Love him or hate him, Nyjer Morgan played the role of hero in 2011, delivering the clutch hit in the bottom of the 10th to earn the Milwaukee Brewers just their second postseason series victory in franchise history.
For a team with a short, sad past when it comes to postseason appearances and success, the image is burned in the minds of Brewers fans. As he tickled the ball into center field, the enigmatic character ran down the first base line with his arms spread like wings and a smile even wider as he realized what he had just done — sent the Brewers to the NLCS.
Rounding first and chucking his helmet, Morgan was greeted by a stampede of teammates ready to destroy him out of pure joy. Randy Wolf wrapped him up as the rest of the Crew swarmed “Tony Plush” in the kind of unabashed, unfiltered ecstasy fans long to see from professional athletes.
Morgan recently played against his old club when the Cleveland Indians met the Brewers in Arizona. He’s back in MLB after a trip to Japan, but he’ll always view Milwaukee fondly. ”For me, it’s still home,” Morgan told Brewers writer Adam McCalvy. “Some very great memories in Milwaukee.”
Morgan came to the Brewers after wearing out his welcome in both Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., despite producing well at times with both clubs. He was quickly embraced by Brewers fans, as much for his energy and persona as his play on the field. Despite his issues in other cities as well as his strange behavior and often-distracting antics, he came through when it mattered most and cemented himself in Brewers lore with that game-winning, series-clinching playoff hit.
I believe baseball teams need one or two guys like Morgan to help keep things loose. It’s a long, arduous season and if you can’t have some fun and keep people on their toes, things often go awry. Think about that 1982 club. They had a whole slew of characters to go along with some consummate professionals to balance the group’s personality. That is what Morgan brought to the 2011 team.
Sure, he irritated some fans and players around baseball, but how much does that really matter? I’m as old-school as they come in terms of professionalism and not showing up the opponent; however, there’s a balance between doing that and just having fun and being yourself.
It was no surprise that in 2012, when manager Ron Roenicke and others asked Morgan to “tone it down”, that the center fielder struggled. He did scale back on the antics, but it was to the detriment of his performance. Morgan used Plush as a way to relax and focus — like he did to bring home Carlos Gomez that night in October.
I’ll never forget being in the stands that evening, nervous energy abounding as Morgan stared down J.J. Putz. Then there was the collective roar of the crowd as the ball trickled into the center, the silence of 45,000 people holding their breath as Gomez rounded third, and the loudest explosion of joy I’ve ever been a part of at a sporting event.
For all that and more, Nyjer Morgan will forever be held in the hearts of the Brewers faithful — and rightfully so.