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October 7, 2015

ESPN Lets Joe Morgan Go (And It's About Time)

by Joel Keller, posted Nov 9th 2010 3:40PM
Joe MorganIf you heard a faint cheer wafting from your cubicles yesterday, it was probably the baseball fans in your office cheering that the 'ESPN Sunday Night Baseball' team of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan won't be back for a 22nd season on the Worldwide Leader.

Those cheers aren't for the dismissal of Miller, who did his usual consistent and excellent job this past season. No, those cheers were for the departure of Morgan, one of the most polarizing sportscasters since Howard Cosell.

For a lot of fans, Morgan was the symbol of all that's wrong with sports broadcasting, one of many former players who seem to coast through a high-profile analyst's job largely unprepared. For others, though, he was a comforting voice, a guy who's seen it all and can recount the stories over and over again while putting things in the context of the game at hand.

But there aren't many broadcasters who have inspired so much ire that entire websites were created to document his every misstep. And, whether you liked him or not, you have to admit that it was probably time to let the Hall of Famer go and get some fresh voices in.

I'm one of those who is in the "dislike him" camp, and I've been there for a long time:

It was 1991. I was settling into one of the couches in my fraternity's living room with the house's fellow sports fans, getting ready to watch the Yankees play the White Sox on 'ESPN Sunday Night Baseball.' Frank Thomas of the ChiSox was in the midst of his first full season in the majors, where he hit .313, socked 32 homers, and had an on-base percentage of .453 for an up-and-coming team. He was one of the best, most patient hitters to come to the majors in at least a decade.

So what was Morgan's pre-game assessment of Thomas? "The problem with Frank Thomas is that he walks too much," a statement that rings in my ears to this day. Morgan's theory was something along the lines that Thomas needed to put the ball in play more, especially when his teammates are on base. Which would have been a good theory if Thomas was hitting .245. But, at .313, Thomas seemed to put the ball in play quite a bit.

What it felt like was an example of Morgan pulling a statement out of his hat (or much further south) that he may not have even believed, but he just said it to have something to say. That is the epitome of a lazy analyst, a guy who comes in, talks to the manager and a couple of players, but doesn't want to do any homework beyond that. Tim McCarver, for instance, may grate on fans with his repetitiveness and folksiness, but no one can accuse him of not being prepared.

But if Morgan was simply lazy, it wouldn't have created such rancor. What added to the drumbeat of hatred towards Morgan was his insufferable smugness. He made erroneous statements about teams he knew nothing about and rarely if ever went back to correct himself when he was proven wrong. He'd talk incessantly about his years on the mid-'70s Cincinnati Reds, refusing to admit that any current-day team might have been better than they were (he tends to forget that the team lost a bunch of World Series and LCSes before they finally won against the Red Sox in '75).

Finally, he dismissed sabermetrics outright, preferring to go with his gut. As he said to SF Weekly: "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." He didn't even try to relate what he saw in his gut to what the numbers said, as a good analyst might do. In fact, he's proud of the fact that he never read 'Moneyball' or anything that Bill James has written on the topic.

Over the last few seasons, ESPN had tried to get other analysts in the Sunday night booth to balance the blowhardiness of Morgan; Steve Phillips was doing a credible job before he got fired for his relationship with a production assistant, and Orel Hershiser did a good job last season. Now, Hershiser will likely be part of the new Sunday night team, perhaps joined by the always-outspoken Bobby Valentine. Will they be better than Morgan? Well, they can't get much worse, can they?

Are you glad to see Joe Morgan gone?

(Follow @joelkeller on Twitter.)

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May 27 2011 at 6:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


May 27 2011 at 6:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
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Let me get this straight; You were sitting in some fraternity house on a campus somewhere in between classes where people were instructing you on how to do something with your life and HOFer Joe Morgan gives his opinion on a baseball issue which he is an expert and you have the hutzpah to assume from that moment on he is smug and LAZY? One thing Joe Morgan can NEVER be accused of being is lazy and unprepared. Simply because YOU disagree with one of the most intelligent Men to ever don spikes doesn't autamattically make HIM dumb, lazy or unprepared. He simply has a lifetime of experience playing and mastering nearly every aspect of the game and institution of baseball, and of course you Do Not. Furthermore simply because he has strong opinions, like any very accomplished individual should and fiercely stands his ground does not make him smug(or uppity).

Strong, independent voices like that of Joe Morgans that love the game but do not 'worship at the alter' of the game being silenced are exactly why baseball is a dying sport with youth(future fans and consumers) in America.

April 18 2011 at 9:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

That's great to see.

I remember in 2006, when the A's made it to the playoffs, Morgan was just a condescending jerk the whole time. He didn't like the A's, didn't like their style, and he didn't know half of the player's names.

After watching the team all season, they finally made the playoffs, and then, during the pinnacle of that season's accomplishment, I had to listen to this blowhard bash them constantly.

I eventually muted the TV after a particularly callous jab against Marco Scutaro. It was along the lines of "how can you take this team seriously with a nobody like this playing for them."

I actually sent ESPN an email in protest.

I don't like Jon Miller either, but just for being such a obsequious sycophant to Morgan.

November 11 2010 at 4:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm glad Morgan is gone, but losing Miller is losing one of the voices of my childhood. I remember staying up late and hearing John Miller and Fred Manfra broadcasting Orioles games on the radio when i was supposed to be sleeping.

November 10 2010 at 9:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yes, and as a Giants fan, I'll be glad to see Miller broadcasting more Giants games. It's a win-win for me. But I'm sorry for the folks who'll be missing one of the best play by play guys in all of sports. All in all, I'd say that losing Miller and Morgan evens out.

November 09 2010 at 8:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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