The legend of Tony Plush

Everyone wants a piece of Tony Plush/Nyjer Morgan. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

“AHHHHHHHHHHH, gotta go!”

And off into the night went baseball’s newest phenomenon. One big, game-winning hit in the bottom of the 10th, and four dropped f-bombs later, America was introduced to a character the city of Milwaukee has grown to love for the past year.

Nyjer Morgan is a heck of a baseball player. Tony Gumbel is a professional, well-spoken gentleman. Tony Tombstone is a western city slicker. And Tony Plush is, well, Tony Plush is indescribable.

Of course, all four are the same man. A 31-year-old man who loves to play baseball. Maybe more than anyone who has ever played the game.

Baseball wasn’t his first love, however. Back in 1988, a then eight-year-old kid from the Bay Area was watching the Winter Olympics on TV. He instantly became hooked on hockey and, with his dad’s permission, went out to pursue a dream. He played for a couple of junior hockey leagues, and at the age of 19, became the first African-American to play for the Western Hockey League. He scored two goals his first game, but wound up playing only six more before the team released him. The kid could skate, but he didn’t have a real understanding of the game. It’s a humbling experience when you have to accept the fact that you just aren’t good enough to compete at the highest level.

Morgan has a different outlook on life than most. Always smiling, always positive, he took the whole thing in stride and went to his back up plan. He had been playing baseball in the offseason of his hockey leagues and decided to take on the sport full time. He enrolled at Walla Walla Community College in 2001 and was the 973rd player drafted in the 33rd round of the 2002 amateur draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The same draft that current teammates Zack Greinke and Prince Fielder went sixth and seventh respectively.

After spending five years in the minors, he was brought up by the Pirates in 2007 and was a platoon outfielder for 2 ½ years before being traded to the Washington Nationals on June 30, 2009. During his 49 games with the Nationals that season, he hit .351 with 24 stolen bases and earned himself the starting center fielder spot entering the 2010 season. But a disappointing season — in which he hit just .253 with 34 stolen bases, including a league high 17 times caught stealing, coupled with a riff with management — had Morgan falling quickly out of favor in Washington. The feeling was mutual as Morgan had this to say about his team:

“I’m a realist. I’m not going to sit here and be like, ‘Oh, no. I want to finish my career here.’ I just think this place isn’t for me. I’m not saying there are bad people here. It’s just that, maybe, I’m not a fit here anymore. It’s time to move on.”

The Nationals traded him to the Brewers on March 27 of this year for a minor leaguer and cash. At the time, most of Milwaukee didn’t even notice the trade, or care, for that matter. After all, the Brewers made a huge splash in the off season by acquiring former Cy Young winner Greinke from the Royals, and emerging star pitcher Shaun Marcum from the Blue Jays. Most had never even heard Morgan. Those who did, just saw him as a bench guy with little impact on their high-powered offense.

Sometimes, in baseball, even a very good team needs a spark plug. A guy who keeps everyone loose. A guy who asks the question, “What should your boy do?” on his Twitter account, gets a reply to go fly a kite, then goes out and flies a kite on the lakefront, and posts a picture of it for proof. A guy so loopy that he delivers a game winning hit, then during the post game interview, says he didn’t even know his team was losing, or that there were two out. A guy with more alter egos than Andy Kaufmann.

And a guy who comes through in the clutch, sending his team to their first LCS since 1982 while also sending 44,028 fans into a frenzy.

The Brewers now face the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS starting Sunday for a shot at playing in the World Series. Morgan has a checkered history with the Cards, including calling out Albert Pujols’ toughness on his Twitter account:

“Where still n 1st and I hope those crying birds injoy watching tha Crew in tha Playoffs!!! Aaaaahhhhh!!! … Alberta couldn’t see Plush if she had her gloves on!!! Wat was she thinking running afta Plush!!! She never been n tha ring!!! … Anywayz!!! On our way back 2 tha Brew City 2 welcome them Phillys!!! Itz gonna be an electric series … Ray Charles to the haters! Ahhhhhhh”

Of course that was Tony Plush talking, not Nyjer Morgan.

The bashing was a result of a confrontation on September 8 with Cardinals starting pitcher Chris Carpenter. After Carpenter struck out Morgan in the ninth inning, Morgan tossed a wad of chewing tobacco at the former Cy Young winner. Pujols stepped in to protect his teammate and both benches emptied. Both teams were in a heated divisional race that saw the first place Brewers 10 game lead over the Cardinals get cut down to 3 with a week to go.

That was Tony Plush, too.

The series should be intense, and Morgan has vowed to be on his best behavior saying, “It’s just going to be solid baseball, two teams going after it and trying to win the World Series. It’s going to be a hard-fought series. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”

But he also added, “It’s good for baseball, all the stuff that’s going on. People are going to view the game a little more. Thanks to ‘Plush,’ the TV ratings are going to go up a little higher.”

As long as the Brewers are winning, and T-Clutch keeps coming up with big hits, his legend will continue to grow in Milwaukee. If they don’t, and he doesn’t, then his act will grow tiresome.

For now, though, Tony Plush, Tony Gumbel, Tony Tombstone, and especially Nyjer Morgan, have all found their fit.

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