Morgan -- er, Tony Plush -- Crew's lightning rod
Center fielder's play, infectious personality key to Milwaukee's run
PHOENIX -- Nyjer Morgan sat at the podium, taking questions and providing answers that had reporters in stitches. The Brewers have their Beast Mode, but this was full-on entertainment mode for the team's center fielder.
"Any more questions for Nyjer?" asked the moderator.
"Tony," Morgan corrected, creating another eruption of laughter.
That would be Tony Plush -- Morgan's alter ego: a smooth-talking, run-creating, laughter-inciting player who has found a home in the second slot of Milwaukee's potent lineup.
Consider it Morgan's stage name. Whatever it is, Brewers fans have embraced it, and that's something that makes Morgan flash that wide smile.
"It's beautiful," Morgan said.
This season, Morgan used his energetic play on the field and his personality off it to help the Brewers make the postseason for the second time since 1982. His clutch two-run single in the sixth inning Sunday assisted a five-run outpouring that powered Milwaukee to a 9-4 win over Arizona in Game 2 of the National League Division Series.
Once he reached first base, Morgan turned toward the Brewers' dugout and thrust his arms into the air. He clenched his teeth and pumped his arms, doing an emphatic version of the Beast Mode celebration that Milwaukee is popularizing this October. The fans roared with approval, waving white rally towels as Miller Park rocked.
"We like having a little fun out there," Morgan said.
Morgan's personality, however, can sometimes develop into a beautiful disaster. His emotional way of doing things has led to on-field bursts of anger, or even small tantrums, in the past. Opposing players have taken exception to his actions at times, and Major League Baseball has called Milwaukee to discuss Morgan's antics, too.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has had a handful of closed-door chats with Morgan this year to emphasize the importance of channeling his energy in a positive way and using his fiery style to both his and his team's advantage. If Morgan is on the edge of eruption, Roenicke has suggested trying to contain the storm until he is off the field and away from cameras.
"Sometimes he does some things that he shouldn't do," Roenicke said. "He realizes when he does something wrong, or there's something that he should do better. But his conversations are always, 'I'm trying to do the right things.' He's energetic. He plays hard. He's played great for us.
"He's a big part of the chemistry of what's going on with this club. The conversations I've had have always been good."
Morgan's way of going about things has fit right in within Milaukee's fun-loving clubhouse.
"He's great," said left fielder Ryan Braun. "The fun part is that it's just fun to be around that every day. I've said it so many times, it just helps to alleviate some of the stress and anxiety everybody feels in playing these meaningful games. We have fun. We show up every day smiling, we're laughing, we're talking trash. We're enjoying ourselves."
While playing for losing teams in Pittsburgh and Washington prior to this year, Morgan's unique style both on and off the field was not always universally accepted. On a Brewers club that won 96 games and captured the National League Central crown, though, Morgan's act has evolved beyond being just tolerable.
Nyjer is allowed to be Nyjer.
Or, he can be Tony, if he so desires.
"I've always been this player," Morgan said. "I definitely wouldn't take anything back from playing with those other teams or anything like that, but now that I'm playing with some great players, you can see my game coming out too.
"It's actually pretty cool, being in this body and being able to finally show these skills, and finally getting looked at as a solid individual in this game."
Morgan has also become downright marketable.
He boasts nearly 48,000 followers under the Twitter handle @TheRealTPlush. Milwaukee offers "Tony Plush" shirts in the team's merchandise stores, and the ballclub has trouble keeping them on the shelves. Adults and kids alike can be seen putting their hands together to form a "T" after Morgan reaches base.
|"I've always been this player, just to try to be the people's champ. I just have to be myself. I can't sugarcoat it for anybody. This is who I am. I'm going to be out there and I'm going to go out there and have fun."|
|-- Nyjer Morgan, aka Tony Plush|
Asked if he ever asked Morgan about this whole Tony Plush business, Roenicke said that he chatted with the outfielder about it when it first started gaining momentum in Milwaukee. Asked what sense he could make of it, Roenicke smiled and hesitated.
"Sense?" Roenicke said.
That caused yet another outburst of laughter.
"I'll leave it at that," the manager added, shaking his head.
So, who exactly is this character?
"That's the entertainer," Morgan said. "That's the guy that likes to have fun. We're on a stage out there. As an entertainer, all entertainers have a name. For me, it's Tony Plush. Basically, when I clock in on that field, and as I'm sitting here right now, I'm Tony Plush.
"I'm an entertainer and I'm going to make things happen."
Morgan has adopted other personalities, too.
There is Tony Gumbel.
"The professional," Morgan said.
And Tony Tombstone.
"The city slicker himself."
Braun said his favorite character is the latest to emerge.
"Tony Clutch," Braun said with a laugh. "Bases loaded [on Sunday], Tony Clutch came to bat. Tony Clutch came through."
There was also the time this season when Morgan was not talking to reporters.
"You mean when 'Tony Hush' came around?" Morgan said.
Hush arrived in the Brewers' clubhouse after a series of on-field incidents.
On July 23, Morgan taunted fans in San Francisco with a controversial hand gesture. In September, he and Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter engaged in their second heated exchange of the season. Following that shouting match -- one that led to a bench-clearing altercation -- Morgan also verbally attacked St. Louis' Albert Pujols on Twitter.
Each episode included a trip to Roenicke's office.
"Sometimes he's got to control it a little bit better," Roenicke admitted. "But he's getting better. I enjoy him."
And Roenicke has enjoyed their chats.
"It sounds kind of weird," Roenicke said. "But I enjoy it, even when I get a call from [MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations] Joe Torre saying, 'Hey Ron, the incident in San Francisco, you need to talk to him.'
"I bring him in and the conversations are always good. I like him a lot. Not just as a baseball player."
Overlooked has been Morgan's actual performance in the batter's box and in center field.
"A lot of things that he has brought to the table," Braun said, "have been lost in the madness of all his different personalities and alter egos, because he's been really successful for us on the field."
In 119 games for the Brewers, who acquired him from the Nationals in a March 27 trade for Minor Leaguer Cutter Dykstra, the center fielder has hit at a .304 clip with four home runs, 20 doubles and 37 RBIs. Along the way, he has scored 61 runs and posted a .357 on-base percentage, helping set the table for Braun and Prince Fielder.
"Tony Plush always played well," Morgan said. "It doesn't matter where I've been. Like last year, it was a learning year. It wasn't a terrible year. It was just a learning year and I had to bounce back, and I had a more succesful year this year."
It has not hurt that Tony Plush has been accepted by his teammates and embraced by Brewers fans.
"I've always been this player, just to try to be the people's champ," Morgan said. "I just have to be myself. I can't sugarcoat it for anybody. This is who I am. I'm going to be out there and I'm going to go out there and have fun.
"I might get under peoples' skin a little bit. But, as long as it's for the right things, and I'm out there hustling and doing what I'm supposed to do to win for my organization, I'm going to be me."