Who amongst us (other than Jon Miller) has not pissed themselves guffawing over Hall Of Fame 2B Joe Morgan’s irrational dismissal’s of Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball”, a book the Big Red Machine linchpin professes to have never read?
SF Weekly’s Tommy Craggs has gone one better, however, facing off with Morgan and giving the ESPN analyst a chance to articulate just what he finds so offensive about “Moneyball” (link courtesy Repoz, who also alerts us to the scintillating discussion of Craggs’ article taking place over at the Baseball Think Factory).
Somewhere between the playing field and the sky sits the broadcast booth, a sort of nursing home for former players, or at least for those former players who can get from subject to object without spraining an ankle. The booth is where old ballplayers go to turn senile. There, the utmost commonplaces are dispensed with the air of commandments — Entertainment Weekly once referred to Fox’s Tim McCarver as the “Master of the Obvious” — simply because the head from which they issue once bore the hat of a major-league ball club. It wasn’t always so. Time was, the color analyst was brought in just so Howard Cosell would have someone to condescend to; he was comic relief. Today, however, the analyst is regarded as an ambassador of The Game. Not only is he, as a former player, keenly attuned to frequencies no casual fan could ever hear, he is a man with Important Opinions on How The Game Should Be Played.
“The Angels played The Game the way it’s supposed to be played,” Morgan (above) is saying now. We’re standing on the hard pink track skirting the dugout, and in a few minutes Morgan will take the elevator up to the press box and prepare to teach baseball to America; America, if it’s smart, will hit the mute button. “They stole bases. They hit and ran. They bunted.”
He is talking about the 2002 world-champion Anaheim Angels, but what he’s really talking about is the book Moneyball (a book Joe Morgan hasn’t read) and why it’s bullshit (which is why he’ll never read it). I try to point out the contradiction. “I think you should –”
Morgan cuts me off. “No, I shouldn’t read the book. ‘Cause I don’t care about the book.”
Even today, whether in a chat or an interview or during a broadcast, Morgan never misses an opportunity to slag Moneyball (a book Joe Morgan hasn’t read) and, by extension, the A’s, who haven’t made it out of the first round of the playoffs since 1992. “If I’d had Zito, Mulder, and Hudson,” he says to me, referring to the A’s recently disbanded trio of pitchers, “there’s no way I wouldn’t have gotten to the World Series. That’s what I’m telling you.” And in a recent chat, he mused: “That moneyball theory is overrated. No one has ever won with it. PLAYERS win games. Not theories.” When it was suggested that the world-champion Boston Red Sox were a Moneyball team — after all, they had Bill James in their employ — Morgan snapped back (and you could almost hear his furious jabs at the keyboard): “The Red Sox had the second highest payroll in baseball next to the Yankees!!! The most important play last year was Dave Roberts stealing second base in game four … that is NOT the moneyball theory. Without the stolen base or just the THREAT of the stolen base Dave Roberts provided, the Red Sox would have been eliminated.”
Lewis merely shrugs. He told an interviewer recently: “As the governor of Louisiana once said, the only way Joe Morgan can lose his job is if he got caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy. Short of that kind of thing, there is no level of stupidity that he could express on ESPN that would get him canned, because he’s Joe Morgan. What are you going to do about it?”