Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers: #2 Nyjer Morgan

How many times in your life have you said that the quantity of something is “just a couple”? Too many to count?

A lot of people use “couple” to mean any relatively small quantity. It’s noon and the late football game starts at 3:15. How long until the game? “A couple of hours.”

I’m driving eastbound on I 94 toward Miller Park and am at mile marker 301. My exit is Exit 305B. How far away is it? “A couple of miles.”

In reality, “a couple” is two. No more, no less.

If you expect the Brewers to win a couple of games this weekend, you expect them to win two of three in the weekend series against the Cardinals.

It is with that in mind that I am so happy to say…

We’re a couple of day away from Opening Day!!

That’s it, that’s all! Two short days.

It is also with that number in mind that I present to you today’s profile on the man once thought to only have a couple of personalities (though we now know better, don’t we?):

Nyjer Morgan

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The many personalities which were on display at various times for Nyjer Jamid Morgan each have their own personality traits.

Tony Plush is the on-field entertainer which fans see the majority of days on the baseball field. Tony Hush was developed when Morgan needed to stay quiet to the media for a stretch after Tony Plush got Morgan into some verbal hot water. Tony Tombstone was credited for Morgan’s cowboy getup on the plane between Houston and St. Louis during a team dress up flight. Antonio Picante (or Tony Hots) is Morgan’s alter ego for his fans of Hispanic descent.

There are more (more than a couple more), but you get the idea.

What they all boiled down to in the end was a player who not only put smiles on the faces of fans throughout Brewer Nation, but also frustrated grimaces on those faces of his opponents.

More importantly, though, is that Morgan et al put numbers in the scorebooks and runs on the board.

Hitting primarily from the number two spot in the order and as part of a strict platoon with Carlos Gomez (Morgan started against right-handed pitchers and Gomez against lefties), Morgan ended up making 90 starts for the Brewers, playing in 119 games total, during the 2011 season. That’s despite the aforementioned platoon and two stints on the disabled list.

The first trip to the DL (4/18-5/2) was due to a right quadriceps (thigh muscle) contusion suffered when running into Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit on a play at the plate. The second injury cost him 21 days (5/6-5/21) as was caused when he tried to bunt a ball which struck his left middle finger, fracturing it.

Still, Morgan posted a season line of .304/.357/.421, 378 AB, 61 R, 115 H, 20 doubles, 6 triples, 4 HR, 37 RBI, 19 walks, 70 K and 13 steals (caught 4 times).

Those numbers were very solid for Morgan despite fluctuations from previous years in his steals (though you tend not to steal in front of Ryan Braun) and walk rate. Still, Morgan’s extrapolated numbers would’ve been some of the best of his career in multiple categories.

That was in large part to manager Ron Roenicke’s dedication to that centerfield platoon with Gomez. Morgan has never been able to hit left-handed pitching with any kind of success, let alone consistency. It made more sense to limit the exposure of Morgan’s main weakness while allowing Gomez’ superior defense to get some irregular but predetermined playing time.

Morgan responded again and again throughout the year, culminating with a couple of walk-off hits that might cement his place in on-field moments in Brewers history including his RBI single which scored his platoon partner Gomez from second base and sent the Brewers to their first League Champion Series in nearly 30 years.

Off the field, Morgan had a number of iconic moments as well in 2011.

From prematurely ending interviews to simply taking some of them over. From “Throwin’ up the T” to popularizing the team’s “beast mode” celebration. From jaw-jacking with Giants fans in his hometown of San Francisco, to calling out players on Twitter. From his “Usain Bolt” in the dugout to his keen sense of when and where the camera was on him. From being a “Jungle Correspondent” for the Jim Rome television show to heeding a fan’s advice when told to “go fly a kite” on a windy off day.

The list goes on and on.

He’s spawned t-shirts and websites and even taken to social media in a successful attempt to interact with fans. He’s got a rabid following here in Milwaukee and his hardnosed, gritty style of play has won over the Miller Park faithful while at the same time annoying the heck out of fans on the road all over the country.

But it almost never happened.

Spring Training 2011 was going along smoothly and everything seemed to be falling into place with the team. The roster was coming into focus and it appeared that the outfield depth chart was basically finalized with Jeremy Reed and Brandon Boggs getting the final two spots.

Then Doug Melvin talked on the phone.

On that phone call, the Brewers general manager traded minor league position player Cutter Dykstra and some cash to the Washington Nationals in exchange for the enigmatic and (by some accounts) apparent bad seed, Morgan.

The deal was made official on March 27, 2011 but the legend that is T-Plush didn’t begin immediately. He was subject to numerous naysayers and doubters who thought his “thuggish” attitude and caricature antics would be an unnecessary distraction and point of contention in the Brewers tight-knit clubhouse.

Not knowing how to react to this group of men to whom Morgan was presented following the trade, he infamously recalled later that he just said “What’s up, f******?” to the group and any possible tension was alleviated.

After all, Morgan said, he decided that if he was going to fit in, he’d have to do it as himself and not as something he wasn’t.

Good call, Mr. Plush.

As for 2012? It appears that things will begin much how they ended.

Morgan won’t start on Opening Day since the St. Louis Cardinals are throwing left-hander Jaime Garcia that day, though we can probably expect a pinch-hitting appearance on Friday should a situation call for one. Morgan should start the final two games of the series against righties Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn though.

Assuming Morgan can stay healthy, and Roenicke sticks to his platooning ways, Morgan still has the chance to post the best numbers of his career in 2012.

The main difference between this year and last, however, is that if he should fall into a Casey-McGehee-like slump, there are other options that can start and would probably perform capably in the role.

Import Nori Aoki is a centerfielder by trade and top prospect Logan Schafer will be staying ready as the starting centerfielder with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds. Both Aoki and Schafer hit left-handed, and can fly around from gap to gap.

And then there’s always the toolsy Gomez who could perhaps finally put it all together at the plate at some point.

But the role of primary centerfielder belongs to Morgan for now. And if 2011 proves to be any indication of what we can expect in 2012, it’ll remain Morgan’s job during and into another playoff run.

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