(Inside Pitch photo Courtesy natstown.mlblogs.com)
When the Nats acquired Nyjer Morgan from the the Pittsburgh Pirates, many were impressed with Mike Rizzo's trade that brought the center fielder and Sean Burnett to the team for Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan. Rizzo simultaneously unloaded a chronic underachiever and bad attitude guy in Milledge and got another speedster with a seemingly jovial personality and above average fielding skills in Morgan. What could go wrong?
Well in 2009, nothing did. Morgan, or Tony Plush as he was known back then, put together stellar numbers in the final 49 games of the 2009 season: a .351 batting average, a .396 on base percentage, and a .435 slugging percentage. The Nats thought they had finally found the cure to what had been ailing them since 2005: a center fielder and lead off man.
On top of his on-the-field successes, Nyjer was a fun interview. At several points throughout the season, he did funny, witty, interesting interviews with members of the DC media. It showed an interesting side of the quirky, yet passionate Nationals center fielder.
But 2010 was the year of Angry Nyjer. Morgan's batting average peaked at .293 on April 26th, and it was all downhill from there. As Nyjer struggled to keep his batting average above .250 or to do the only thing that kept him valuable, steal bases, his friendliness and quirkiness became anger and frustration. He was no longer the life of the clubhouse, he was the guy you treaded lightly around.
(Photo Courtesy Nationals Enquirer)
It started on May 22nd when the Nationals were facing the Orioles in the "Battle of the Beltways." In the 4th inning, Morgan jumped at the wall, and he thought the Adam Jones hit had become a traditional outside-the-park home run. So, he threw is glove down in anger. Meanwhile, as you see above, the ball was sitting on the warning track. Then-LF Josh Willingham came over to retrieve the ball and throw it in, but it was too late. Adam Jones had notched one of the most embarassing inside-the-park home runs in baseball history.
Next came the August 21st incident where Nyjer threw a ball into the stands, reportedly at a fan, in Philadelphia. A week later on August 28th, Morgan plowed into St. Louis Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson in the 8th inning, which resulted in Morgan being removed from the lineup by Manager Jim Riggleman the next game.
Finally came the incident that very well may have been the straw that broke the camel's back. It came in the 6th inning of the September 1st game between the Nats and the Marlins. Morgan was hit by a pitch in the 4th frame with the Marlins up 14-3. Then, he stole 2nd and 3rd before scoring. The Marlins didn't take kindly to that, so Volstad threw behind Morgan in his next at bat. For those of you who want to reminisce and hear the Marlins broadcasters take on the brawl, the sequence can be seen here at MLB.com.
As Nyjer left the field from the brawl, he was seen taunting Marlins fans and yelling obscenities. After serving his suspension, Morgan was back in the Nats lineup to end the 2010 season.
Entering camp in 2011, I was among those shocked to see Nyjer still competing for the center field job. He had put his teammates in a precarious situation multiple times in 2010. Baseball is a game of retribution. When Nyjer shows up other pitchers, his teammates get thrown at. It's just part of the sport, whether you agree with it or not.
But the Nats acquisition of Rick Ankiel in the offseason was, to me, the ultimate signal that Nyjer may be on his way out. Despite Riggleman saying that Nyjer would be the team's CF on Opening Day, we just couldn't believe that was true. Nyjer would have to have insane spring numbers for him to compete, and well, he didn't. He struggled at the plate and in the field.
Last in the long list of atrocities that led to Morgan's demise was when he told reporters he didn't expect to be with the team come Opening Day. Well, Nyjer and Nats fans got their wish. He's now an outfielder in the Milwaukee Brewers organization (a team that Commissioner Selig is closely associated with and owned before becoming Commissioner).
That marks the end of this interesting, confusing, and disappointing history of Nyjer Morgan's history with the Washington Nationals organization.
We hope this has been an interesting look back at the Tale of Two Nyjers. Have you made it this far? Do you have any great (or terrible) Tony Plush/Nyjer Morgan stories that you'd like to share? Leave them in the comments.