Brewers begin second season with the multi-named Morgan

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Tom Haudricourt/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
— By design, Nyjer Morgan has been a bit more reserved this spring, especially with members of the media whom he doesn't know well.

Don't be mistaken, however. The Milwaukee Brewers' centerfielder has not become a wallflower. His personality scale is, shall we say, slightly advanced from the average ballplayer.

What "Tony Plush" considers toned down, others might call ebullient, glowing or effervescent.

"He's pretty much different from anybody I've ever met," said teammate Rickie Weeks.

"But that's a good thing."

Good in that Morgan rarely has an off day in temperament, particularly with his teammates. He checks in for work each morning with a smile on his face and punches the clock at the end of the day in similar fashion. If anybody in the major leagues is having more fun at his job, please step forward.

"His personality is the same every day, no matter what kind of day he's having or what kind of day he had the day before," said Brewers closer John Axford. "He's the same every day, and it's genuine.

"He's a show to an extent but that's just the way he is. It's not fake. He likes to be loud and enjoy himself, and have everyone around him enjoy it, too. It's day in and day out. He brings a lot of energy to the team."

"Energy" is the word most associated with Morgan, be it in the clubhouse, on the field or in his now-famous postgame television interviews. He operates at a different speed from most folks, sort of a whirling dervish of unique speech, mannerisms and gestures.

Finding the right fit

It was at the end of spring training a year ago that Morgan, 31, surfaced with the Brewers. He was acquired in a trade with the Washington Nationals, who made no bones about wanting to part with him. Morgan arrived with a somewhat troubled history with both Pittsburgh and Washington, including on-field altercations with both opponents and fans.

Morgan's new teammates weren't sure what to expect, but they soon learned his troublemaker reputation was a small part of the equation. Beyond being a talented player, he had a burning desire to fit in and be part of a strong club heading for the playoffs.

"I think a lot of people didn't know what to think when he came from Washington," said Weeks. "He was a misunderstood player, I guess. When he came here, he was the total opposite of what people were saying about him in the media.

"He's been a big part of our team. He brings energy and hard work. A lot of time people forget that. He puts in the hard work he needs to do to play every day. He takes the game very serious.

"People think that's an act that he puts on but that's just him. That's Nyjer for you. That's his personality."

It didn't take long for Morgan to become a fan favorite, in part because of his multiple personas, which include "Tony Hush" (the rarely seen quiet one), "Tony Tombstone" (his cowboy look), "Antonio Picante" (the spicy Latino) and "Tony Clutch" (big-hit producer).

It was "Tony Clutch" who assured a cherished place in Brewers lore last fall by delivering the winning hit in Game 5 of the National League Division Series against Arizona. That 10th-inning single put Miller Park up for grabs and assured Morgan hero status forever among denizens of Brewer Nation (it didn't hurt that he was filmed wearing a S.W.A.T. helmet with a team logo in the wild celebration).

"That was unbelievable," said Morgan. "It's still hard to believe. That won't fully hit me until it's all said and done."

Productive season

It's one thing to be an entertainer, clubhouse cut-up and darling of the fans. But to stay employed you have to produce on the field, and Morgan did exactly that in his first season with the Brewers. In 119 games, he batted .304 with 20 doubles, six triples, four home runs, 37 runs batted in and 13 stolen bases, mostly in the No. 2 spot in the lineup.

Despite two early stints on the disabled list with a deep thigh bruise and broken finger, Morgan played in his third-most games as a major-leaguer (he played in 136 games with Washington in 2010, and 120 in 2009 for the Pirates and Nationals), proving he could be a consistent contributor.

"You never know what's going to happen," he said. "I'd always been a ‘nice little piece' but that was it. Nobody gave me the opportunity to be more. I wasn't a fit in those places. I was just a fill-in.

"Now, it's completely different. Hopefully, I can keep doing it and one day they'll offer me a multi-year deal. I'd love to stay here. Until that happens, I'm going to keep doing what I have to do. That's never going to stop.

"I've got to keep showing them that it wasn't a fluke year, that I can be consistent and stay healthy and be that energy that everybody wishes they had."

Some conflict

As might be expected, Morgan did have his hiccup moments. San Francisco fans were convinced he was making obscene gestures at them from the outfield at AT&T Park. His history of conflict with the Cardinals and Chris Carpenter continued, including a toss of his chewing tobacco at the pitcher after some verbal ugliness in St. Louis.

Manager Ron Roenicke admitted to having a meeting or two with Morgan to discuss certain "situations." But the general consensus from all involved, including Roenicke, was that Morgan's enthusiasm and energy were positive qualities on a team that knew when to have fun and when to get serious.

"I think they saw what I was able to do," said Morgan, who is batting .246 this spring after a very slow start. "They see the ballplayer before they see the personality. You've got to have both. Finally, I'm in a place where they see more than just my fun-loving acts. They know I can be a ballplayer.

"It's amazing what that trade (from Washington) did for me. It was the perfect place for me. Going to the World Series would have been the only thing greater. Besides that, nothing will ever top being here with the guys and having fun together, young kids in men's bodies. It was cool."

The major-league season is often described as a marathon, not a sprint. Including spring training and the 162-game schedule, players are together 7 ˝ months, more than that if as in 2011 you make it to the playoffs. You've got to have some fun, some levity, some moments when you are tempted to roll on the floor, laughing.

Enter "T. Plush."

Adding personality

"We have so many personalities in the clubhouse," said Axford. "He was a good fit right away. The guys embraced him.

"It certainly helps to be a good player but it also helps to have those qualities and help keep things light in the clubhouse. Certain guys are good with that, and there are leaders in the clubhouse who know when it's time to have some fun and when it's time to be serious. Some days you need to come in and have a laugh."

Morgan, who again will see the majority of the action in center (Carlos Gomez will start against left-handers) and bat in the two-hole, will have a bobblehead day this season, a sure sign that you've arrived. A limited number will show him making his noted "T" gesture, for "T. Plush."

So, despite his somewhat low-key behavior this spring—for him, anyway—Morgan is sure to provide more fun and games for the Brewers in 2012.

"You can be serious on the field but you want to have fun, too," he said. "There's room for both in this game. You have to do it. That's where the entertainment comes in.

"Last year was a fun year. Let's do it again. That's what it's all about."

Last updated: 8:13 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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