My Uncomfortable Encounter With An Angry Joe MorganS

In 2005, I wrote a story for SF Weekly about the now-unemployed Joe Morgan, who at the time was leading a proudly ignorant rearguard action against Michael Lewis's Moneyball. Joe and I met one Sunday before a Giants game and chatted for a while about the book (which he hadn't read). Joe got a little angry. Joe said crazy things like, "How do you think we got Enron?" Joe and I didn't get along.

Republished with permission of SF Weekly.

The earth beneath Joe Morgan's feet is impossibly flat, every bump smoothed over, every blemish manicured into oblivion, all so that a white cork-filled ball might roll straight and true, the way it has for a hundred years. I am standing with Morgan, the ESPN analyst and Hall of Fame second baseman, at the edge of the emerald grass at SBC Park, where in two hours the San Francisco Giants will play the Oakland A's, a game Morgan will explain to America from a booth high above the field. This is his job: to elucidate the game, or, more precisely, The Game, which is what old ballplayers like to call baseball, and which Joe pronounces with infinite reverence and implied capitalization, the way some people say, "The Pope."

From the margin of the field Morgan half-watches the Giants go about their batting practice. There is an easy Sunday rhythm to the proceedings, and the field stretches out before us bright and green, a true American candyland. It's on days like this that baseball — The Game — has its best stuff working, the kind of afternoon that has sent workaday newspaper hacks into deadline reveries and inspired every egghead dilettante in a bow tie to get a book deal. None of this is on Joe's mind, however. In fact, he is shaking his head and looking displeased. "You guys are a joke," he is saying, and it occurs to me that Joe Morgan might be thinking about strangling me.

He is a small man — they called him "Little Joe" in his playing days — and you can see his 61 years in the gray around his mustache and the slight hitch in his walk, but standing here, fairly gleaming in his ex-jock mufti, Joe looks young, fit, and content. His shoes are fine and tasseled, his suit is a resplendent cream, his jacket is slung insouciantly over his left shoulder — an iridescent look that falls somewhere between churchgoer and deckhand on the Love Boat. Morgan, who grew up in Oakland and lives in Danville, is the analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. In a few hours he will appear on hundreds of thousands of television screens across America. He will have a microphone positioned beneath his chin and an easy, welcoming smile on his face. First-time viewers will think him a pleasant, patient, good-humored man. They will be wrong.

"You're a joke, too," he says to me now, and in a moment his right cheek will start to twitch, and his voice will hit its querulous upper registers, and a few sportswriters will crane their necks and listen in. Joe Morgan — the greatest second baseman who ever lived and an Emmy-winning analyst who also happens to be the most insufferable sportscaster since Howard Cosell returned to his mother ship — is angry. And why is Joe Morgan angry? It has something to do with a book Joe Morgan hasn't read.

"Both of you are jokes," he is saying, and what I will learn is that there are many jokes in Joe's world. We are jokes, those of us who dare have a thought or a theory about The Game though we have never worn the flannels of a baseball team; we are jokes, those of us who think a catcher has an effect on base stealing; we are jokes, those of us who believe in science and reason. The Oakland A's, if I may extrapolate, are a joke. Their general manager is a joke (though he played The Game). The front office of the world-champion Boston Red Sox is a joke. The guy in the ESPN.com chat room who had the temerity to question Joe Morgan's wisdom is definitely a joke. The author of Moneyball? Joe's not sure who that is, but he's sure he's a joke. The writer Bill James is a joke, and so for that matter is the entire masthead of Baseball Prospectus. I'm a joke. You're a joke. We're jokes, if not all of us, very, very many of us.

So I wonder: Why isn't Joe Morgan laughing?

* * *

Socratic exchange with Joe Morgan No. 1, on the subject of Moneyball, base running in the 2002 American League Division Series, and the use of statistics in baseball:

Me: It seems that you almost take [the book] personally.

Joe: I took it personally because they had a personal thing about me saying Durham should've stolen second base in the game that they lost — he stayed at first base, and they hit three fly balls, and the A's lose another fifth game.

Me: And that's the chief reason you don't even wanna read the book?

Joe: I don't read books like that. I didn't read Bill James' book, and you said he was complimenting me. Why would I wanna read a book about a computer, that gives computer numbers?

Me: It's not about a computer.

Joe: Well, I'm not reading the book, so I wouldn't know.

Me: I'm not —

Joe: Why would I wanna read the book? All I'm saying is, I see a game every day. 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. I could make that computer say what I wanted it to say, if I put the right things in there. ... The computer is only as good as what you put in it. How do you think we got Enron?

* * *

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 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."

Moneyball is Berkeley author Michael Lewis' "story of an idea," which profiled the Oakland A's under General Manager Billy Beane and their objective, statistics-based approach — what's known as sabermetrics, after the acronym for the Society for American Baseball Research — to building a team. The book was a best-seller, a phenomenon in the culture at large — an investment strategist for Credit Suisse First Boston devoted an entire report to Moneyball; a guy running a hot dog stand found lessons within its pages as well; and now Hollywood wants to turn it into a movie — which makes it all the more mystifying that it's still so wildly misunderstood.

At bottom, Moneyball is a simple story about a business (in this case, a professional baseball franchise) pouncing on gross inefficiencies in a market (in this case, a long-standing failure of baseball to accurately value its most basic commodity — the skills of a professional baseball player). The A's payroll regularly ranks near the bottom of the league — the Yankees pay more in revenue sharing and luxury taxes than Oakland does in player salaries — and yet, since 2000, the A's have won at least 90 games every season. What they did, initially under General Manager Sandy Alderson and later under Beane, was nothing short of revolutionary in the staid world of professional baseball, that ever-churning bullshit factory in which, Lewis has written, "there really is no level of incompetence that won't be tolerated." The A's approached the game like a science. Their front office was given over to Harvard grads at home in the cells of a spreadsheet, and soon Oakland could put a dollar value on virtually everything — foot speed ("almost always overpriced," Lewis writes), batting average (not "usually worth what it cost"), on-base percentage ("usually worth a great deal more").

In simple terms, the A's exalted above all else the out, whose value in any given situation can be readily determined (with none on and none out, for instance, it's worth about a fourth of a run). They placed a premium on players who don't make outs (i.e., players who walk a lot and don't gamble on the base paths) and adopted a style of play to match (they rarely sacrifice, hardly ever hit-and-run, and almost never attempt to steal bases, a risk with little reward). These ideas have been around for years, of course; never has a game been so dissected, analyzed, and ultimately revolutionized by its hobbyists. If there's a spiritual father to the sabermetrics movement, it's Bill James, who 30 years ago, as a boiler-room attendant in Lawrence, Kan., began debunking what he called "baseball's Kilimanjaro of repeated legend and legerdemain." By the time Billy Beane was settling into his office with the A's, James was already a legend in his own right, at least to a small but growing community of like-minded people. Oakland, however, represented the stathead revolution's first step into a live clubhouse; the numbers people, at last, had their petri dish.

This was not greeted warmly, at least not everywhere. It was apostasy, after all. It was not How The Game Should Be Played. Even now, all baseball people seem to want to talk about is the supposedly heretical fact that the A's don't steal bases and don't bunt. As a concept, Moneyball was simplified to such a degree that it's now commonly, and wrongly, understood as a playing style in which nine fat men do little but walk, rather than a kind of arbitrage (one of Beane's pet analogies and an apt one, since what sets the A's apart is not necessarily a superior philosophy, but an ability to isolate and capitalize on price discrepancies and inefficiencies). "The book was beautifully understood outside baseball, and by many baseball owners," Lewis says in an e-mail. But in some quarters, he writes, there's still "the inability, or refusal, to grasp the [book's] most basic point — that it is about using statistical analysis to shift the odds [of winning] a bit in one's favor, not to achieve perfect certainty, which is impossible."

In the two years since its publication, Moneyball has become a wedge in the baseball world, or at least the world that observes the baseball world. You're either a Moneyball guy or you're not. Morgan, in his capacity as an ESPN analyst and ambassador to The Game, and despite career statistics that should put him squarely in the Moneyball bloc, is not. In fact, owing to his large forum, he has come to be regarded as something of a high priest within the anti-Moneyball camp, which seems to be preening a little these days. Even as front offices scramble to hire just about anyone who can run a statistical regression, at least two books, one by Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, have been written more or less as responses to Moneyball, and, until recently, the A's have scuffled well south of .500. [Note: Yes, I realize the book was written by Buzz Bissinger, but it is as much La Russa's work as it is Bissinger's. He co-owns the copyright, after all.]

In an afterword to the paperback edition of the book, Lewis writes that baseball is not so much a business as it is a social club, one that recoiled at a member, Billy Beane, violating its cherished omertà and revealing its inner workings. "The Club," Lewis writes, "includes not only the people who manage the team but also, in a kind of Women's Auxiliary, many of the writers and the commentators who follow it, and purport to explain it." Morgan, he says, is "the closest thing to Club Social Chairman," and when he talked about the book, "the tone of the discourse went from weird to stark raving mad."

The examples are legion. In an ESPN.com chat, Morgan was asked what he thought of Moneyball. He confessed he had only read an excerpt in the New York Times Magazine, then went on to write: "It's typical if you write a book, you want to be the hero. That is apparently what Beane has done. According to what I read in the Times, Beane is smarter than anyone else. I don't think it will make him popular with the other GMs or the other people in baseball." Beane, just to clarify, did not write Moneyball, any more than Joe Morgan has read it. Later, in another chat, Morgan was asked what he would do with the A's if he were Billy Beane. "I wouldn't be Billy Beane first of all!!" Morgan replied. "I wouldn't write the book Moneyball!" (His authorial confusions are still fodder for baseball blogs across the Web, perhaps because they may very well be the quintessential Morganisms: indignant, self-righteous, and hopelessly ignorant.)

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?"

Morgan has bloviated to the point that Jon Miller suggests his broadcast partner would be better off avoiding Moneyball altogether. "My advice to Joe is to not even talk about the book at all," he says. "That's why they nailed him in the book, hoping he would talk about it. That's part of what got some buzz going. What Joe's saying is he's not gonna even read the book and say he read the book, which in effect is like endorsing the book. But they created a scenario where one way or the other they got good pub out of it. ... Whatever they did, it worked. The guy sold a lot of books, right?"

Yet Morgan persists, which is why I have come to SBC Park on this clear and warm Sunday in May: I want to understand Joe Morgan's crusade against a book he hasn't read. I want to know why his voice leaps into a plaintive cry at the mere mention of Moneyball. I want to understand his beef with statistics, numbers, computers; and I want to know how history's ultimate Moneyball player became the world's biggest Moneyball critic. This, in sum, is why I'm here: I want to learn at the knee of the greatest second baseman who ever lived, because surely the greatest second baseman who ever lived can't be as wrong, as belligerently wrong, as he seems on TV, which is about as wrong as the Earth is round. Can he?

* * *

Socratic exchange with Joe Morgan No. 2, on the subject of the stolen base and risk:

Joe: The computer says if you get thrown out stealing a base, that's a bad out. But if a guy hits a ground ball into a double play, it's not a bad out.

Me: No, I never said that.

Joe: Oh, yes, you did. You're saying he should've stayed at first base.

Me: Oh, no. I'm saying there's a risk —

Joe: I'm just telling you, if you don't take a risk, you're not gonna get a reward. If you sit there and wait every time with a runner at first base, eventually, there's gonna be some ground-ball double plays — but that's OK. You say you'd rather have a guy hit into a double play than have a guy thrown out.

Me: No!

Joe: But that's what you're saying.

Me: You're caricaturing that point of view. ... You're turning it into this ridiculous caricature where it looks like a bunch of geeks at their computers.

Joe: Well, that's what it is.

Me: You think so?

Joe: That's what I think it is. Anytime you're trying to make statistics tell you who's gonna win the game, that's a bunch of geeks trying to play video games.

* * *

He was "a good little player," scouts would tell him on the few occasions they would actually talk to him, surely unaware their brushoff — one imagines this accompanied by a pat on the head — would become a chapter title in a baseball great's memoirs. Born in Texas, raised in Oakland, the kid was always an afterthought when scouts came to town. "I was a star," he writes. "I played second, short, hit for average and power, stole bases, but I might as well have been playing in Little League." Even later, he never looked the part of a star. Small and slight, he had a funny tic at the plate, a timing mechanism wherein he would waggle his back arm in what people always described as a chicken flap, but which looked a lot more like palsy.

My Uncomfortable Encounter With An Angry Joe MorganS

But Joe Morgan was smart. It says so on his Hall of Fame plaque: "A fierce competitor renowned for his baseball smarts, Joe Morgan could single-handedly beat opposing teams with his multifaceted skills." Bill James, in the most recent edition of his Historical Baseball Abstract, rates Morgan not only the best second baseman in baseball history but also the best "percentage player," which is a rough measurement of baseball IQ. He fielded his position well above the norm; he drew walks (1,865 over a 22-year career with Houston, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Oakland) and rarely struck out (just 1,015, or about one every nine at-bats); he stole bases (689) and rarely got caught (162). He was so smart, his manager in Cincinnati, Sparky Anderson, never bothered giving him steal signs; Morgan was trusted to decide on his own. (If there were more base stealers like him today, with a success rate like Morgan's, the A's might not be so inert on the base paths.) He won two MVP awards, should've won three, and would've been a good choice for six, according to one writer for the Web site Hardball Times, who described Morgan as "the perfect second baseman" and "one of the most underrated and unappreciated players in baseball history."

"He was the perfect Billy Beane player," says ESPN.com writer Rob Neyer, a Bill James acolyte and co-author of The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers. In fact, Morgan's career has gotten nothing if not a boost from the statistics crowd, which makes his crusade even more puzzling. "A lot of people, myself included, think Joe Morgan was the greatest second baseman of all time," Neyer says. "I don't think, 25 to 30 years ago, anybody would've bought into that. I don't know if people talked about him like that during his career. I suspect that if you had done a poll of the nation's sportswriters 25 years ago, you would've seen a lot of names like Rogers Hornsby, Nap Lajoie, Frankie Frisch. But if you did one now, Joe Morgan would pop up a lot, in part because we have a greater respect for the things he did so well."

Jon Miller remembers telling his broadcast partner about Bill James' second baseman rankings, that in fact James had rated him at the top. Says Miller: "Joe said, 'Well, how could that be? [Hornsby] hit .400 and 42 home runs, and I'm hitting .325 and 27 homers.' ... What was interesting to me was, most guys, I think, number one, would already have been aware of that and would've savored that assessment. And number two, that even if they were just being told for the first time, most guys would be happy to embrace that. But Joe has such a sincere respect for the history of the game — because who is Rogers Hornsby? I mean, Rogers Hornsby is an old redneck alcoholic who was probably as racist as anybody who's ever played the game. And yet Joe had this great respect for what he'd done and was very aware of what he'd done — not many former players are aware of those kinds of things — and Joe was sincerely ready to argue on behalf of Hornsby."

Morgan began his television career in 1985, calling Reds games for Cincinnati's WLWT, and in 1990 he teamed with Miller for ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. (If, as the academics on a busman's holiday have it, baseball is America's great civil religion, then ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball is Mass. It's certainly every bit as pompous.) The two would make a great comic pairing — Morgan, small, black, and prickly; Miller, round, white, and gregarious — if they didn't take themselves so seriously. Watch them the next time they call a 7-3 Mets win over the Nationals (because it seems they only call 7-3 Mets-Nats games); they'll talk like raconteurs in front of Ken Burns' camera. Like it or not, they are the voice of a baseball fan's Sunday, which isn't entirely inappropriate. When Morgan talks, there is the familiar keening, the steady note of harangue, the complete absence of humor, the smug conviction devolving frequently into unreason and illogic, and we're not even out of the first inning.

In his Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James, after praising Morgan the player, goes on to describe Morgan the broadcaster as "a self-important little prig," a "twit," and a "weenie," just about hitting for the cycle. (When asked about Morgan for this article, James demurs, writing in an e-mail: "We in sabermetrics do best when we can keep the discussion focused on questions like 'What is true?' and 'What is the logical position here?' and 'What is the evidence on that issue?' We don't do so well when we drift into debates about personality and character, since those discussions focus, in the end, [on] who is cool. I respect Joe's greatness as a player, and, as for Joe as a broadcaster, I've said as much as I'm going to say.") To be fair, Morgan can be very good when he's breaking down the minutiae of the game, but these days that seems to interest him less and less, and, anyway, must the world be subjected to another disquisition on the difference between a guy who steals bases and a base stealer?

"I think he's a good broadcaster," Neyer says. "He knows a lot about a lot of stuff. If I wanted to have somebody come in and teach how to hit, turn a double play, steal a base, he'd be the guy. But stats analysis is not what he does well. He certainly has a blind spot."

A small community has developed around that blind spot. Not long ago, a man named Mike Carminati found himself reading Joe Morgan's ESPN.com chats and routinely deconstructing them in e-mails with a friend. When he started a blog in 2002, Carminati moved the chat recaps online, and so began Joe Morgan Chat Day, in which Joe would be compared to some of the world's great thinkers. The site, while not the first to titter at Joe's many fallacies, at least epitomizes much of the Morgan-bashing: bemused, mordant, and, above all, a little disappointed. Joe, these people seem to be saying, many of them the geeks playing video games, should be one of the good guys. Joe Morgan: Judas of the nerds. The blog Athletics Nation now offers a sticker that reads "Joe Morgan can kiss my bunt!"

"When he started broadcasting," Carminati says, "there were things he'd say that were completely counter to the way he played the game. It was the way he'd combine certain ideas. He'll make a reasonable statement, then combine it with a totally outlandish statement that makes no sense whatsoever." How do you think we got Enron? "His logic takes this leap. It's kind of ingenious in its own way." (Surprisingly, Carminati enjoys the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball broadcasts. "You have to be in the right frame of mind," he says. "It's like watching Reefer Madness.")

Many have tried to explain Morgan's attack on statistics — that it's a reaction against his famously numbers-obsessed teammate with the Reds, Pete Rose; that it's barely suppressed anger toward the A's, a team he once tried, and failed, to buy as part of an ownership group; that it's just a corollary of what Carminati calls "things were better in my day"-ism. "That's why small-ball will always beat Moneyball for Joe," Carminati says, referencing a style that emphasizes bunts, stolen bases, hit-and-runs, all things that Moneyball suggests are statistically self-defeating. Carminati channels Morgan: "These whippersnappers have it too easy today with the plentiful homers and theme music playing before every at-bat." There also may be an element of fear, or at least a feeling on Morgan's part that something like Moneyball is a threat — that the nerds are at the gate. Tradition, says Will Carroll, who writes for Baseball Prospectus, has "this amazing death grip" on baseball. "One of the most interesting things about Moneyball was that we saw it as, 'Wow, this is an interesting story that tells interesting things, that takes a look at baseball differently.' But so many baseball people said, 'Holy crap, this is gonna cost me my job.'"

ESPN's Miller rightly points out that Moneyball depicted a polarized baseball world, with Harvard grads on one side with their laptops and spreadsheets and old scouts on the other with their Skoal and their gut feelings — an exaggeration, some say, but clearly not far off the mark. "I think [Morgan] is irritated that he got put into a group of old baseball people who were ignorant and stuck in old ways and uneducated and whatever," Miller says.

There's a good reason for that characterization, though. On the field, Morgan may have been the Moneyball ideal; he may have even been the smartest player of all time. But on the air, or at his keyboard, he has shown an unwavering ignorance of statistics and their application, and, more damningly, a complete lack of curiosity about the revolution for which his career is a sort of standard. "I've read excerpts of things from Bill James," Morgan says. "I've read excerpts of Moneyball. But I don't read either one of those books, because I don't think statistics are what The Game is about, and so I'm never gonna agree with it, and I don't care — I'm not saying it's wrong. You can look at it that way. I don't look at The Game that way.

"I played The Game," he says. "You're reading it from a book. I played. I watched. I see everything. I know what happens out there. ... My baseball knowledge is accumulated over 20 years of playing, 20 years of watching The Game, so that's what I care about. I can't care if next week somebody comes up with a new way to evaluate The Game. Am I supposed to say, 'Aw, that's good. I'll go that way now'?"

It's not just the "new ways" that confound Morgan. He has never been very good with numbers. One egregious example will suffice: He once wrote that a hitter's value is best measured by runs scored and runs batted in (statistics entirely dependent on the performance of the player's teammates and therefore mostly worthless as an individual metric), and a pitcher's by wins and losses (similarly dependent, similarly worthless). "Run production is how you measure hitters," he wrote with the patness of Scripture. "Wins and losses are how you measure pitchers. Batting averages and ERAs are personal stats." This bit was published in a book Morgan co-wrote. Its title: Baseball for Dummies.

Could Joe Morgan be the joke?

* * *

Socratic exchange with Joe Morgan No. 3, on the subject of on-base percentage and whether I'm saying the A's "invented" it:

Me:
No, I'm not.

Joe: Yes, you are.

* * *

Our conversation has continued into the bowels of SBC Park — an appropriate place, after all — pulling pretty much anyone in the vicinity into its vortex. "He's a Moneyball guy," Joe informs the elevator as we ride up to the press box. "He wants to know why I don't like it."

Alas, I realize, Morgan will never get it. The only comfort is that this sort of argument will be a relic within a matter of years. Morgan is in the middle of a paradigm shift in baseball, and he doesn't know it. It's how baseball evolves. Every decade has its great debates and controversies, and they all play out in roughly the same fashion. There's much fretting about the state of the game; there's a book or two; there's an ESPN Outside the Lines special; and at some point, inevitably, George Will is summoned from whatever coffin he happens to be inhabiting and deposited in front of a TV camera. But baseball marches on. "This is not something anybody's going to turn around," ESPN.com's Neyer says. "I was just talking to a friend yesterday, and we compared it to the fight over teaching evolution or intelligent design or creationism. We'll always have rear-guard actions, but if something is undeniable, eventually it's going to take over. That's going to happen with sabermetrics."

"And all I'm telling you," Morgan says to me as we approach the broadcast booth, sounding very much like an assembly worker arguing against his own obsolescence, "is that a computer can't tell you what I know about The Game."

It's inevitable: One day, The Game will welcome the nerds; they will use stats like VORP and WARP and BABIP on SportsCenter; there will be new metrics that are as pretty and precisely turned as a 6-4-3 double play, and they will be cheered in similar fashion; Bobby Grich will be in the Hall of Fame; Joe Morgan will be institutionalized, and his roommate will be Tim McCarver (and McCarver's partner, Joe Buck, will simply be neutered); baseball's furious mythmaking will continue apace, but this time they'll be telling half-truths and exaggerations about Bill James' eureka moments in a Stokely-Van Camp pork-and-beans plant. Until then, the nerds will watch Sunday Night Baseball with a finger hovering just above the mute button. They will read Joe Morgan's chats with disgust, then chuckle at him on blogs and in chat rooms and over games of Stratomatic Baseball.

And I'll remember Joe as I see him now, just an hour before the game, tucked into a chair in a booth high above the field, a barber's smock around his neck. Next to him is the inane patter of a former ballplayer carrying on what seems like a radio interview. "You know," Joe begins to say, as a makeup brush is dabbed along his forehead, "why don't you read the —" He catches himself. I'm pretty sure he's going to plug Tony La Russa's book. But Morgan, noticing the interview nearby, just closes his mouth and his eyes and submits to the makeup brush, and for the next few minutes, in this corner of the room, there's a strange and blessed sound: silence.

Story originally published July 6, 2005