Archive for the ‘Joe Morgan’ Category

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Joe Morgan

May 19, 2022

I built my Worcester Birds roster not only to bring Mark Fidrych back to life but to right the one disappointing element of his 1976 season: that he fell one shy of 20 wins for the season. I should say that I no longer mark that or anything else about Mark Fidrych’s career or life a disappointment, as in his brief playing career he gave us all more than we could ever hope to ask for from a baseball player, and in his life he figured out a way to overcome his own disappointment at the truncation of his ability to do the thing he did better than all but a few people in the world and live a meaningful, happy life that brightened the lives of his family, his town, and his fans. In both his career and his life, the end came too soon, but he made the most of his time and made the world a better place. All that said, when I was a kid I definitely was disappointed that he fell one short of 20 wins in 1976. To say I loved the round numbers and numerical milestones in baseball is putting it too lightly. When I was a kid those numbers gave shape to my life in a way that nothing else did. I wanted the Bird to come back and win 20 in 1977, and when that didn’t happen I wanted him to do it in 1978, and then 1979, and then 1980, and even after he disappeared from view at the major league level I knew he was at Pawtucket, and I kept hoping for what I understood was an impossible return to form. And now, decades later, I’m trying to give him the 1977 season I’d hoped for. It’s a tall order, as his 1977 Strat-O-Matic card is good but not great, and he can only take the ball once every five days, rather than every four days. He’s got to make his starts count, and he’s got to have help from his fielders and his offense.

All this to say that when I was building a team to bring the Bird back to life and make things right, I started with Joe Morgan. I put him first on my list for the league’s automated draft. This was a bigger gamble in terms of getting Mark Fidrych, but I didn’t want to send Fidrych out there without Joe Morgan. It was also probably an unnecessary gamble, as Joe Morgan’s salary in the league is outlandishly high, the highest in the game, $13.2 million a year, requiring a devotion of 16.5% of a team’s $80 million salary cap. Realistically speaking, most other managers in the online game would not be willing to cripple all the other aspects of their team by paying so much to one guy.

But I wanted to build a team with great defense at every position and with a balanced lineup that could score runs in different ways, and the key to all that was Joe Morgan. Without him, I’d either have to have a subpar fielder at one of the two most important positions (the other being shortstop), or have a fielder who still wasn’t as good as Morgan at second and who was a gaping hole in the lineup. The other element in play with Morgan is something that seems to have had some study in baseball’s statistical analysis: position scarcity. I don’t pretend to understand any of the mathematics in those studies, but I am keenly familiar with the concept from my thousands of hours playing Strat-O-Matic, which is that it matters not only how good a player is but how good he is in relation to the other players at his position.

I just reread Joe Posnanski’s great book The Machine, and in that book there’s an emphasis on the Reds’ four superstars, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, and Joe Morgan. Sparky Anderson drew a circle around those four guys as his superstars and announced to everyone on the team not only that he was doing so, but that everyone on the team who was outside the circle was “a turd.” (One of the most interesting aspects of the book was how this management style played out in creating justifiably volcanic bitterness with one player in particular, Ken Griffey, and in Griffey’s story Joe Morgan comes out looking pretty bad. Morgan never took Griffey under his wing, which Griffey had hoped he would, and he also essentially took away a spectacular asset of the blazingly fast Griffey by forbidding him to steal bases while Morgan, who batted behind Griffey, was at the plate.) There are circles within that four-player circle, of course. Perez is a Hall of Famer, but he’s not at the level of the other three. Rose was an incredible and at this point underrated player (and his willingness to move midseason to a position where he’d previously struggled was an incredible sacrifice that allowed the Big Red Machine to settle into its groove as an all-time great team), but he is not in a league with Bench and Morgan, who are arguably the best players ever to play their positions (and if you like someone else for their spots on the field, Bench and Morgan have to be at least in your top two or three). And I can’t tell you who’s better between Bench and Morgan, but for whatever it’s worth I’ll say that I’d pick Morgan first for my Strat-O-Matic team 100% of the time before I’d pick Bench, because in the league during their time there were several other good if not great options at catcher (e.g., Fisk, Munson, Simmons, Tenace, Ferguson), while at second base there was, across the whole league, Bobby Grich a fair distance behind Joe Morgan (and in the 1977 game Grich is not even able to play second base, as he spent that season at shortstop), and the distance between those two and the rest of the second basemen of the league makes all the Duane Kuipers and Doug Flynns of the league look, from Morgan’s perch, as tiny and inconsequential as ants.

Anyway, Morgan so far has done what he was supposed to do. He has had another good stretch of games, as can be suggested in the notes below, and in addition to stealing bases and drawing walks and hitting home runs and, most of all, scoring runs, he has played the whole season so far without an error. The team is doing better than I expected, as I was bracing for overall mediocrity resulting from my lopsided Bird-centric philosophy because of the reliance of that philosophy on a pitching staff populated, besides Fidrych, by cheaply-priced batting-practice lobbers. But the team continues to cling to its narrow hold on first place in the division. More importantly, the Bird has 8 wins through 57 games, on track for a number that I am hoping will give some shape to this ever baffling world.

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Worcester Birds notes, games 52 through 57

  • G52: L 7-1
    • Stanley battered again; lineup stymied by Ken Brett
  • G53: W 7-5
    • Morgan homers, doubles, and scores 3 runs (and is still without an error); McClure hurls 2 perfect innings for the save
  • G54: L 3-1
    • Nothing doing against Gaylord Perry (11 Ks, 4 hits)
  • G55: W 10-4
    • Cowens leads hit parade with 3; Bowa adds two hits while contributing to 4 more double plays, adding to team’s league-leading total
  • G56:W 9-2 (Fidrych 8-3)
    • Cowens with 3 hits again; Fidrych strong through 9.
  • G57: W 3-1
    • Stanley gains win with his first good outing (5.2 IP, 0 runs); Morgan does a little of everything (1 run, 1 hit, 1 BB, 1 RBI) and is still without an error through 57 games and 326 chances
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The Best Everyday Player of the 1970s

January 11, 2008
 

 
Some odds and ends from The New Bill James Historical Abstract on the players discussed in the recent Cardboard Gods poll on Best Everyday Player from the 1970s:

Though Bill James does not designate a best player of the decade, he does identify the winner of our poll, Joe Morgan, as the best player in four straight years, 1973 through 1976. Only Honus Wagner in the first decade of the twentieth century had a longer unbroken string of dominance (in James’ estimation the Dutchman was tops in baseball for seven straight years).

Of the players considered in our poll, Joe Morgan ranks the highest in James’ all-time list of players, at 15. Two players at the tail end of their careers in the 1970s rank higher, Hank Aaron at 12 and Willie Mays at 3. Other players getting votes in our poll were ranked thusly, starting at the back: 82. Willie Stargell (James’ choice for “Most Admirable Superstar”); 64. Rod Carew; 57. Reggie Jackson (James’ choice for “Least Admirable Superstar”); 44. Johnny Bench; 33. Pete Rose. 

Ken Singleton was the only player receiving support in the poll who was not ranked in the top 100 by James, but he is ranked by James as the eighteenth best rightfielder of all time. Singleton and Stargell are the only two of our players who did not make it onto James’ major league all-star team for the decade, passed over in the outfield in favor of Bobby Murcer, Reggie Jackson, and Bobby Bonds. 

Pete Rose is on that all-star team as a utility man, which would seem to make him the most vulnerable member of the squad if not for James’ high estimation of him in the overall rankings. That ranking made me feel a little better about spending so much verbiage lobbying for more consideration for Rose as one of the very best players of the decade. I’m sure part of my inspiration in doing so was reading, on some earlier occasion, the rhetorical question Bill James uses to sum up his thoughts on Pete Rose’s ranking in the pantheon of the game: “Which is better to start a pennant race with, a guy that you think might be the MVP, or a guy that you know is going to hustle every day and get 200 hits?”

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Joe Morgan

June 4, 2007
  

I’ve got nothing today. I feel like I’m made out of wet cement and potato chip farts. Friggin’ Monday. I don’t work at my job on Monday, so it’s the day when I’m supposed to take the world by storm, you know, live my dream life, write shattering tales pulsing with the rhythms of undying prose, etc., etc. But I’ve just been stopping and starting all day today, trying and failing to fight through a painful ache that seizes me whenever I try to compose letters of inquiry to literary agents who don’t know me from a begger on the subway.

So just to keep from going nuts I’m going to take a short break from composing tedious, desperate explanations of how my festering unpublished novel is a sellable undiscovered gem. I’m going to look at my baseball cards. I’m going to look at my baseball encyclopedia. I’m going to enwomb my 39-year-old self for a little while in these activities that have soothed me and temporarily walled me from my troubles for most of my conscious life.

More specifically, I’m going to ask this question: Who’s better, Joe Morgan or Rogers Hornsby?

The discussion attached to the previous posting here on Cardboard Gods came to the collective decision that the man shown here burying his hands in his armpits is superior to his rival for the second-base spot on the all-time team. This decision is in line with Bill James’ thinking on the matter, as he related in his Historical Abstract

If you count his walks and steals, Morgan accounted for 6,516 career bases, leading to 1,650 runs scored. Hornsby accounted for 5,885 bases, leading to 1,579 runs scored. Hornsby played in a league where teams scored 4.43 runs per game; Morgan, an average of 4.11. Hornsby was an average fielder and a jackass; Morgan was a good glove and a team leader. (pp. 360-361)

The one factor left out of the above group of numbers is games played. Morgan played in 2649 games to Hornsby’s 2259, and so produced fewer bases and runs per game than Hornsby. Hornsby’s era saw more scoring in general, but unless I’m doing the math wrong (always a possibility), the ratio of his runs per game over Morgan’s runs per game is greater than the ratio of his era’s average runs per game over Morgan’s era’s runs per game. Because of longer seasonal schedules and a slightly longer career, Morgan was able to compile more bases and runs than Hornsby, but I disagree with the claim that he was as potent an offensive force as Rogers Hornsby.

The clincher to this argument, to me, comes from a look at how each player stacked up against other players of his era. Was Morgan the greatest offensive force of his day? For a couple years he probably was, and that’s pretty amazing for a Gold Glove middle infielder. He led the National League in on base percentage four times, in slugging percentage once, and in OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) twice. Not too shabby. But now hear this: Rogers Hornsby led his league in OPS eleven times. Eleven! I just took a look at the records of the top names on the career OPS leader board at baseball-reference.com, and it seems, according to my unscientific perusal, that in the history of the game only Babe Ruth led his league in that most telling offensive statistic more times than Rogers Hornsby.   

Now, I guess Rogers Hornsby was a pretty bad fielder and a dismal teammate. Also, he and all pre-Jackie Robinson major leaguers surely benefitted from competing in a segregated league. With those things in mind, I really can’t say with any certainty that Rogers Hornsby was better than Joe Morgan. But isn’t it tempting to imagine an all-time best lineup that includes a player at second base who is by a certain key measurement the closest anyone has ever come to being Babe Ruth?