Skip to content

Some thoughts on Joe Morgan

Nov 9, 2010, 6:58 AM EST

Morgan and Miller yellow

I was reading a great interview of “Bloom County” cartoonist Berkeley Breathed yesterday, and came to the following exchange:

RUSSELL: The Internet’s biggest impact on culture has been the fragmentation of discourse — there’s no one central album or TV show or comic strip that’s a universal discussion point any more. How blessed do you feel for having gotten out of the game before that fragmentation really set in?

BREATHED: Your question is my answer. Blessed. The last hurrah. People think that things will unravel with rising sea levels. I happen to think that it’s because we won’t all ever be humming the same song at the same time around the country… or laughing at the same cartoon.

I found myself nodding my head because I realized that, no, I don’t read the same comics as everyone else anymore. I don’t watch the same shows. I don’t listen to the same music. If I didn’t work from home I wouldn’t be able to stand at the water cooler and discuss whatever the current version is of last night’s “Seinfeld,” because there isn’t such a beast anymore.

It’s not that I’m hip and have rarefied tastes. Even those of us with awful taste have our own niche interests these days thanks to the Internet and iTunes and Netflix and hundreds upon hundreds of TV channels at our disposal.  There just isn’t as much room for consensus on pop culture as there used to be. The only exceptions are a handful of reality shows.

Oh, and sports. Sports have to be one of the last great common meeting places, because why else would the news that ESPN was kicking Jon Miller and Joe Morgan to the curb make for such a common discussion point last night?  Maybe it’s only consensus within a niche, but everyone in this little niche of baseball had an opinion on the news last night.  For all of our localized rooting interests and TV work-arounds like MLB.tv or watching games  with the sound down and the Twitter feed providing silent commentary, we all pretty much watched Morgan and Miller on Sunday Night Baseball because, hell, what else are we gonna watch? “Desperate Housewives?”

And in keeping with the consensus of watching those two, there’s a consensus on ESPN’s decision to end their run: mild disappointment that Miller won’t be calling the games anymore, but considerable happiness that Morgan won’t be providing the commentary.  Not surprising. Miller is one of the best around. Morgan, well, we all know about him.

Here I break a little from the consensus. I agree that Miller was fantastic. I like his announcing style. I like his voice. I even like his corny humor. Most of all, I think he rises to the appropriate level at dramatic moments — high enough to make it clear that something big is going on, but not so big that he’d have you believe that history was being made every other damn play — and keeps things moving along.  To the extent he ever found himself in the weeds it was because he was dutifully trying to retrieve some rhetorical ball Morgan sliced in there.

About Morgan: I take no issue with any of the specific criticisms of the guy. As has been painstakingly chronicled on FJM and countless other websites, he seemed aggressively ignorant calling games at times, unwilling to acknowledge that any given bit of old school conventional baseball wisdom could be wrong or that any bit of new thinking — sabermetrics or otherwise — could have any insights.  This is not uncommon, or course, as many broadcasters are resistant to such things. But it was particularly galling from Morgan, because every account I’ve ever read about the man personally talks about how sharp he is, and everything about Joe Morgan the player suggests that he was among the smartest baseball players to ever play the game.

Indeed, Bill James even once determined that Morgan had the highest baseball I.Q. in history, measured in terms of on-field decision making when it comes to things like base running, defensive positioning, when to swing and when not to swing, etc.  Stuff that takes thought and strategy as opposed to pure athleticism. Stuff to which Morgan, as a commentator, was consistently hostile. Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine Morgan the announcer disdainfully discounting the skills of Morgan the player, and that’s what made us tear our hair out listening to the guy. In large part because we all suspected that he knew better and was taking contrarian positions rather than saying what he believed. We all felt, didn’t we, that if we found Morgan sitting next to us in a bar that he’d give us a wink and let us know that, no, he did not believe that a double was better than a home run because “home runs kill rallies.”

All of that said, I depart a bit from my fellow baseball fans when it comes to my reaction to the news of Joe Morgan’s departure from Sunday Night Baseball.  To be clear: it was a good move for ESPN to go in another direction. New blood is needed and I certainly won’t miss him. But at the same time, I can’t bring myself to join in to all of that “ding dong the witch is dead” nonsense I read all around the baseball web last night.  Morgan annoyed me, but never so much that I’d celebrate his departure. Mostly because, for as wrong as he could be at times, he was fairly easy to ignore. His voice wasn’t assaulting. He didn’t inject his commentary at the wrong times. He didn’t distract us from the game going on in front of us. He’d occasionally offer some good insights to go along with the bad stuff. In fact, it was often exciting to hear him say something insightful, because it was like catching someone trying to get away with something.

The point is, Morgan was never an announcer that would keep me from watching a game or who would cause me to turn off the sound. And believe me, there are a lot of guys who are that way. Guys who call baseball like they’re watching football games. Guys who seem to be paid by the cliche. Guys who think that Every. Single. Thing. That. Happens. On. A. Baseball. Diamond. Has. To. Be. Analyzed. Guys who, as they do all of that, have voices of annoying pitch and cadence who make watching a baseball game a hostile experience. Indeed, after catching some of them during  midweek games, it was almost refreshing to ease into a Miller-Morgan broadcast because, even if it wasn’t fabulous, it wasn’t openly assaulting like a lot of guys I could name but won’t.

Damning with faint praise? Nah, because my point isn’t to praise Joe Morgan. Like I said: not good, and better gone.  But I do think some perspective is due here. Morgan was not the worst guy calling games. Not by a longshot. He even had some charms.  I can’t help but think that if, at some point, maybe 15 years ago, an ESPN producer sat down and tried to work with him to reign in his worst excesses he even could have developed into a good commentator. OK, maybe that’s a stretch, but not a gigantic one.

The point: I think the reaction to his dismissal, like that to his commentary itself, is a bit overblown.

Latest Posts
  1. Now with Brandon Moss, the Indians would like to trade Nick Swisher

    Dec 28, 2014, 8:10 PM EST

    Nick Swisher Nick Swisher

    The Indians would like to trade Nick Swisher but he’s owed a lot of money over the next two seasons, which complicates things.

  2. Mike Matheny likely to bat Jason Heyward second in Cardinals’ lineup

    Dec 28, 2014, 6:05 PM EST

    Jason Heyward Jason Heyward

    Cardinals manager Mike Matheny will likely bat Jason Heyward second behind Matt Carpenter to begin the 2015 season.

  3. Dan Uggla played through undiagnosed concussion in 2014

    Dec 28, 2014, 3:02 PM EST

    dan uggla getty Getty Images

    There was some talk of this at the Winter Meetings and now Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe says doctors have confirmed it: Dan Uggla played through an undiagnosed concussion during the 2014 season.

  4. Video: Jason Motte discusses signing with the Cubs

    Dec 28, 2014, 12:14 PM EST

    motte getty Getty Images

    Jason Motte joined MLB Network’s “Hot Stove” last week to discuss signing with the rival Cubs …

  5. Japanese infielder Takashi Toritani reportedly “mulling offers” from Blue Jays, Padres

    Dec 28, 2014, 9:21 AM EST

    toritani getty Getty Images

    Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star reports that Japanese infielder Takashi Toritani — a Scott Boras client — is currently “mulling offers” from the Blue Jays and Padres. Toritani is an unrestricted free agent, so it won’t require a posting fee to sign him.

  6. The aura of Derek Jeter was present at the Pinstripe Bowl

    Dec 27, 2014, 8:48 PM EST

    Derek Jeter Getty Images

    Derek Jeter may have helped Penn State squeak out a victory over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl on Saturday.

  7. Heath Bell to earn a base salary of $1 million with Nationals

    Dec 27, 2014, 7:10 PM EST

    Heath Bell Heath Bell

    Heath Bell is looking to hang on with the Nationals in 2015, and he’ll earn at least $1 million.

  8. Dodgers expected to announce Brett Anderson signing as early as Monday

    Dec 27, 2014, 6:05 PM EST

    Brett Anderson Brett Anderson

    The Brett Anderson signing should become official at some point next week, at long last.

  9. Picture of the Day: The Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium

    Dec 27, 2014, 5:20 PM EST

    B54kTRACcAA2Dhn

    Opening Day is 100 days away, but with the unusually mild weather in the New York area, they could really be playing some baseball right now.

  10. UPDATE: Starlin Castro free after being questioned about shooting in Dominican Republic

    Dec 27, 2014, 4:40 PM EST

    starlin castro getty Getty Images

    Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro was reportedly detained for questioning by authorities in the Dominican Republic on Saturday in connection with a nightclub shooting that injured six people.

  11. Before deciding on the Cubs, David Ross heard on the radio that he signed with the Padres

    Dec 27, 2014, 3:45 PM EST

    david ross

    David Ross recently took Rob Bradford of WEEI.com behind the scenes of how he landed a two-year, $5 million contract with the Cubs.

  12. Jake Peavy discusses his decision to stay with the Giants

    Dec 27, 2014, 11:01 AM EST

    peavy getty Getty Images

    The Giants finalized their new two-year, $24 million contract with Jake Peavy this week.

  13. Longtime Rangers clubhouse manager Joe Macko passes away at the age of 86

    Dec 27, 2014, 8:59 AM EST

    rangers logo

    Macko worked for the Rangers for over 40 years.

  14. A.J. Pierzynski to earn a $2 million base salary with the Braves

    Dec 26, 2014, 10:25 PM EST

    A.J. Pierzynski A.J. Pierzynski

    The Braves’ one-year deal with catcher A.J. Pierzynski is for $2 million.

  15. Rafael Furcal suffers torn hamstring, will miss Dominican Winter League playoffs

    Dec 26, 2014, 9:20 PM EST

    Rafael Furcal Rafael Furcal

    Rafael Furcal has suffered another injury, this time a torn hamstring which will keep him out of the Dominican Winter League playoffs.

  16. Report: Phillies nearing a deal with Wandy Rodriguez

    Dec 26, 2014, 8:03 PM EST

    Wandy Rodriguez Getty Images

    If Wandy Rodriguez passes his physical, the Phillies are expected to sign him to a minor league deal.

  17. Jeff Manship signed a minor league deal with the Indians

    Dec 26, 2014, 7:10 PM EST

    Carlos Ruiz, Jeff Manship Carlos Ruiz, Jeff Manship

    Jeff Manship will begin the spring with the Indians after signing a minor league deal.

  18. Giants may target Ben Zobrist

    Dec 26, 2014, 6:05 PM EST

    Ben Zobrist Getty Images

    According to Peter Gammons, some GMs think the Giants will eventually trade for Ben Zobrist.

  19. Report: Hiroki Kuroda is going back to Japan

    Dec 26, 2014, 3:49 PM EST

    Hiroki Kuroda Getty Images

    After seven years in the United States, Hiroki Kuroda is heading home.

  20. Nationals sign Dan Uggla

    Dec 26, 2014, 11:32 AM EST

    dan uggla getty Getty Images

    Uggla hit .179 in 2013 and .149 this year.

Featured video

Cubs shore up rotation with Jon Lester
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. C. Gonzalez (2252)
  2. D. Ross (2135)
  3. J. Grilli (2106)
  4. A. Pierzynski (2027)
  5. D. Young (1985)
  1. S. Smith (1920)
  2. M. Scutaro (1903)
  3. T. Stauffer (1872)
  4. W. Myers (1853)
  5. D. Haren (1836)