Joe Morgan Has a Nose for Baseball Nuance

Joe Morgan once told a TV columnist that he was "bursting" to share his baseball knowledge with viewers. He's doing just that for some of the biggest audiences of the year during the postseason.

For the third year, he will provide analysis during NBC's coverage of the National League Championship Series, which begins tomorrow, and then of the World Series, which follows on Oct. 18. The work is a continuation of his work on ESPN's regular-season and playoff telecasts.

Morgan is a master at dissecting game strategy and explaining the nuances of play. "What I try to do," he says during a telephone interview, "is to act like I'm sitting on the bench and you're sitting there with me. Hopefully you'll ask me questions and I try to think of the questions before you ask." This is the way he learned the game, sitting with his father in the stands and later besides major leaguers in big-league dugouts.

Morgan was a brilliant student, for he went on to play 22 major-league seasons, including eight for Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" of the 1970s. Those Reds won the World Series in 1975 and '76.

Morgan made it into the Hall of Fame in 1990. This year, in a vote of baseball writers for an all-time team, Rogers Hornsby beat out Morgan at second base, but some thought the order of finish should be reversed. Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe is convinced that Morgan was a better fielder, base runner, and "disruptive force. If I were going into a seven-game series and I had the choice between Rogers Hornsby and Joe Morgan, I'd say, 'Sorry, Rog, you just have a seat over there and I think you'll enjoy watching the little guy play. Just stay ready to pinch hit."

After his playing days, Morgan says he once thought managing was the "natural progression" for him. "Sparky Anderson [his boss in Cincinnati] and a lot of people thought I'd make a great manager," he says. "I've been offered three or four jobs and actually went to sleep one night as manager of a team, but woke up and said, 'No, I'm not going to do that.' "

In baseball, he believes, "you're hired to be fired." He wanted more security than that. "I knew if I had my own business then I'd always have some place to go back to, which is what I wanted."

For a while he owned a beer distributorship and three fast-food restaurants, but has sold them in order to concentrate on his broadcasting and spend more time with his family in Danville, Calif., which is right outside his hometown of Oakland.

The father of four daughters, he has served on the board of the Silver Bullets, a barnstorming women's baseball team. The association, he says, recently prompted a pre-game note to himself to say "his or her strike zone" during an ESPN telecast.

When reached on the road, Morgan was at work on a new book, "Baseball for Dummies." He recalls his initial negative reaction to the proposed project: "When the publisher first called, I said, 'Wait a minute, can't we call the book something else?' Then I realized it's that series."

Morgan says he feels he's earned the opportunity to kick back a little and so have today's high-salaried ballplayers.

"Most people work 25 or 30 years before they can retire, but in baseball you may work longer than that," he says. "You've been working at baseball since you were a little kid, preparing to be a major-league ballplayer. I was practicing baseball when other kids were walking their girlfriends home from school. And with the pressure you go through as a professional athlete, you deserve to be retired."

Joe Morgan speaks out on...

...the distinctive playing styles of the two leagues.

'There's more of a flow and pace to National League baseball. The American League game gets disjointed. The National League gives you variety. You play with speed, you bunt, you hit-and-run, and you have runners go from first to third. You do more energetic things on the field.

The American League style is pitching, defense, and three-run homers. That's because of smaller ballparks in the American League. You don't want to risk an out by stealing when the next guy up might hit a three-run homer. '

...the appeal homer-happy baseball has for some fans.

'We live in a quick-gratification kind of society. People want something to happen right away. Unfortunately just about every game is decided by the home run and that's not the way, in my opinion, the game should be. I think it takes a little bit of the fun out of it.'

...greater improvisation by modern managers.

'The good ones do more off the cuff then they ever did before. They don't follow the book as much [despite reams of statistics]. Those numbers can be deceiving. An average doesn't tell you everything you want to know. A manager's got to be able to read how his guy is swinging this time. He's got to be able to feel the game.'

...the impact of bigger, faster, and stronger players.

'I'm not going to say the game is better, but it's no worse either. We [in baseball] always say that the team that is fundamentally sound usually wins. The fundamentals do not change. Great players are always going to perform well.'

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