Michael Schur of 'Parks and Rec' on Why Joe Morgan Was So Frustrating
Right after it was announced that Joe Morgan and Jon Miller were not going to return to the booth of "ESPN Sunday Night Baseball" next season, the first person I wanted to contact was Michael Schur, executive producer of NBC's soon-to-return sitcom "Parks and Recreation."
Why would a TV producer comment on a baseball analyst? Because Schur was also one of the founders of the late, lamented blog FireJoeMorgan.com. Writing under the pseudonym "Ken Tremendous," Schur -- a writer for "The Office" at the time -- and his cohorts would chronicle instances where baseball writers and analysts steadfastly ignored the sabermetric information in front of them and analyzed the sport using what the FJMers thought were outmoded or incomplete stats. While chronicling this, they would hammer on Morgan, a vehement opponent of sabermetrics, on a regular basis.
Eventually, Schur and his fellow FJM writers came out of hiding; the group ended the blog in November of 2008 after three-and-a-half years of making people laugh with their biting analysis.
What was supposed to be a few questions turned into a 20-minute discussion of why Morgan was so frustrating to listen to, a talk about sabermetrics, and a discussion on why Schur decided to be anonymous and how he got found out (his father-in-law, Regis Philbin, plays a role in that story). We then turned to the upcoming season of "Parks and Rec"; that portion of the conversation was published at FanHouse's sister site TV Squad last month.
Joel Keller: How you doing, Mike?
Michael Schur: Hi, Joel. How you doing? Sorry I'm a little late.
Oh, that's OK. Maybe you're still celebrating the dismissal of Joe Morgan. I'm not really sure.
(laughs) I've been partying. I haven't been to sleep in two days.
Exactly. I want to talk to you about 'Parks & Recreation,' obviously, but Morgan is one of the main reasons I wanted to talk to you. FireJoeMorgan.com was obviously was a big part of your life for a while, and you finally got your wish. What'd you think when you heard about it?
Well, you know, honestly, it wasn't really my wish. And I think I speak for the other guys who did the site. We never, after a very, very brief amount of time, we realized that we had named our site incorrectly. Because it wasn't really about Joe Morgan. He obviously came to represent a certain kind of person in baseball, a kind of announcer who preferred traditional, old-timey ways to the new-fangled ways. But you know, I've been asked to comment a lot about him being fired in a way that suggests... people assume that I would be gloating or something. And I don't wish any... we never wished any ill favor to the man. We never wanted anything bad to happen to him. That's why it was a terrible name for a website. It really didn't represent what we were trying to do.
I wrote about Morgan after he got let go, and what always struck me about him was that, like you said, he just refused to believe that sabermetrics existed. And it's just interesting how over the years, he just got more and more stuck in his ways.
Yeah. I think we all have our fatal flaws. And his was probably stubbornness, in that sense. He just seemed to have no interest in even hearing someone suggest why this might be good. And my question for him and anyone who had that same viewpoint was always, why not just listen? You know? That goes for anyone in the world, in any field. If someone has a good idea, a better idea, for how to go about your job, it seems like the least you could do is listen. And he never even really cared to listen.
And you know, that interview that Tommy Craggs did with him in the San Francisco Chronicle from all those years ago, is still the sort of best -- if anyone ever asks me why I disliked him as an announcer, I would always point them to that article. And it just, that's what was disappointing about it to me. He was the color guy on the national game of the week, for all intents and purposes, the Sunday night ESPN game, and he just had absolutely zero interest in doing his job as well as he could.
Tim McCarver can annoy people, but I think the big difference between him and Joe was that Tim actually studied and prepared for his job.
Well, you know, I think that McCarver, if McCarver's Achilles heel is probably, I don't know, it's not stubbornness... it was more like arrogance, or a false sense of his ability to speak well or something. I don't know how you'd describe it. But I don't know, I think that he has his own foibles, McCarver, I mean, they all do. But yes, it wasn't the same exact thing that Joe's was, which was just a steadfast refusal to allow for the possibility that there might have been something that happened in baseball analysis in the last 50 years that's relevant to his job.
Yeah, that Tommy Craggs article, I went back and read some of that, and I just was like "Oh my God." I just forgot how bad that went.
Yeah. Yes, it was bad. It's bad, in part, because it's aggressive on his part. It's angry. He gets very, very angry. And I don't know Tommy Craggs. I've corresponded with him a couple times on e-mail, but it doesn't seem like he's provoking that kind of anger.
And then that leads one to believe that the real problem is just (that) it was just so deeply rooted in Joe's worldview that it was just going to... Like as soon as you read that, you realized "Oh, he's never going to change." Bill Simmons posted a thing on ESPN I don't know, six months ago, where he was like "all right, you guys win. Sabermetrics wins. I resisted it for a long time and now I've like decided to read about it and I've learned about it I'm on board." And that was never going to happen with Joe Morgan ever.
Because Joe's stance is "You nerds with computers can't tell me, because I'm a Hall of Famer and I was on the Big Red Machine, what I see with my own eyes."
Yeah, exactly. And you know, when you would watch those Sunday night games, he would say that a pitch was or wasn't a strike. And they would show the replay with the K-Zone and it would show the opposite of what he was saying. And he wouldn't give in. He would say "No, that wasn't a strike." And he was confronted with scientific evidence as he was broadcasting the games, but he would still just say "No, that's wrong."
And Jon Miller would gently try to get him to sometimes fix and correct what he was saying.
Yes. There were certainly times when he would say, "Well, the K Zone said..." And Joe would just not give in. And I just think that no matter what your worldview is, being that kind of like willfully strident about your worldview -- I mean, I say this as someone who has certainly been willfully strident about my worldview in the past, but I don't know, it was just odd. It was like, I'm just, I'm staring at something and saying that it's not what it appears to everyone else to be.
My example, and I gave this in my article, was I think it was '91 or '92 when I was back in college and I was sitting down to watch the Yanks play the White Sox, right? And Frank Thomas is having one of his early seasons where he has a .450 on base percentage, hitting .313, you know, 32 homers, pretty much almost close to remarkable MVP numbers. And Morgan started the game by saying, "The problem with Frank Thomas is that he walks too much." And I didn't know about sabermetrics or any of that stuff back then. I remember thinking, "I can't believe he just said that."
(Laughing) Yeah. Yeah, that's crazy. That's literally like saying, "Bill Gates' problem is that he doesn't have enough money." That's just factually false. When you walk, you're doing something good for your team.
It's not like he was hitting .220 and walking all the time.
Well, I mean, that's the real... the fact is, you know, global warming shouldn't have been called global warming. Because it makes it sound like everything's getting hotter. So when it gets really cold, people go like "Ah, global warming's wrong." And it's like no, this is a result of global warming. And the problem is, is that there are just certain things that are just badly named.
And I think one of them now, in the world of baseball, is sabermetrics. Because it sounds like you have to be a PhD to understand it, and really, it takes things that baseball fans have known all their lives. I mean, before I ever knew anything about Bill James, I knew that a single wasn't as good as a home run. And yet, your batting average goes up the same amount when you hit a single or hit a a home run. And it always was a little bit weird to me. And then you just are open, your eyes are open to (think) "Oh yeah, here's how you account for those things." You don't look at batting average. That's a bad statistic. You look at these other ones.
And on base percentage has been around forever.
A lot of it has been. I mean, OPS, which probably the only sabermetrically skewed statistic that has entered the mainstream is nothing but two old-timey statistics that they crammed together. And that was what always sort of frustrated me about Joe Morgan, was he treated it as if it were a radical new way of looking at the world, and it really isn't. It's just a better way. It's not that interesting. And the statistics are no more or less arbitrary than the old statistics.
He was very, very fond of saying that the way you measure pitchers is with wins. Which is very silly, first of all, but also like a win is the most random... starting pitchers have to throw 5 innings, their team has to be in the lead when the leave the game, it doesn't matter what the score is, there's no... It's an incredible arbitrary statistic. But it's very funny to me to cling so tightly to that arbitrary statistic instead of one that's much better at doing its job, that's no less arbitrary.
Anyone who watched Phil Hughes this year would know that the 2nd half of his 18 wins weren't quite as good as the 1st half of his 18 wins.
Right. He was dominant through like June, and then he kind of hung on in the 2nd half of the year and his team's scoring seven or eight runs a game. I mean, the same is true of Sabathia. Sabathia's going to win the Cy Young award in all likelihood this year, and he got like six and a half runs of support per game, or seven or something. And it's kind of like well yeah, so he had two more wins than whoever... Liriano or whoever's second. But he didn't have as good a year. He just didn't. Look at Felix Hernandez's year. He had more strikeouts in more innings, and fewer walks, and fewer hits, and fewer runs. That's a better pitcher. And it's so... that's probably the craziest... I'm getting all revved up now. (chuckles) But that's probably the craziest thing that happens every year in baseball analysis, is people care about wins for pitchers. [Note: we spoke before King Felix won the Cy Young, so hopefully Mike was happy that justice was served in that case.]
Because it's team dependent.
Yeah, it's complete lunacy. It has 50 percent to do with what the pitcher did. And when you're analyzing... It's just so crazy, right, it's like (when) Bartolo Colon won the Cy Young award that year over Pedro and everybody else, and he was probably like the 6th best pitcher in the league, and he was the only one who got to 20 wins.
I mean, I think it's changing, obviously. Greinke winning was a big deal. And maybe Felix will pull out a win this year. It's just, that was the only thing that our blog tried to do, is just say, hopefully in an amusing way, "Why are we doing this?" This is crazy behavior that people care about this stuff.
By the way, when it was revealed that Mike Schur, writer of 'The Office' at the time, is one of the guys writing this site, were you thinking, "Oh this is going to be bad for me?" Or were you just like "Alright, bring it on, no problem."?
We only were anonymous because we were writers for TV. And writing for TV is often, it becomes sort of a lightning rod, positively and negatively. You know, there are people who will love your show, who will want you to read their scripts, and meet and take you out to coffee and ask you for your advice, and it can get a little overwhelming.
Especially when at the time, I was very lucky and was writing on a show that people really liked. And we were extremely snarky and profane on that blog, and I had the feeling, personally I had the feeling of "I don't want anyone to think that this is in any way related to 'The Office.' I don't want anyone to read the blog and think differently about 'The Office.'" Or watch "The Office" and think differently about the blog. They were just two completely separate enterprises, and ne'er the twain would meet.
And then after a while, and the other guys who did it with me felt the same way about their jobs, and then after a while, it just sort of seemed like, as we put it at the time, the accused have the right to face their accusers. That's one of the fundamental properties of the justice system. So I wasn't worried at all about anything really. By that time, I didn't really care one way or the other. I had been doing 'The Office' for, I don't know, three or four years at that point, so it was sort of like, whatever anybody thinks about 'The Office,' they already think it. And vice versa about the blog as well.
And that was mostly pre-Twitter. I mean, you ended the blog right when Twitter was starting to really take off.
That's true, yeah.
I follow ('Office' writer and actor) Mindy Kaling, and she says her things, and most of them are hilarious...
Yeah, she's a very funny tweeter.
So now, it's no big deal that a person associated with the show is tweeting random things.
Yeah. Well that's also Mindy. Mindy's never been a shy person. But really, it wasn't based on anything at the time, other than I didn't even really think anyone would care, honestly. And when we started the blog, it was read by ourselves and about six of our friends. None of us felt like, oh, we need to hide our identity. Because it's like wearing sunglasses at a party where there's no other guests. On the off chance that anyone ever liked "The Office" or the blog, or hated one or the other, or hated both, I just didn't want it conflated. But that wasn't enough of a reason to stay anonymous after a while, because once people started actually reading the blog, it was like well, now people have the right to know. I think anonymity is kind of lame.
And once Deadspin found you, it was pretty much over at that point.
Yeah, you know, it wasn't actually Deadspin. They found us, but the didn't know who we were. There was a guy who, I think, wrote for a student paper at Rutgers who amazingly put together who I was, who we were, I think just mostly me, based on this incredible Scotland Yard-level detective research. Because I had posted from Paris at one point, because I was on my honeymoon. I had gotten married. And he learned from my -- my wife's father is Regis Philbin, and he had learned from watching that show that his daughter had gotten married to a guy who wrote for 'The Office,' and they had gone to Paris on their honeymoon. He put this whole crazy thing together. It was really insane.
Damn that Regis for blowing your cover!
Why can't Reege keep his big mouth shut?
I know... as if he had any idea that he was unwittingly leading a Rutgers University journalism student to my true identity. (chuckles)
Joel Keller is a senior writer at FanHouse's sister site TV Squad. His writing has also appeared in Jane, New Jersey Monthly, The New York Times and Radar, among other publications and websites. Follow him on Twitter @joelkeller or at www.facebook.com/joelkeller.