By Jeff Nations
WINCHESTER -- Joe Morgan never backed down from a challenge during his Hall of Fame baseball career, and never shied from sharing his opinion during a decades-long career as a network broadcaster of Major League Baseball games.
Morgan, as graceful and talented a second baseman as they came during his 21-year Major League career, spoke about the importance of friendship and what makes a successful team at Saturday's Partlowe Insurance Sports Breakfast at the Winchester Moose Lodge.
Morgan also took the opportunity to go to bat once more for one of his longtime friends and former teammate during his days with the famed "Big Red Machine," exiled all-time hits leader Pete Rose.
Rose, still banned for life from Major League Baseball for gambling on the sport, should be alongside Morgan in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
"The friends that you make along the way are what's important, especially in sports," Morgan said. "But make no mistake about it -- Pete needed to be punished. He did something wrong. But guess what? It's been 25 years. How long do you punish someone?"
Morgan knows that view is not necessarily a popular one, but he won't back down from his conviction that Rose deserves forgiveness and enshrinement as a baseball immortal.
"From my perspective, he should be in the Hall of Fame," Morgan said. "I think they've punished him enough. Unfortunately, until they reinstate him they can't vote on him, so that's the difficult part for me, because there's nothing I can do other than raise hell in the boardrooms. And they laugh at me."
Morgan's own Hall of Fame credentials are beyond reproach. A 10-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner, Morgan's best years as a ballplayer came playing for the Houston Colt .45s (later Astros) and of course his eight-year stint with the Cincinnati Reds (1972-79). Morgan twice won the National League's Most Valuable Player Award, in 1975 and 1976, the same years the Reds won back-to-back World Series championships.
To Morgan, those championship teams were the best in baseball's history.
"I'm always going to love and admire the 1975-76 Reds," Morgan said. "And I know people say it's arguably the best team that's every played. Well, I don't argue with anybody. It is the best team that ever played. And I tell people all the time -- it wasn't just because of the skills we had as individuals. We were not Phi Beta Kappas off the field, but on the field we were."
Standing just 5-feet-7, Morgan finished with a lifetime batting average of .271 with 2,517 hits along with 268 home runs, 1,133 RBIs and 689 stolen bases.
Morgan's second career as a network announcer began in earnest in 1988, when he joined ABC Sports covering baseball. He later had stints with NBC and ESPN before he left the booth following the 2010 season.
It was during his decades as a broadcaster that Morgan became a lightning rod of sorts as a vocal critic of sabermetrics, an increasingly accepted shift among baseball researchers and writers championed by Bill James and popularized by Michael Lewis' best-selling book (and later movie) "Moneyball."
Morgan thinks his criticism of sabermetrics has been somewhat overstated, but he's not a fan of the steady derivation of measurements -- from the beginnings of WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) to CERA (Component ERA) and PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm).
"People think I hate sabermetrics," Morgan said. "Not true -- I just don't believe in some of the things they do. It's another way of looking at the game. I don't necessarily agree with some of the stuff they've come up with."
Morgan falls firmly into the camp that agrees with the selection of Detroit Tigers slugging third baseman/first baseman Miguel Cabrera as the American League's Most Valuable Player the past two seasons. Cabrera dominates the "traditional" view of statistics -- great numbers for batting average, home runs and RBIs.
It's a clear divide from Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, the popular choice among sabermetricians due to his more well-rounded game that includes speed on the basepaths and defensive excellence at a more demanding position.
"I love the way he hits and plays the game, but he's never won a Gold Glove," Morgan said. "And you can't tell me hitting second is as valuable as batting third or fourth and hitting for power and driving in all those runs. Driving in runs is a lot tougher than scoring runs."
If there is a place where Morgan and sabermetrics can fully reconcile, it might be in the Hall of Fame case of a former teammate. Former outfielder Jimmy "Toy Cannon" Wynn, Morgan's old teammate with the Houston Colt .45s and Astros, has gained new backing in recent years for a Hall inclusion as sabermetrics has provided a different valuation of his career.
"Jimmy Wynn was a great player, probably better than people realized," Morgan said. "Jimmy Wynn played in the Astrodome and hit 37 home runs. That's tough to do in that stadium. The one thing Jimmy did that's hurt him is he stopped stealing bases."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>