November 15, 2008


Perusing the USA Today sports section at El Nap Friday, I came across the standard putdown of free agent slugger Adam "Country Strong" Dunn . . . you know, the one that slags him off as the new Dave Kingman, a selfish player who hits a few home runs, but strikes out a ton, and fields like Sam the Butcher ("bringin' Alice the meat"). Because, as anyone knows, guys who swing for the fences are egotistical and selfish, and little scrappy guys who hit singles are gutsy team players. USA Today then goes on to derisively predict that some loser team will pay Dunn big money, since only loser teams are stupid enough to pay this big selfish knucklehead money.

But, you know and I know, this is bullshit. Dave Kingman was quite the chump, a career .236 hitter with a lifetime OBP (On Base Percentage) of .307. And, by all accounts, he was a selfish asshole. Dunn does strike out prodigiously (7th in MLB this year at 164, which is pretty close to his career average), and smack home runs even more prodigiously (40, which was good for second). His batting average is anemic as well (.236 - recognize that number?). BUT, Dunn was first in walks at 122, and his OBP was .386, which was a respectable 17th place in the majors, better than such media faves as Chase Utley, Carlos Beltran, and even Magglio Ordonez. Now, let me break that down for you: Mags was ninth in the majors with a .317 batting average, which is pretty sharp (and, importantly for Mags and his agent, solid in the statistic that everyone understands - or thinks they understand - the one statistic that says to the average guy "I am a good hitter"). And, Mags is no poke-and-slap hitter, with a reasonable .494 Slugging Percentage, which is in the MLB top 50 (21 home runs). And Mags has less than half the strikouts (76 v. Dunn's 164). But you know what? Even with his pathetic .236 batting average and his 164 strikouts, Dunn was on base a higher percentage of the time (.386 OBP v. Ordonez's .376). All that means is that Mags puts wood on the ball more often while Dunn watches more pitches (balls and strikes) sail past him. I am well aware that there is value in a batter who fouls off a lot of pitches, therefore sending pitch counts soaring earlier in the game than the opposing managers like to see, but in the end, a long fly caught at the warning track is no less an out than a called third strike. Would I take Adam Dunn over Magglio Ordonez? Well, no, 'cause that thing about Dunn fielding like a butcher is pretty accurate, though I'm sure he could get used to first base, and he was on scholarship as a quarterback at Texas, so he can't be a terrible athlete . . . but no, I'd still have to take Mags. But Dunn isn't chopped liver, certainly not another Dave Kingman, and that's the whole point here.

A-and, there's that study that Bill James and company released naming Derek Jeter the worst fielder in baseball at any position. Derek "King of New York" Jeter! The media-proclaimed "player that Alex Rodriguez should be instead of who he is"! Oh, and for the record, Rodriguez finished tenth among third basemen. Not to mention the fact that Rodriguez is a better hitter across the board, even in an off year for him, and that shortstop is his natural position . . .

* * * * *

But I shouldn't be writing about any of this baseball stuff. It gets done so much better at the Fire Joe Morgan (dot com) blog . . . or at least it did, until the other day. When I went there for the chance to gloat over the chink in Jeter's armor, or to find a friend to give a shout out to Dunn, here's what I found:

Hello, everyone.

After 21 years, and almost 40 million posts (we'll have to check those numbers, but it's something like that), we have decided to bring FJM to an end.

Although we have not lost our borderline-sociopathic joy for meticulously criticizing bad sports journalism, the realities of our professional and personal lives make FJM a time/work luxury we can no longer afford.

We started this site with two purposes: to make each other laugh, and to aid and abet the Presidential campaign of Bob Barr. Although we failed in the latter goal, we gleefully succeeded in the first, and thanks to a grassroots internetty word-of-mouth kind of a deal, we appear to have positively affected the lives of actual citizens as well, which astonishes and delights us to this day. We really never thought FJM would be for anyone but us. We are thrilled and kind of humbled to have been proven wrong.

Damn! Fire Joe Morgan was a great blog, not just a great sports blog. Or, if you make the distinction between blogs and the real world, then it was just good writing, period. Beyond all those stats, the obsessively weird insider sports humor, and a whole woodshed full of double-edged lumberjack-sized axes to grind, it was a great example of how to read, listen, and analyze. FJM hacked away at sports media, which admittedly, is a little like a crippled turkey shoot in a petting zoo, but still, they did it with admirable zeal. Theirs was a gleeful deconstruction - they more than analyzed the media, they pilloried it. In an age where the "philosophical" importance of sports to culture floats like an overinflated blimp over the American psychic landscape, FJM was a vital pin to that balloon. Beyond sports, FMJ was a vital part of the map to read culture as a whole . . . of all the posts on my blog, "The Death of Meaning Pt. 1" reads most like an FMJ post, even though it has nothing to do with sports. The whole key is to isolate the subtexts of a given text, and expose them to the cold light of day. Even when the actual critique goes of track, the act of questioning the givens of any discussion is absolutely vital.

We are told that sportswriting can be great writing, and then we are force fed Grantland Rice mythologizing bullshit, and modern bozos can't even approximate a shadow of that hackery . . . well, FJM, you will be missed, to say the least.


Bill Zink said...

More geek stuff: VORP (Value Over Replacement Player): Adam Dunn at Cincy - 12.9 (98th in MLB); Dunn at Arizona - 10.3 (199th in MLB); Magglio Ordonez - 38.3 (47th in MLB). Not sure what math leads to that stat, but Mags is ahead there, though it doesn't consider fielding.

OBPS (On Base Plus Slugging): Dunn .899 (15th), Ordonez .870 (34th).

I'd take either one.

Matt said...

Don't know shit about baseball, but this made baseball interesting. more importantly, these guys are incredible writers who could skewer the shit out of any writing that was less than awesome. one of the funniest, best written blogs anywhere. it's a drag it's gone, but the effort they put into that blog must've been exhausting anyway.