Morgan madness

I don’t know too much about writer Tommy Craggs, but I want to shake the man’s hand.

I want to slap him on the back. Share a cold one with him. Watch a game with him on TV until one of us has either put his foot through the screen or watched the other’s cranium explode.

Craggs, a staff writer for the San Francisco Weekly, wrote a scathing, 5,500-word piece last week lambasting ESPN’s Joe Morgan, a much-deserved whipping of the clueless commentator and his arrogant, prehistoric approach to baseball.

It all (what doesn’t in baseball today) starts with The Book — Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball” — which Morgan STILL thinks Billy Beane wrote. Morgan refuses to read the book because he insists a computer can’t tell him how to play the game that he played. The same evil super-human computer that apparently sparks the fall of billion-dollar dynasties.

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“Joe: I don’t read books like that. I didn’t read Bill James’ book, and you said he was complimenting me. Why would I wanna read a book about a computer, that gives computer numbers?

Me (Craggs): It’s not about a computer.

Joe: Well, I’m not reading the book, so I wouldn’t know.

Me: I’m not —

Joe: Why would I wanna read the book? All I’m saying is, I see a game every day. I watch baseball every day. I have a better understanding about why things happen than the computer, because the computer only tells you what you put in it. I could make that computer say what I wanted it to say, if I put the right things in there. … The computer is only as good as what you put in it. How do you think we got Enron?”

Before you ask, the answer is yes, he is that stupid. And this, folks, is who ESPN, the self-appointed Worldwide Leader of Sports, chooses to be its premier baseball analyst. Poor, poor Jon Miller.

Poor, poor us.

With Morgan comes an errant pomposity of how to play the game, the only way to play the game. He mocks the Moneyball philosophy of not stealing bases, he scoffs at sabrematricians’ statistics-based objective of finding value in undervalued players; to him they’re just computer geeks building rosters across the river at MIT.

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In Joe Morgan’s world, the Anaheim Angels of 2002, who won the World Series, played the game the right way because they played hit and run. They stole bases. They bunted. They took chances that Moneyball says leads to unproductive outs more often than not. Not to mention they had a dominant bullpen pitching lights-out at the right time of the year. Couldn’t be that’s the reason they won.

In 2005, Morgan is heaping praise on Ozzie Guillen and the White Sox, another team that plays the game right. Of course, the White Sox could be in first by nine games in the AL Central because they tote the best pitching staff ERA (3.62) in the AL. Nah, must be solely because they lay down the squeeze.

The Red Sox? A team that employs Moneyball philosophy on a big budget? Well, Morgan points out in Craggs’ piece that the most important play of their season was a stolen base by Dave Roberts in the ALCS. By definition, according to him, they are not a Moneyball team.

No, they are, hence the presence of Bill Mueller, David Ortiz, and Mark Bellhorn, underappreciated players who present value to the club. “Moneyball” was about building a team on a shoestring budget, but its ideals can be applied at any price. However, whereas Beane’s A’s haven’t won a playoff series, maybe the Red Sox discovered that there is a month when it’s worth taking chances, when you need to take them. Otherwise, you can sit back and consider it all luck.

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Of course, Morgan’s failure to try and understand what he ignores is just the beginning of his ineptitude on the air. Most recently, his complete and utter clueless question as to why Doug Mirabelli was playing instead of Jason Varitek in a Red Sox-Cubs game a few weeks back. Oh, and by the way research guru, Tim Wakefield is on the mound.

A group of guys have started the fantastic blog, “Fire Joe Morgan,” in which they go after not just Morgan, but other commentators and analysts who refuse to budge from their sole, antiquated views of the game. Tim McCarver is obviously a favorite target. As is Kevin Kennedy, who just published, “Twice Around The Bases: The Thinking Fan’s Inside Look At Baseball,” another attempt to debunk the “Moneyball” theory, something “Three Nights in August” also attempted.

Yawn.

Besides what is sure to be a self-important bore, books like Kennedy’s do the game a disservice, taking it back three steps instead of presenting new ways of thinking about it. If I want to hear about the importance of the running game, as Kennedy tries to push, I’ll check out any one of 500 other books already out there. What “Moneyball” brought to the table wasn’t just presenting a revolutionary way at looking at how to play the game, but how to watch it, build it, and enjoy it.

Last night’s Home Run Derby on ESPN at one point had Morgan and Reggie Jackson broadcasting together, in an exchange of self-love. This is why Morgan needs Miller and not Chris Berman partnering with him because any time ol’ Joe gets out of hand, Miller will just remind him that the thing people remember the most from the ’75 World Series is the Carlton Fisk homer.

Here they were, ignorant stars of yesteryear talking about their game, not ours mind you, with stories we’ve all heard time and time and time and time again, like some sort of endless loop of Bob Costas reminiscence of the game that was better in their day.

I’m glad Craggs wasn’t there. I just got a new TV.

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