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Cotton-Eyed Joe Morgan Chat Day
2003-06-09 13:15
by Mike Carminati

I think these Boston fans won that [1903] Series for the Red Sox. We beat them three out of the first four games and then they started singing that damn Tessie song, the Red Sox fans did...[I]n the fifth game, the Royal Rooters started singing Tessie for no particular reason at all and the Red Sox won. They must have figured it was a good-luck charm because from then on, you could hardly play ball because they were singing Tessie so damn loud...Only instead of singing "Tessie, you know I love you madly," they'd sing special lyrics...And for us Pirates they'd sing:
Honus, why do you hit so badly,
Take a back seat and sit down.
Honus, at bat you look so sadly,
Hey why don't you get out of town.

Sort of got on your nerves after a while. And before we knew what happened, we'd lost the World Series.

-Pittsburgh's Tommy Leach, on the Boston's "Royal Rooters" singing the Pilgrims (not yet Red Sox) to victory (and sometimes substituting the own then-vulgar lyrics) in the first World Series. From Lawrence Ritter's incomparable The Glory of Their Times.

Times once were in sport that songs helped warriors gird their loins (what else do you gird?) for battle. They were the musical equivalent of such inspirational speeches as the St. Crispen's Day speech ("We few, we happy few...") in Shakespeare's Henry V or "Hello, my name is Indigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die," from The Princess Bride or "My name is Elmer J. Fudd. I own a mansion and a yacht" (citation unknown). A fight song drove the athlete to strive for the seemingly unattainable and made the "cranks" (Ye olde-tyme fans) almost part of the competition.

Today, the only shards of this are 1) the role calls that fans chant for each player in the field until that player acknowledges them at Yankee Stadium and 2) the cheers of "Yankees suck!" everywhere outside of Yankee Stadium. That cheer was chanted perhaps for the first time at Wrigley Field this weekend after Roger Clemens was again let down by his bullpen. But aside from those, we fans have been genericized to death with activities like the wave and watching the tomfoolery of the local endomorphic muppet that calls itself the team mascot while players pick their own ludicrous music, a snippet of which is played each time that player steps to the plate.

The only song that gets fans on their feet today is a good-old version of "Cotton-Eyed Joe", which is invariably accompanied on the jumbo screen by some rube either in the stands or in the broadcast booth cavorting around in a requisite straw hat. Where did it come from? Why won't it go? "Cotton-Eyed Joe" is supposed to appeal to us on some sort of preternatural level where "Froggy Went A-Courtin'" is cutting edge. It pre-dates the strictures of musical genres like country, blues, rock, or even folk. It harkens back to the early days of the United States, woebegone days when minorities were either enslaved or properly repressed. And it's chock full of foot stomping goodness, yee haw! "Cotton-Eyed Joe" is the sports fan's equivalent of the back-to-nature craze that was popular with the PC-repressed male culture of the mid-Nineties-except it fits in well with the wave, the chop, or the rally monkey. It's no wonder auto racing is the number one "sport" in the country.

So what does this have to do with Joe Morgan? Joe is responsible for the same charade but he registers in the left side our baseball minds. Joe tells us that on-base percentage doesn't matter. He tells us things were better in the good ol' days of small ball. He criticizes the A's for getting on base and hitting home runs. He evaluates pitchers by wins, the personal stat they have the least control over. And we stomp along like that bumpkin in "Cotton-Eyed Joe".

So without further ado, here's a little number we call Joe Morgan Chat Day. And a one-ah and a two-ah:

The Good

Steve Deal (Bellefontaine, OH): In the wake of Sosa's corked bat mistake, MLB will likely hand down a 7 or so game suspension for a potentially minor infraction (no player is directly hurt by using a corked bat). What do you think about increasing the suspension time for in game brawls? Could an automatic suspension for leaving the bench/bullpen like in the NBA work in baseball?

First of all, it wasn't a minor infraction. The rules say you can't do it. Minor is in the mind of the individuals. No, I think sometimes they give too large of a suspension for brawls.

[Mike: Right, brawls may do more physical damage but they do not harm the integrity of the game itself.]

Jim Hills, Menomonee Falls WI: Joe Why is it that the majority of Major League Players don't play with injuries any more. A perfect example of this was Wednesday night when Griffey hurt his right arms during a swing, and then on the next pitch he hit a homerun and then sat out the rest of the game. It just seems if he was able to hit a homerun then he should be able to play the rest of the game.

There is a perception that players today do not play with injuries. But sometimes when guys did it before, it was stupid. You can play with pain, but not with injuries.

[Mike: Right you are, Joe. Keep in mind that Mr. Hill doubles everything so when he says that Griffey hurt his two right arms, he actually means 60 right arms. Otherwise he's perfectly all right. And you have to say "dog kennel' to Mr Morgan, because if you say "right arm" he puts a bucket over his head. I should have explained. Otherwise he's perfectly all right.

(From the Monty Python Buying a Bed sketch)]

Andrew (Franklin Lakes, NJ): Joe- do you think the matchup going on at Wrigley this weekend could be a World Series preview?

I think it's interesting. The last time the Yankees were there, Babe Ruth had his called shot. For that fact, it will be fun to watch the matchup. It's too early to tell about the World Series.

[Mike: Right, Joe. Any interleague series could be the World Series at this point. It's the first week of June. Enjoy the regular season, Andrew. This isn't the NBA: the regular season has meaning in baseball. Besides, it's not like either of these teams has huge leads. The Astros and the Red Sox are dogging them. They might not win their division, let alone the league championship four months from now.]

Ned: What's worse: corking a bat or scuffing the ball?

Very very good question. No one has bothered to think about it. They all have their own thought about what cheating is. I would say scuffing a baseball. It affects more players and the outcome of the game more. One hitter with a corked bat doesn't affect the game that much. I still don't believe a corked bat helps a hitter nearly as much as people think.

[Mike: Right, Joe. Besides the batter isn't flinging a corked bat at another person as a scuffed ball is by design.

Also, what, are we playing a game of Scruples? It's against the rules. Let's not worry about the morals. Ned, let's say you had a little box with a button, and if you hit the button a person that you've never met would die but you'd get a billion dollars. What would you do? You go back in time and Hitler is a child. What do you do?

What's worse, appearing on American Idol and losing or Star Search and winning? Is it better to burn out or fade away? Who invented liquid soap and why? These are eternal questions that are beyond the ken of mortal man, except Captain Kirk, who would know the right answer even while diddling the green chick. ]

Jordan (Atlanta): Would Major League Baseball hide the fact that all of Sammy's bats were corked, for the sake of baseball?

No. They wouldn't do that. Secondly, I'm with the Hall of Fame and they checked the bats he gave them. We had five on display and we checked them ourselves and they were all clean.

[Mike: Well. Jordan, no. But the CIA is in on it and the Cubans, the Teamsters, the FBI, and the mob. "Read the book". "The truth is out there" and so are you.

The Bad

Brian (NYC): In your opinion, who is the best of all time at robbing homeruns in the outfield? To me that is the most exciting play in baseball.

You have to remember they just lowered the fences to those dimensions in recent years. When I played in Cincinnati, the fence was 12-13 feet high. But now you can jump over them. Probably Mikeameron and Torii Hunter are the two best. Had they been lower all the time, Eric Davis would be in that category. You couldn't jump over the Astrodome fence, that's for sure.

[Mike: Ah, Joe the fences at Riverfront were 12 feet from 1970 to 1983 but were lowered to 8 feet in 1984. Of course, that was after you left, but it was twenty years ago.

By the way, my pick is Timmy Lupus. That catch in The Bad News Bears was amazing. Runner up? Jeffrey Maier.]

Joey, Nj: Do you think the Orioles are finally a respectable team?

They have some good players on the team but they are still very much a work in progress.

[Mike: Yo, Joey! Wanna go for a coke and slice? Did you see the guy about the thing?

The Orioles were respectable for much of last year and fell apart miserably. Let's at least wait until the All-Star break to see about 2003.]

Philip (Denver): Hi Joe, It seems like this years Mariners are much like the 2001 team - which worries me because they have no #1 starter to guarantee wins in the playoffs. Is this a problem?

It depends on who they would be matched up against. But I agree, they do not have a clear cut No. 1 guy, although Moyer has pitched well and can match up with some No. 1's. I was shocked the 2001 team didn't win it all. Some teams have lost some of their toughness since 2001, including the Yankees. The teams they will potentially face will not be as strong.

[Mike: Look, Moyer is 10-2 with a 2.93 ERA. He won 20 games two years ago and has won at least 13 since 1996. That seems like a number 1 to me.]

Adam (West Columbia, SC): What are the Braves going to do about their pitching staff, especially their middle relief.

They will do what everyone does .. try to find a fit. But every team will be looking for the exact same thing. There are no teams without weaknesses. The salary restrictions are the cause of that. Everyone will have a hole to fill. The Dodgers need a bat. Talent is diluted and everyone will want something at the end of the season.

[Mike: To quote Bill Ray Valentine, "Thanks, you've been halpful." Yeah, a lot of teams will do a lot of things, but the guy wants to know about the Braves. Why not just say you don't know?

My gut feeling is that they will muddle through with what they have unless there is a major dropoff in the performance of the team.]

Nevada, Mo: Do you Think Roger Clemens will out duel Kerry Wood on Saturday to pick up three hundred? Or will you yet again have it allude him?

No one knows the answer to that! He pitched well enough to win last time, the team just self destructed. The question is how well will he pitch? If he pitches as well as last time, he will win.

[Mike: Well, that's an unfortunate prediction, isn't it? Don't stare. Move along. Nothing to see.]

Gordon (NYC): Hi Joe, Andy Pettitte is 30 years old with 132 wins and 4 rings. He could finish his career with some impressive stats, but will people dismiss them as a product of the great teams he's been on? Thanks!!

If he continues to win games, he will be remembered as a great pitcher. You have to have great players to make a great team. Otherwise it's just a good team.

[Mike: Gordon from NYC? How are Elmo and Oscar? Pettitte's ERA is a hair under 4.00. That's going to be a hard sell to the Hall voters even if he does have a great winning percentage. He's a good pitcher. Allie Reynolds is fondly remembered and he wasn't great either.]

Joey, Nj: Do you think Jose Contreras is better off being a starter?

I can't really say. I can only go by what I see. He has pitched better as a starter every time I have seen him. He looked great in a game for Cuba I did a couple years ago. He always looks better as a starter to me but it's still too early to tell.

[Mike: "He has pitched better as a starter every time I have seen him." So that would be twice, then-I don't think you can include the Cuba starts. He is pitching well as a starter so far, the Yankees need him with Weaver doing his best Eddie Whitson impersonation, and he sucked in the pen. Yeah, it's early, but there's no reason to think he would be better off as a reliever.]

Josh (Coventry, CT): I know it's silly, as a Red Sox fan, to be optimistic about our playoff chances, but this year, more than previous years, the Yankees look extremely vulnerable (especially in the bullpen). Do you think this is the year when the Sox finally outdo the Yanks? And do you think Pedro will make a dominant return?

I don't think it's silly to look at your chances as positive. You have a great chance. It's a better team than you have had before. You have more bats to depend on and you are getting some great contributions from many sources. You have a great chance.

[Mike: So, Joe, was there an opinion in there? Yeah, their chances look good. A twelve-year-old reading the standings could tell you that.

I think that the Sox could be closer to the Yankees than ever before, but now they have to worry about the Blue Jays. Of course, their yearly mid-season acquisition from brother Bud-is Vlad Guerrero available-should help.]

Ricky (Albuquerque, NM): Hey Joe! Being a loyal Mets fan, do I have anything to look forward to? It just keeps getting worse.

They have to get better! There is no way they won't get better. They will play better as the season progresses. Burnitz has given them a spark and Alomar should get better. I just think they will play better as the year goes along.

[Mike: Anything for a Mets fan to look forward to? How about football season? The Mets may improve like last year after they have been all but mathematically eliminated. Or they may sell of all of their veteran talent, play nobodies for the future, and get worse.

Burnitz is playing well (.869 OPS in only 120 AB is 30 points higher than career average), but has been far from revelatory. Besides he is 34 and will not be around when the Mets are good again.

As far as Alomar getting better, he is 35 and has established a new level, a poor one, that has been consistent over the last one and one-half seasons. His batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS (.707 in 2002 and .712 in 2003) have remained pretty consistent. It is hard to believe that he has suffered such a large dropoff after 2001, but it is probably harder to believe that he will come back at his age after so long a down period.]

Derek Monroe: what do you think about those devils?

I've been a Devils fan since John McMullen owned the team. I do think NJ will win but the Ducks have played very very well. The puck can bounce funny sometimes. But I think NJ will still win it.

[Mike: What is this, Al Morganti Chat Day? Get back to baseball. Besides "those devils" scare me with their pitchforks and cloven feet, except for Elizabeth Hurley. She makes me feel kinda funny, like when we used to climb the rope in gym-class.]

Dustin (Muncie, IN): Joe, what kind of pitcher is out on the trade market that the Reds can trade for? Do the Reds have enough to give for a good quality pitcher?

There are a lot of guys that will be available because teams will want to cut payroll. But more teams will be after them. I don't know if the Reds will be able to afford what they want or have enough guys to trade to get them. It's not just about paying the salary, you have to trade something to get them.

[Mike: What kind of pitcher? Over-rated, over-priced, over-aged ones, just like the Reds got last year. They trade Elmer Dessens and put all their hopes in Jimmy Haynes. What do they expect?

As far as payroll hits, last year teams would either look to cut payroll or acquire young talent, but rarely got both. I see no reason why that trend will not continue.]

Santos (Huntsville, Alabama: Do you think race has something to do with Sammy's media coverage?

As a minorty trying to look through the eyes of Sammy Sosa or Jose Canseco, I can see where Jose would draw some of those conclusions. I don't necessarily agree. But I can see where it comes from. No one attacked Mark McGwire and wanted to take away his records. The point remains, some people believe Andro helps your performance. But there just wasn't much said about it. That is probably what Canseco is referring to. I don't necessarily agree with what Jose said, but I can see where he is coming from.

I think when people make statements about race, you have to see what their evidence is. You don't just dismiss or condone something based on race. If they don't have good evidence, they should keep their mouth shut.

[Mike: Joe's right. I think Jose Canseco is just poor-me-ing. Blaming his own troubles on being a minority. There are always those who want to promulgate their own ideologies, but in Jose's as in Sammy's case race has little to do with the story.

However, as far as andro is concerned, it was a legal, over-the-counter supplement that the majors did not have a rule against. Joe is blowing McGwire's use of it out of proportion, just as the media blew Sammy's corked bat out of proportion.]

Ed Zaboski, Philadelphia, PA: Sure Sosa's excuses look real good now but they had a few innings to switch those bats before they were seized. My question is why even have a corked one in the first place? Like he's not strong enough and the pitches aren't grooved in BP? Just doesn't make any sense.

It makes sense to me. People used to watch McGwire early just for BP. Sammy is more of a people person than anyone I know. Instead of just hitting HRs, he wants to hit them 550 feet and really put on a show. He is more of a show than anyone. I tend to believe him because every other bat that has been X-rayed did not have cork. So I believe his explanation.

[Mike: Ed, I think your hanging out way to much with Jordan from Atlanta.

I agree with Joe, Sammy's explanation is plausible up to a point. He had been slumping after the injury and maybe wanted a little help. But whether it was an error of omission or commission, he is paying the price.

However, I take exception with Joe's condoning Sosa for using a corked bat in practice. Isn't it disingenuous to put on a show with a corked bat? I mean they already have some 50-year-old lobbing balls in where Sammy can hit them, and he still has to use a corked bat? The people came to see his BP show because they thought it was real. I know that there is little to no proof that the cork helps one hit a ball farther, but it had at least a placebo effect on Sosa. And it led to this entire incident.]

mike Ny: After Roger Clemens gets 300 are there any pichters after him who can boast that they have won 300; also will we ever see another 300 game winner in a few years from now?

There are two possiblities as I see them. Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. They have a chance. After that, I don't think we will see another one.

[Mike: Maddux should have a great shot, but I'm not so optimistic of Glavine's chances. He needs 53 more, is 37, and will be on a rebuilding team for the next 2.5 seasons. He also has a 4.82 ERA with the Mets and only 5 wins this year.

I personally think four-man rotations will make a comeback and in twenty years we'll may be ankle-deep in 300-game winners again though I may be nuts. Toronto is trying it this year. I heard Leo Mazzone say on Outside the Lines that there's no reason why you can't go to 4-man rotations. With young, forward-thinking GMs that want any edge they can get (like Billy Beane) coming into prominence, I don't think it's such a stretch. The old adage is that it's easier to find four starters than five, but maybe it should be that it's easier to find 11 guys for a staff than 12. Since bullpens are so deep now, even if you cut one starter, you won't need another reliever to make up for it. And one fewer pitcher means one extra position player.]

The Ugly

Dennis (NY, NY): Good morning Joe: Do you think we will ever get back to the "good old days" of baseball, where teams play the small ball and bunt & steal? There are very few teams who try to simply manufacture a run.

Good morning .. I don't think we will get back to that. The parks are smaller and everyone is playing for the 3-run homer. The Angels, D-Backs and Yankees were not really home run hitting teams. Those teams did manufacture runs and they have set the example. But I don't think we will every get back to that across the board.

[Mike: One Joe Morgan special to go, Mel!

Ah, Joe and small ball: it's like a dog with a bone. Successful teams use different strategies in different situations. The Angels were very successful with small ball last year, but did anyone notice that they went homer happy in the playoffs? Successful teams get on base and play for the three-run home run, just like Earl Weaver said. That doesn't mean that they won't score by any means necessary. The most important thing is to get on base. The A's do it and Joe puts them down every opportunity he gets. Joe himself followed the on-base model as a player and denigrates it as an analyst. Go figure.]

Greg, NY: Hi Joe, do retired players talking amongst themselves think that a lot of the current power numbers are tainted? Or is the only relevant comparison player within eras?

In most cases, they don't believe players today are better than them. They wish they could play in these small ballparks with such poor pitching.

[Mike: Give me a number 2, Mel. Hold the kraut.

These young whippersnappers have it too easy, with the crappy pitching and the dinky parks. And the andro and the corked bats. How do the smaller fences, over which outfielders may nab homers, fit into this schema anyway? And how do the ex-pitchers feel? And what about scarecrow's brain?]

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