycott him. You may, if you can form such a committee, put me down for a contribution of one thousand dollars…On the other hand, I am the publisher of the Inquirer. As such, it is my duty, I'll let you in on a little secret, it is also my pleasure -- to see to it that decent, hard-working people of this community aren't robbed blind by a pack of money-mad pirates just because they haven't anybody to look after their interests! I'll let you in on another little secret, Mr. Thatcher. I think I'm the man to do it. You see I have money and property. If I don't look after the interests of the underprivileged, maybe somebody else will, maybe somebody without any money or property and that would be too bad.

If Joe Morgan can't criticize the writers and the process used by the Hall, then who can? If it would take him "all day" to discuss the overlooked players, then obviously there are more than a handful of them.

By the way, I studied this, and there is quite clearly a bias concerning expansion era players.]

Dennis Landi (La Palma, Ca.): Can you think of any of today's closers that are capable of pitching as many innings as the Mike Marshall's and Rollie Fingers's of your playing days. Do you feel Eric Gagne could do this? Thank you. Dennis Landi

You can't compare eras but Rollie and Mike were different kinds of closers. The managers have made closing a 3 out proposition today when it used to be a 9 out three innings deal. Just think, that would be 3 saves to every one.

Jermaine, D.C.: Joe, I read your article on the modern day 'save'. You don't mention Mariano Rivera once. Don't you think he would hold his own with the closers of yesteryear? Didn't you see his performance in Game 7 of the AL Championship last season? His total career (postseason included)?

Well, the whole point is, we weren't comparing closers, we were talking about Rollie Fingers' and MIke Marshall's comments about Eric Gangne's performance. I didn't mention Lee Smith or Bruce Sutter OR Mariano Rivera -- who I feel is the best post season closer in the history of the game. But that wasn't the gist of the column.

[Mike: This is just the tip of the idiocy iceberg. Let's take a look at the offending article, "Is Gagne's Save Streak Overrated?" to which Joe refers, shall we?

First, let me say that what Joe doesn't know about relief pitching could fill a book, and it basically did—check out my history of relief pitching. Basically, every paragraph, if not every sentence, in the article has a misrepresentation if not an out-and-out prevarication. I know because have notes crammed into every part of the left-hand margin, some underlined as if to scream out at me. Let's take'em one at a time:

There has been plenty of discussion about the 76 consecutive saves recorded by Los Angeles Dodgers closer Eric Gagne. Is it a great accomplishment or an overblown statistic? I can see both sides of the debate.

[Mike: Can't it be both? See dessert topping/floor wax debate.]

I agree that it's a fantastic record. The key, though, is that we need to compare players with their peers -- because we can't really compare Gagne to Rollie Fingers and other relievers of my era.

[Mike: Why is that the key? I don't know exactly how far back they started recording blown saves. I know that it is all subjective. Blown saves are not an official stat.

However, couldn't the Fingers have recorded 76 straight saves if blown saves were factored in? It would just take him a couple of extra seasons because there were fewer save opps in his day.

Besides, you can’t compare relievers from any one era to another. It is the one thing in baseball that has been evolving almost constantly, besides Bob Costas' anecdotes (I'm joking of course). The relievers in Joe's day were basically the evolutionary dead end of the one-man bullpen. In this way, I can say that Mike Marshall was a Neanderthal.]

Closers are used differently today, pitching far fewer innings than in my day, which means that the save rule is being applied differently today. From 1972-78, Fingers averaged 122 innings and 25 saves per season . By contrast, Gagne pitched only 82 innings last year in his NL Cy Young season as he tied the NL record of 55 saves (to complement a 1.20 ERA and a 2-3 record). Gagne also threw 82 innings in 2002 when he saved 52 games.

[Mike: Hold the phone! The save rule is still applied the same way. We do see fewer three-inning saves, especially from a closer, but the other two means of getting a save are the same(though it is true that the save rule was revamped in 1973, '74, and '75).]

In 1974, reliever Mike Marshall pitched 208 innings and won the NL Cy Young award with a 15-12 record, 21 saves and a 2.42 ERA -- without starting a single game! Meanwhile, Atlanta Braves closer John Smoltz, who shares the NL saves record with Gagne, threw 80 innings in 2002 when he notched 55 saves. Bobby Thigpen holds the AL and MLB single-season saves record (57 saves in 88 innings in 1990).

[Mike: Right, and Marshall was 9-14 in 1975 with just 13 saves and a 3.29 ERA, just 4% better than the park-adjusted league average. He then switch teams four times in three years. He never threw 200 innings again and broke one hundred only once. He had poor years in 1976-77 (ERAs 11% and 12% worse than the league average. He finally returned to form in Minnesota in 1978-79. 1978: 10-12, 2.45 ERA (57% better than league average), 21 saves, 99 IP. 1979: 10-15, 2.65 ERA (65% better than league average), 32 saves, and 142.2 IP (and only 1 start). But the burden and his age were too much. He was injured most of the next year and was out of the game a year later.

Marshall is a cautionary tale. He was able to pitch well over 100 innings a year in relief but just every 4-5 years or so. Well, he did it in 1973 and '74, but it caused him to be ineffective until 1978.

Consider also that strategy employed with Marshall, Hillman, and the rest was considered a failure and was largely abandoned. Relief pitching was in retrograde until Bruce Sutter and Herman Franks pointed the way to keeping your relief healthy and effective by using him more often in shorter, more important appearances. Pitchers cannot go 200 innings in relief: their bodies do have limitations. So why not utilize their skills more effectively in concentrated bursts? That's what they did.]

Keep in mind that in the midst of Gagne's streak of consecutive games saved, he has lost games after entering a tie contest -- but those don't count as blown saves.

[Mike: Mrshall lost 12 games in 1974. Fingers lost an average of 8 games a year from 1972-77. What's your point? He also entered games that were tied and left before the outcome was settled. What's the difference? They're not save opportunities.]

If managers today would change their approach for an entire season and use today's closers like the best relievers of 30 years ago, then we could compare their save statistics in an apples-to-apples manner. Otherwise, we're comparing apples and oranges.

[Mike: If managers today used the strategy popularized by John McGraw over 70 years ago, then their best pitcher including starters would relieve as well. Again, reliever use has always changed. Either we compare using the stats available in an informed manner or we chuck evaluating relievers altogether. Besides you're the one, Joe, who insisted on this comparison in the first place.]

Thirty years ago, the relief role itself was approached differently -- a reliever was simply a reliever. The term closer wasn't even used because the concept of specialized relief roles (middle-inning reliever, setup man, closer) hadn't been introduced yet.

[Mike: This is flat-out wrong. Closers became popular in the early Fifties with Joe Page and Jim Konstanty becoming stars. John McGraw starting developing bullpen roles toward the end of his managerial career. The Senators did as well. The Dodgers and O's had setup men. Long relievers in the Sixties. Marshall had Charlie Hough and Jim Brewer to set him up. Remember that this was when the Dodgers were developing five-men rotations and the six-inning starter, for which Don Sutton was penalized at Hall-of-Fame time. By the way, Fireman was the preferred term in those days as in Johnny "Fireman" Murphy, and early reliever for the Yankees right before Page.]

Save Rule Revisited
The intent of the save rule, according to veteran Chicago baseball writer Jerome Holtzman (who wrote the rule), is to have the star reliever pitch the final two or three innings of the game to get the save. But managers have changed the way saves are recorded by saving their best reliever to get the last three outs of the game.

[Mike: No, the original save rule said that the pitcher who holds a lead until the end of the game was credited with a save, no matter how long he pitched nor how big a lead he was given. That wasn't changed until 1974.

The mangers may have changed the strategy concerning the way that closers were used. They didn’t change the rule however. Besides since the way that relievers are used has been changing constantly, shouldn't they have had the forethought to come up with a more effective rule?

Also, Holtzman developed the save stat in 1959 and used to publish them in the Chicago Sun-Times. His stat was used as the blueprint for the official stat, but to my knowledge, he didn't write the rule.]

The difference between the accomplishments of Gagne and Fingers is this: Fingers would enter the game in the seventh inning with runners in scoring position, get out of that jam and then close the door for two more innings -- in today's terms, he would act as his own setup man.

[Mike: I checked out Fingers 1973 season, by far the best from this period (1972-77). He did have 8 saves in which he pitched more than two innings (and 3 four-inning appearances). He also had nine saves in which he pitched one inning or less (including four one-out saves). So basically whenever they needed a win "saved", they turned to Fingers. ]

Today, most closers enter the game to start the ninth inning. With no one on base, they typically don't face a pressure-cooker situation as the closers of the past invariably did.

[Mike: Well, that's a bit facile, isn't it? Which is tougher, entering a ballgame in the ninth with a one-run lead or entering in the eighth with a four-run lead? Before 1974, the latter was considered a save opportunity (Joe, define "invariably"). I agree that pitching the ninth with a three-run lead is not terribly difficult. But to reduce everything to that extreme scenario is unfair to modern closers.]

Can't Compare
The especially impressive part of Gagne's accomplishment is that he hasn't slipped once in nearly 80 straight save opportunities. Still, I've always said that I can't compare Gagne with Fingers, Bruce Sutter and the relievers I saw who typically pitched three innings to record one save. In today's game, those three innings would be three saves for most closers.

[Mike: They did not "typically pitch three innings". They did far more often than closers do today, but consider what happened to Bruce Sutter's early career. Sutter started each of the 1976-78 seasons very impressively and either got injured or lost effectiveness due to overuse. His manager Herman Franks decided to try him in shorter bursts in 1979, Sutter won the Cy Young, and the modern reliever was born. This was actually the result of the original evolutionary pattern for relievers up to around 1972—they made fewer and fewer appearances per year and pitched fewer and fewer innings. This culminated in John Hiller's record 38 saves in 1973 in 65 relief appearances (and 125.1 innings).

Then the Expos decided to pitch Mike Marshall basically every day in 1983, and the trend reversed itself overnight. But even as closers were expected to pitch more innings, setup men started surpassing closers in appearances. The managers seemed to know that the high-innings closer was a dead end and when the Sutter model became available, many managers embraced it. That's how it's always been with close strategy: one team shows the rest the way and the follow. This started in the early days of the NL with Harry Wright and the Boston Red Stockings/Red Caps, happened again with McGraw and the Giants, Firpo Marberry, Joe Page, Hoyt Wilhelm, Sutter/Franks, and Eckersley/LaRussa.

Oh, as far as comparing eras, I did in the study. It isn't easy but it can be done.]

There's no question that today's closers face a far easier task. How difficult is it to get a save when you have a three-run lead and only need to get three outs?

[Mike: From 1969-73, a save was credited to a reliever whenever he held a lead. Check your facts, Joe.]

If you turned Hall of Fame starter Bob Gibson into a closer and gave him a three-run lead in the ninth inning with no one on base, he'd never lose a game -- he'd get a save every time.

[Mike: In Blazing Saddles the sheriff gets the townspeople to fight by saying, "You'd do it foe Randolph Scott", to which the referentially reply, "Randolph Scott!" with a holy choir in the background. Bob Gibson is Joe's Randolph Scott. Gibson crapped roses as far as Joe's concerned.

Gibson recorded a 1.12 ERA in 1968, sure, but Gagne's 1.20 last year wasn't shabby either and it was in a hitter's era. It's not like starters weren't used as relievers. Walter Johnson, Iron Joe McGinnity, Lefty Grove, Cy Young, Ed Walsh, Three Finger Brown, etc. were used extensively in relief then John McGraw and Firpo Marberry led the way to using effective pitchers in relief exclusively. I'm sure Gibson would have been a great reliever but shouldn't he have been used as a starter to have such a great pitcher soak up all the innings?]

So, regarding the Gagne debate, I can see both sides of the argument (and each side has merit). Rollie Fingers and others have maintained that if Gagne routinely had to pitch three innings to get a save, he wouldn't be able to get 76 saves in a row. I agree with that.

[Mike: Yeah, where's the other side?

No pitcher could possibly pitch the way Fingers described, let alone kept a save streak alive for 76 games. Besides, Fingers is the luckiest reliever there has ever been. He undeservingly won an MVP and Cy Young in 1981 and on the strength of that he got into the Hall even though Goose Gossage and others would have been better choices. Fingers should be the happiest man alive and he should shut his yap.]

But as much as I admire the relievers I've seen in the past, I don't think any of them would be able to get 76 saves in a row today. Gagne has been able to accomplish that because he absolutely dominates hitters night in and night out.

[Mike: So that's it? Why? Marshall and Fingers were supermen. Why couldn't they get 76 measly, one-inning saves in a roll? Gibson, according to you, would never lose. Oh, because Gagne "dominates". That's it.]

Save Shift
I've always felt that the save numbers achieved by closers are overrated. I mean, closers always come in with the lead! This isn't a knock on Gagne or any other closer, because closers fill an important role on a team. But getting three outs with a three-run lead is not as difficult as pitching five innings to get that lead.

[Mike: Right, five is bigger than one. Good, Joe.]

Starting pitchers aren't given the lead, they earn it. A starting pitcher must pitch well enough to allow his team the take the lead. That's why I believe a reliever shouldn't win the Cy Young award -- especially a modern reliever. Pitching 70-80 innings isn't enough to justify winning the Cy Young. Major League Baseball has a Fireman of the Year award for relievers.

[Mike: Who are you, John Housman? "They Earrrrn it."

What about the home team scores in the first inning? Isn't their starting pitcher handed a lead? Or how about the pitcher who is pulled for a pinch-hitter, who drives in the leading run? Did the pitcher earn the lead there?

This is possibly the stupidest argument that I've heard for excluding relievers from Cy Young voting. At least he gets the real reason, innings pitched.

Oh wait, did I say that was the stupidest? Major League Baseball has a Fireman of the Year award for relievers. I stand corrected.]

In my new "Baseball for Dummies" book, I identify some changes that I believe should take place in MLB's awards system, and among them are these: Only starters should win the Cy Young and only everyday players should win the MVP.

[Mike: To quote Red Foxx, "You big dummy!" That has got to be the mostly aptly named book ever! You've got to be a dummy to subject yourself to 300 pages of Morganisms. I tried to get through the first edition of the Joe's tome, but aside from a few chuckles, it just didn't hold my interest.

Wow, I've never heard a proposal like Joe's. It's earth-shattering! Look pitchers are pitchers. Just pick the best one. Then pick the best player for MVP. It's simple. So simple in fact that one day even the baseball writers will get the system down.]

Getting three outs with a three-run lead is not as difficult as pitching five innings to get that lead. Some fans might not remember how the trend of having the closer pitch only the ninth inning started. As I recall, it began when reliever Bruce Sutter got injured in the early 1980s (I'm not sure of the exact year).

[Mike: Wow, repeat yourself much? ( Getting three outs with a three-run lead is not as difficult as pitching five innings to get that lead.)

Early 1980s? It was 1979. Just look it up, Joe. He won the GD Cy Young that year. And the Rolaids Relief award as well, I might add. I know you're not a "numbers guy" but c'mon! How can you sign your name to this tripe? How can an editor sign off on it without checking basic facts? And you don't get by with a disclaimer: (I'm not sure of the exact year)]

Sutter used to pitch the seventh, eighth and ninth to record saves. But after he injured his arm, it was too risky for him to pitch three innings, so he cut back to one inning per appearance. His arm held up well for several years afterwards.

[Mike: No, this is also flat-out wrong. That revolution would not occur until Eckersley. What Franks did with Sutter was to limit or rather stagger his appearances, which did limit his overall number of innings. However, he still did make multi-inning appearances. In 1979, he had a 5-inning appearance, three appearances between 3 and 4 innings (for 1 save), and just 13 of his 37 saves came in one inning or less. He did pitch 101.1 innings in 62 appearances, or 1.63 innings per appearance.

Also, Sutter did sustain an injury in 1977, but the other years he (1976 & 78) he just lost effectiveness from overuse. It even happened in September 1979, but Sutter's numbers were so good the rest of the year that it didn't matter.]

Then, the one-inning closer system was perfected and popularized by manager Tony La Russa, who began the strategy of bringing in one reliever for the seventh, another for the eighth and the closer for the ninth. That was the start of the the current system of middle-inning relievers and a setup man paving the way for a one-inning closer. La Russa's idea was to shorten the game when his team had the lead.

[Mike: OK, this is one thing that he did get right. LaRussa was the first to use a reliever (Eckersley) in one innings situations almost exclusively.

According to Jerome Holtzman, though, that changed the way saves were recorded and circumvented the intent of the save rule.

[Mike: Holtzman must be (is he still alive?) bitter when everyone asks him at cocktail parties why he didn't device a better stat. It must be the pitchers' fault!

Look, baseball rewrote the rule in 1974 and tweaked it in '73 and '75. I recommend that they change it now. That said, the one-inning closer did not do what Joe says here. The original intent of the save rule was to reward a reliever who maintained a lead in a game through to the end. There were one-inning saves prior to Eckersley. As I showed before even superman Mike Marshall had one-out saves. The strategy evolved. If the definition of a save wasn't well thought out enough to anticipate this, then change the rule.]

One final note: I've established that due to the way closers are used, saves are easier to attain today. But it's also true that smaller ballparks and livelier baseballs make home-run and RBI numbers easier to attain. So the way the game has changed over the years is affecting both pitching and hitting statistics.

[Mike: One final note, live evolved from extraterrestrials. Good night, everybody!

Joe just can't throw these little grenades out and then skedaddle, can he? I guess he can.

Saves are not "easier to attain". The LaRussa strategy just is more efficient if you have a good enough cast around the closer to keep the lead to the ninth. You also have more chefs to blow the save.

OK, livelier balls? Can Joe justify this statement? Does he know that the ball is livelier?

Yes, there is more offense but that ebbs and flows. So what? If you mean that there's more potential to blow a save that's a nice theory. Do you have any proof? Are offenses picking on all pitchers equally or are poorer pitchers sustaining more damage? If it's the latter, maybe a good closer is not affected that much or at least not enough to blow more than a handful of games. Given that save totals are on the rise that appears to be the case.]

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