It's Independence Day, one of the holiest days on the baseball calendar, and Joe Morgan, one of the game's top students, not to mention its best television analyst, has been thinking about its problems.
Morgan, a Hall of Fame second baseman, most noted for his days as a catalyst in Cincinnati's Big Red Machine attack of the mid-1970s, won't offer solutions. That's for the professionals who run the game to do, he says, but Morgan knows what some of the problems are.
One of them is that both the players and the owners have taken the fans for granted. Take, for instance, opening night in Miami, which Morgan worked with Jon Miller for ESPN. Players from the Los Angeles Dodgers and Florida Marlins, in the first game since last August's strike, tipped their caps to the throng at Joe Robbie Stadium. The fans read the act as being patronizing and booed the players.
"That was insulting their intelligence. They [the players] weren't back because of the fans. They shouldn't have done anything," said Morgan, during a recent visit to Baltimore. "They should have gone out and played the game and said, 'We're back and let's go from here.' "
Morgan also is troubled with Major League Baseball's "Welcome to The Show" marketing campaign, in which the players are invisible.
"The fans are not coming out to listen to that organ that they play in those spots. They're not here to listen to people talk about this or that. They're here to see players play," said Morgan. "If you're trying to promote the game, you put the players in it and you promote the game."
The players also bear some of the brunt of the game's problems, according to Morgan. Specifically, the overabundance of bad pitching has stripped baseball of some of its nuances, leaving it to rely on the big and the gaudy.
"Just walking up here and hitting three-run home runs, that's not the way baseball is played," said Morgan. "The way the game is played is little things, like manufacturing runs, hitting and running, hitting behind the runner, moving runners, going from first to third on a single."
Morgan endorses rules changes that may help pitching, including raising the mound or widening the strike zone, but cautions that those moves may not have the desired effect.
"That's what's great about baseball. You can change the rules in football or basketball and hockey and you can dictate what happens," said Morgan. "You can change the rules in baseball, but you can't dictate what happens in the game."
A Pyrrhic victory?
USA Today may take a big hit, right in its advertising wallet, for its recent scoop announcing the end of the Baseball Network.
NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol and his ABC counterpart, Dennis Swanson, gave the exclusive on the breakup of the project to Rudy Martzke, the paper's sports television columnist, two weeks ago on the condition that Martzke not contact baseball officials for a reaction and that the story run on the front page.
The paper, one of baseball's major corporate sponsors, took care of both conditions, but incurred the wrath of baseball officials in the process. To placate the sport's leadership, USA Today management agreed to give baseball a free full page, likely costing well into the five-figure range, to use at its discretion.
Salute to the 'Coach'
In case you missed it last night, WWLG (1360 AM) will rerun Nestor Aparicio's tribute to local broadcasting legend Charley Eckman tonight at 6.