Archive for the ‘Cincinnati Reds’ Category

h1

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.

***

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