Say-It-Ain't-So Joe

Why does Joe Morgan -- the best second baseman in history and a prominent TV broadcaster -- hate Moneyball? And Billy Beane and his Oakland A's? And you, too, if you think the statistical revolution that's overwhelmed Major League Baseball has any

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.

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 notwrite 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 Moneyballaltogether. "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 Moneyballcritic. 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?


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