Tony Plush: The NHL washout who became a Major League legend

Bryan Zarpentine
Bryan Zarpentine
Bryan Zarpentine
Contributor

Baseball has seen its fair share of oddballs with distinct personalities and quirks. But in the game’s history, there’s only Nyjer Morgan. Despite plenty of moments of on-field brilliance as a player, Morgan is best remembered for his outrageous antics, controversial choices, and downright wacky on-camera interviews. But no matter if you liked him or hated him, Morgan’s passion for the game could never be questioned.

Morgan can best be described as a wild and crazy kid. He was an outstanding athlete who had a fairly unspectacular career across parts of seven major league seasons. But he played baseball with passion and fire. There was never any doubting that Morgan took the field wanting to win and prove he was the best. That kind of attitude and intensity is definitely worth remembering fondly.

After an unsuccessful attempt to make it as a professional hockey player, Morgan turned his attention to baseball. As a 33rd round draft pick, just reaching the big leagues is quite the accomplishment all by itself. Upon reaching the majors in 2007 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he quickly gained a reputation as an outstanding defensive outfielder and a speed demon on the base paths.

But over the course of his career, Morgan gained recognition for being more than just a speedy outfielder. The passion and intensity with which he played the game manifest in different ways. Some of it was positive. For instance, he had an alter ego named Tony Plush, who Morgan called his “gentleman’s name.” He also had his fair share of big hits and key plays, including a walk-off hit to send the Brewers to the NLCS in 2011.

“We’ve got to get this guy a reality show. He needs a camera following him at all times. Unpredictable. The guy’s a legend. It’s awesome.”

Ryan Bruan

However, on a number of occasions, his internal fire got him into trouble. Morgan was once suspended for throwing a ball at a fan following after exchanging words with that fan. In another ugly incident, he shoved a fan he thought interfered with him trying to catch a foul ball.

Morgan was known stealing bases in lopsided games, never willing to show mercy or admit defeat. He was also willing to charge the mound, inciting benches-clearing brawls on a couple of occasions when pitchers threw at him or behind him.

In one infamous incident, Morgan threw his glove to the ground in a tantrum after missing a catch in center field, believing the ball had hit his glove and gone over the wall. However, the ball had actually remained in play, unbeknownst to him. While Morgan was busy admonishing himself in center field, the batter, Adam Jones, circled the bases for an inside-the-park home run.

But it’s important to remember that everything Morgan did on the baseball field, good, bad, or otherwise, he did because he wanted to win. When his team won, he wanted to rub it in so that everyone knew about it. When his team lost, Morgan never hid how much it upset him.

“Shoot, I know I ain’t crazy. I’m just having fun. I enjoy being myself. I know the fans enjoy it. Some people don’t enjoy it, but I could care less.”

Nyjer Morgan

Yes, his passion and excitement for the game got him into trouble and led to a couple suspensions. But that passion and fire for playing the game of baseball should never be criticized or extinguished. It’s also why a player like Morgan, despite what on paper looks like a mediocre career, should always be remembered fondly.

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