The Joe Morgan Paradox
In Nov. 1962, the Houston Colt 45s weren’t in the business of selling jeans.
That’s why they signed Oakland City College star 2B Joe Morgan– all 5’5, 140 pounds of him. Houston didn’t plan on using Morgan to market Colt Stadium as a place to see the beautiful people. Rather, they wanted men in scoring position.
The team won just 64 games in their inaugural season the previous summer, averaging just 3.65 runs per-game while flexing a team on-base percentage of .308. Both marks were the Majors’ worst. Morgan, a rare infielder with speed and a big bat, looked like an antidote.
Morgan officially took over in the spring of 1965. He hit 14 homers and drew 97 walks in that rookie season, nearly as many (99) as the position had given the team during the past three seasons combined. Houston quickly forgot his predecessors at the position, like Ernie Fazio (.184/27 BB vs. 70 Ks in ’63) and Joey Amalfitano (.237/1 HR in ’62). In Morgan, the Houston Colt 45s first homegrown star had been born.
That Morgan’s subsequent career was so rife with measurable accomplishment — he ranked in the majors’ top ten in on-base percentage eleven times, OPS six times, and walks 18 times — rings a bit ironic these days. From his perch as an ESPN analyst, he’s become the game’s reigning neo-luddite, vehemently opposed to statistical analysis and its recent rise in stature.
"That moneyball theory is overrated," he once quipped on an ESPN.com chat. "Nobody has ever won with it. Players win games. Not theories."
Among other things, Morgan has famously opined that batting average is a "personal thing" and that pitchers are best judged by their wins and losses.
You might think that, as co-founder of a company wholly predicated on the opposite theory, I’d be a card-carrying member of the baseball blog posse calling for Morgan’s ouster.
Of course, I disagree with him. And I can’t say he’s my favorite baseball analyst. But rather than discount Morgan’s anti-Moneyball salvos completely, I try to listen. Coming from a Hall-of-Famer who played 22 seasons and won two MVPs, he’s earned his right to his opinion. Morgan’s playing career doesn’t give carte blanche on what matters in baseball. No, it doesn’t.
But Morgan’s point-of-view is real and, unfortunately to some extent, prevailing in baseball. Mocking him won’t help us understand where he’s coming from, just as refusing to read “Moneyball” — he famously won’t pick it up and still probably believes that Billy Beane wrote the book — gives Morgan an incomplete picture of what we’re all about.
How very ironic, given that Morgan was moneyball before “Moneyball” existed.
If he were starting out today, he’d be the smallest player in the majors. And circa 2006, the most likely guy to give Morgan a chance, picking him on accomplishment ahead of that 6’4, 220 pound high-schooler, would be Billy Beane himself.