by Tim Muma
A couple of years ago, a friend of mine and I were trying to figure out a way the Brewers could acquire Nyjer Morgan - and at the time, it seemed like that would be tough. Then Morgan had a few "incidents" that caused the Washington Nationals to take pause in regards to their bizarre, energetic center fielder.
Lo and behold, Morgan was made available in March and GM Doug Melvin sent minor leaguer Cutter Dykstra to D.C. to bring in "Tony Plush," - originally for depth behind Carlos Gomez. As predicted here and other places, Gomez continued to disappoint as an everyday player, allowing Morgan to take most of the starts.
Perhaps, bringing in T-Plush may have been the most important move in the Major Leagues between the start of Spring Training and now.
Going into the series opener on Tuesday in St. Louis, Morgan was hitting .324 with a .358 OBP, and a wonderful OPS (for a non-power hitter) of .816. He's been a spark plug, leading the Brewers to a 35-21 record when he starts a game. He also seems to always come through in clutch situations - and the stats back that theory up.
8th inning - .346/.433/.500/.933 (career - .230/.316/.327/.643)
9th inning - .375/.360/.667/1.027 (career - .248/.287/.319/.605)
Extras - .500/.667/.500/1.167
(only 3 plate appearances entering Tuesday - he then promptly singled and scored in the tenth against the Cards).
Late and Close - Plate appearances in the 7th or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or at least the tying run on deck.
Runners in scoring position - .360/.393/.620/1.013 (career - .287/.329/.392/.722)
RISP with 2 outs - .333/.385/.583/.968 (career - .253/.306/.361/.667)
Apparently, his perceived carefree attitude is serving him well when the pressure is supposed to be taking away from his craft..
Even Milwaukee's road struggles failed to affect the fiery Morgan, putting up a .328/.379/.492/.871 away from Miller Park - vastly better than most other Brewers.
While he's not a great defender, he can run down plenty of balls in the gaps and has a better arm than people give him credit for. Not to mention he brings an element of speed and aggressiveness that one likes to see on the bases - even if he isn't swiping many bags because of the big hitters behind him.
Morgan's impact is felt in other areas as well. His constant movements and childlike behavior acts as a two-fold positive for the Brewers.
There's no doubt the enthusiasm he plays with is contagious to players on the club - even veterans who sometimes forget baseball is meant to be fun. It's a long, arduous season at the big league level and each team needs a loose character or two to create an atmosphere devoid of tension. Clearly Morgan provides that.
Secondly, I'm sure other teams get caught up in his antics from time to time, taking their minds off the play on the field as he irritates them to the point of frustration. I'm sure the Cardinals - keepers of baseball etiquette - can't stand his bow and arrow display. The Giants (and their fans) took issue with his interactions in the outfield, even though he kept everything clean and appeared to be playing around with them.
I have no issues with what he does because he is not showing up the opponent in any way, he refrains from anything vulgar or obscene, and he genuinely appears to be having a blast playing baseball - and why shouldn't he?
I'll admit, after seeing his anger on display last season, I wondered how well he'd fit into the Brewers clubhouse - until I heard him do a radio interview. It sounded to me like he was just fed up with losing and playing on teams that had no chance for the playoffs after July. His energy and passion flowed in the form of frustration and a feeling of personal failure, leading to acts that looked out of control and wrought with personal issues.
He's happy now. He knows what if feels like to win and contribute to a team with real postseason aspirations. He also appears to be taking over Milwaukee in a cult following type of way. Little kids are "throwing up the 'T'" and adults are buying "Plush" t-shirt jerseys at a fever pace.
Now, I can't imagine the Brewers without a dose of Plushdamentals after he speaks with Mr. Sveumer about tickling the ball into the outfield. I'm finding myself searching for an "Usain bolt" (bow and arrow action) from the dugout after a big play. I'm actually even hoping Morgan comes up late in a close ballgame, because good things are bound to happen.
Nearly every team that makes a magical run has a story that mirrors Nyjer Morgan's and his surprise value to the Brewers - let's hope he continues to shock us - on and off the field.
I GOTTA GO! AHHHHH!
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