Following an 8-2 loss to Kansas City last night, the Cleveland Indians are 9-11 on the year and seem lethargic to most observers. The reasons for this are multifaceted. Some nights, poor pitching is the cause of the malaise. On nights when they get a solid start they can’t score any runs. Because of this duality, there is not one simple fix. However, all is not lost. After last night’s loss the Tribe stands two and a half games out of first in a division devoid of a clear-cut favorite. Of course, something has to help Cleveland get over the hump. That something, in the eyes of this columnist is Nyjer Morgan.
Now I admit, I may be a little biased in this regard. I am a Morgan fan. I am a devout follower of the True Blue Brew Crew in Milwaukee and Morgan was the catalyst, in my opinion, to a 96 win campaign for the Brewers in 2011. To me, that is why what I just said is not crazy. Sure, Morgan will not hit thirty homeruns or drive in 100 RBI. Sure, he cannot provide a solid seven innings to get you to the back end of the bullpen with the lead. What he can do however is be the proverbial straw that stirs the drink. He does this in a myriad of ways.
On one hand, Morgan is an above average defensive outfielder. His arm is a little weak for Centerfield but he will not hurt a team in one of the corner spots every third day or late in a ball game. In addition, offensively, Morgan knows his limitations and plays to his strengths. He generally does not over swing, will get a runner over, and can even ambush the occasional pitch into the bleachers. More importantly than all this however, is his intangible value to a struggling team.
In early May of 2011 the Brewers were six games under .500. This was a far cry from the expected ninety win plateau that fans and ownership envisioned from a team with two number one starters in Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke and a lineup anchored by Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. Enter Nyjer Morgan AKA Tony Plush.
I can attest that when the Brewers got Morgan from Washington at the end of Spring Training most people did not care. He was a throw away. The twenty-fifth man. More importantly, in most people’s eyes, he was an underachiever who could undermine a promising season with unwarranted antics. This mentality reigned well into the season as he spent time on the DL. Then, in an effort to shake things up, Ron Roenicke put Morgan in the lineup. The rest was history. He got big hits (including the game winning single in game 5 of the NLDS), he made a great catch or two, and he fired up his teammates, fans, and opponents.
As for how he did this, he just had fun and was himself. Apparently, off the field Morgan is pretty shy. To compensate he created an alter ego that provided his team with a much needed swagger. Now of course, opponents did not always like when “T Plush” would rear his bald head. The Cardinals had huge problems with him. But from a fan’s standpoint it was great to have such a polarizing personality on a team in the heat of a pennant race. Of course it could be too much for management. To counter this, Morgan has admittedly tried to calm down some of the more detrimental aspects of his on field personality. With that done, what is left is a player who fans and teammates could not get enough of. He is the player who ran off the field or into second with a smile on his face. The end result for Milwaukee was a team that found itself and overcame early season obstacles to reach its potential.
Sounds like that could be exactly what Cleveland needs.