1/16/2014 10:00 A.M. ET
In return to bigs, 'Plush' needs game to speak loudest
Though he's let mouth get the best of him before, Morgan has the talent to help Tribe
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com
Baseball can always use more characters. So let's welcome back Nyjer Morgan, who is a two-for-one in that category.
Morgan, after playing in Japan in 2013, has signed a Minor League contract with the Indians and will attend Cleveland's Spring Training as a non-roster invitee.
The Indians will receive at least two personas for the price of one in this transaction. There will be Morgan, and there will be his on-field alter ego, "Tony Plush."
If somebody asks Morgan what he is focusing on in a pregame workout, there is an excellent chance he will respond: "Working on Plush-damentals."
Morgan can play. He puts the bat on the ball, he has some speed and he can go get the ball in the outfield, although after he gets the ball he won't show the world's strongest arm.
Morgan, 33, is a bright man with a very quick wit and an expansive imagination. But for all that, he has generally not been an unmixed blessing for his baseball employers.
Earlier in his career, when he played for losing clubs in Pittsburgh and Washington, his talent was acknowledged, but his temperament was seen as volatile, to say the least. He was the focal point of some unpleasant episodes.
One that stands out in memory occurred in 2010, when Morgan was playing for the Nationals against the Marlins. Morgan charged the mound against Chris Volstad, despite giving away eight inches and roughly 55 pounds to the 6-foot-8 right-hander. Morgan never lacked courage, but here an ugly scene followed, and Morgan's reputation as something of a hothead was burnished.
However, with the Brewers in 2011, Morgan evolved, in Milwaukee's eyes at least, into a lovable eccentric. And why not? He was the regular center fielder. He hit .304 with a .778 OPS. He was Nyjer Morgan. He was Tony Plush. He was a hit. He started the season on a tear at the plate, played his way into regular work and became a reliable contributor.
And he came up with clutch hits for a team that became a division winner. Not only that, he drove in the winning run in the decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series against Arizona.
Along the way, he may not have made a lot of friends in other locales. The Brewers had more than one run-in with the Cardinals. After one fracas that featured Morgan at the core of the disturbance, then-St. Louis manager Tony La Russa had this to say about Morgan:
"He's had a good year for them; he's a talented guy. But he's close to the edge as far as creating problems and trouble.
"It takes away from the player he's been for them, with his fuse being so short, actually looking for things to instigate. So I hope he gets a clue. He can be the player that he is without instigating."
At one point in September, Morgan said publicly that he hoped the Cardinals would enjoy watching the Brewers in the postseason. The Brewers were leading the National League Central at the time, and the Cardinals were involved in what looked like a long-shot bid for a Wild Card berth.
We know now how that one ended. The Cardinals made a sensational run to get to the postseason, and on their way to a World Series championship, met and defeated the Brewers in the NL Championship Series. The Cardinals did, in fact, enjoy watching the Brewers in the postseason, but it was not at all what Morgan had in mind. His earlier remark might have been better left unspoken.
It is possible that after a year in Japan that Morgan/Plush is both older and wiser. He should be able to help the Indians in some capacity. He's a .280 lifetime hitter in the big leagues and he knows how to play the game.
So we welcome back Morgan and Plush to the North American game, recalling the intelligence and the humor of a man playing the game of baseball and playing with his own identity at the same time.
On the other hand, one hopes that the volatility will be far less evident. This would be a good time for the positive energy of Nyjer Morgan and Tony Plush to take over this career.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.