Energy shot: Morgan provides spark for Brewers
The Brewers’ center fielder is engaging—or enraging—to fans, likes playing hide-and-seek in the clubhouse with broadcaster Bob Uecker and holds increasingly bizarre postgame interviews as his alter ego “Tony Plush.”
He’s a character and a better-than-expected player for the NL Central leaders.
“I’m just playing my game, man. I’ve been like this everywhere I’ve been, but it finally feels good to be embraced and get the love,” Morgan said. “The fans are what make it happen.”
The center fielder is batting a team-best .328 and getting plenty of chances in front of stars Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.
Morgan is adamant that when he’s on the field, he’s Tony Plush and has the confidence of someone who is 5 inches taller, 50 pounds heavier and a power hitter who’s nothing like his 5-foot-11, 175-pound self.
Off the field, he’s Morgan again.
“I’m not crazy,” he said. “I just really don’t like the word crazy. It’s more like having fun. I guess maybe people in the game of baseball haven’t seen it.”
Morgan, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, picked up the moniker when he was 19 or 20 and his group of friends decided they were a “Rat Pack.”
Morgan turned into “Tony Plush.” His best friend became “Frankie Sleaze.” And what started as a bond between buddies grew when Morgan became a professional athlete and began to mention it in the majors.
The 31-year-old Morgan was late into pro baseball, partly because of his love of hockey. He played 13 years growing up, including seven games with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League. He believes if he’d stuck with that game, he could’ve have reached the NHL and still gets excited when he thinks about pregame introductions.
“That first time stepping on the ice, they announce the team and you’re coming out of the tunnel, it’s one of the best feelings. You have the lights all off and they have the laser show, it’s the best,” Morgan said.
Milwaukee traded a minor leaguer to Washington for Morgan at the end of spring training because of an injury to right fielder Corey Hart left them needing temporary depth.
Morgan had worn out his welcome again, this time with the Nationals. Starting his big league career with the Pirates in 2007, every team he’d played for lost at least 93 games and Morgan didn’t mind taking little digs at each club on his way out.
In the final weeks last season with Washington, Morgan threw a ball at a fan in the stands in Philadelphia, twice went out of his way to run over catchers, squabbled with his manager and started a brawl with the Marlins that ended with an eight-game suspension.
Marlins third baseman Wes Helms said at the time that Morgan didn’t play the game with integrity. Morgan realizes that some of his actions have played a role in the acrimonious ends with his two previous franchises, but that it’s not fair to judge him on a few clips.
“I felt (my career) was getting tarnished just because basically, even last year, I did the same things, but I was on a losing ball club. I guess the things I was doing weren’t up to par being a losing ball club,” Morgan said. “You get blasted just for going out there and having fun. I guess you’re supposed to be a choir boy out there.”
Morgan also strongly disagrees that he’s disrespectful.
“I respect the game. I don’t do anything that says I’m not playing hard or going out there and not hustling,” Morgan said. “Even though I do joke around, I’m serious. I come to work every day, I come prepared mentally and physically ready to go, ready to win, ready to compete and just leave it all out on the field.”
Moments later, a TV segment begins showing Morgan’s dugout interviews.
Morgan says in the highlight that he’s focused on his “Plushdamentals” and ends each one abruptly, yelling into the microphone “Ahhhhh, gotta go!” before sprinting back into the clubhouse.
The Brewers watching can’t stop laughing as the TV analysts debate whether Morgan’s actions are appropriate.
“Who cares!” reliever LaTroy Hawkins shouts as he walks by.
That seems to be the shared sentiment.
“My boy Nyjer Morgan might be one of the funniest, most entertaining players in baseball. Dat boy be havin some fun on the field,” Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp posted this week on Twitter.
“He’s entertaining,” Braun said. “We’ve got to give this guy a reality show, he needs a camera following him at all times. He’s unpredictable. It’s awesome.”
He’s been awesome, too, in the lineup.
“He’s fun to watch. Every time you put him up there it seems like something good’s going to happen,” said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, who has helped Morgan tone down the act some without taking away his personality. “I knew he was going to be good defensively. Offensively, I knew he was a scrappy player, but, no, I didn’t expect him to be doing what he’s doing. “
And Morgan finally believes he’s found a fit in a loose locker room with a lot to play for in the final months of the season.
“I leave it all out on the field. I play the game hard. I play the game intense,” Morgan said. “Just being that person on the field, I want people to embrace it and love it.”