October 20, 2020

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MLB great Joe Morgan remembered by Mike Schur, creator of ‘Parks and Recreation’ and ‘The Good Place’

On Sunday, former Cincinnati Reds’ second baseman and baseball broadcasting legend Joe Morgan died at the age of 77. The Hall of Famer’s accomplishments are legion. The guy had two MVPs, two World Series titles, 10 All-Star appearances … and one sports blog, named in his dishonor, called FireJoeMorgan.com.

For years FJM critiqued Morgan’s baseball commentary through a sabermetric lens, becoming a cult hit in the early blogosphere. And it turned out that the man behind it, Mike Schur, was also the guy behind TV shows like “Parks and Recreation,” “The Good Place,” “Brooklyn Nine Nine,” and “The Office.”

In this Q&A, which originally aired on The ESPN Daily podcast, Schur discusses the site and what Morgan meant to him.

Pablo Torre: I just want to know first off, what went through your mind when you heard the news?

Mike Schur: Um, what went through my mind, purely sadness. Baseball’s my favorite sport and I felt nothing but sadness that he was gone, especially in a week and a month that has also seen the passing of, uh, you know, a lot of other baseball greats, Tom Seaver and Al Kaline and Whitey Ford and all these people.

Pablo: Describe for those who aren’t familiar, the kind of tension, the dichotomy between being a site that considers Joe Morgan, maybe the best, second baseman ever, or one of the two best ever while also being a site that obviously criticized him quite publicly.

Mike: Yeah, we always regretted that we named the site Fire Joe Morgan, because we didn’t want the guy to be fired, really. It was a crass sort of early internet version of, um, you know, making noise and banging on a pot and calling attention to yourself.

What we were complaining about was that this guy who, in his career did everything right, every single aspect of his game was incredible. He was an incredible defensive second baseman. He led the league in on base percentage four times. He was a 5-foot-7, second baseman who wants to lead the league in OPS. In fact, twice, I think led the league in OPS. He was a marvel.

Pablo: That’s wild.

Mike: Yeah. And not only did he do everything right, he specifically did the things right that the sort of modern analytic movement has shown to be the most valuable possible things you can do. He was just an incredible player in exactly the ways that the sort of “Moneyball” era was beginning to point out how undervalued guys like him actually were.

And then he got into the broadcast booth. And it also spoke to this kind of generational divide where this sort of old-school, ’60’s, ’70’s kinds of players we’re fighting against the modernization of the way that we look at the game analytically. And so he became a sort of poster child for us and for other people, because he was the flagship commentator on the Sunday Night Baseball broadcast on ESPN. He was there all the time, calling games and analyzing games. And so as a result, we just kind of located all of our discontent onto him specifically.

But it really could have been … we really could have located it on any other of a hundred different people.

Pablo: How should we be remembering Joe Morgan?

Mike: Joe Morgan was a phenomenal baseball player. So I think we should first remember him that way, because that’s the more important thing. And then maybe you remember him as a guy who transitioned into a broadcasting career, unfortunately at the exact moment that this gigantic argument between the past and the future was boiling over.

And the generation that’s come after him, uh, now, you know, we used to say, when we were writing the site, we used to joke that we would give it up, and stop working on it at the moment that you would be watching a baseball game and instead of showing batting average, home runs and RBI for a hitter’s statistics, you would see like OPS+ and wins created above average and whatever. And that happens now. It was the beginning of that process at the exact moment that he was doing the flagship baseball broadcast on ESPN.

And I think it’s unfortunate that he happened to be in that place at that time. Because if he hadn’t been, I think we would only remember him the way we should, which is the greatest or second-greatest, second baseman of all time.

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