Nyjer Morgan entered the 2010 season as the darling of the Washington Nationals. After coming over from Pittsburgh in a trade which sent maligned outfielder Lastings Milledge out of Washington, the 28-year-old, seemingly out of nowhere, had one of the best seasons in baseball.
Morgan finished with .307/.369/.388 with 42 stolen bases and a wOBA of .340. Combined with his dominant outfield play (27.6 UZR) and steady run scoring ability, the 28-year-old posted a very good 4.9 WAR. He endeared himself to D.C., first as a stellar outfielder who could get it done with the bat, and then as a quirky guy who often preferred you refer to him by his gentleman name, Tony Plush.
In early 2010 his supreme talent began to look like a flash in the pan though, as the outfielder's batting average fell to .257/.317/.318 with a wOBA of .288 and a UZR of -0.8. Things had turned from fun to stressful for Nyjer, and perhaps as a result his quirkiness began to turn from cute into dangerous. The problems of the season came to a head last night for Nyjer when the outfielder charged the mound after pitcher Chris Volstad threw behind him in the sixth inning. Morgan sprinted to the mound, leaped, and punched the six foot eight Volstad in the face. A benches clearing brawl ensued.
As Morgan's teammates dragged him off the field, he gestured to the Marlins fan base, as if to show them that the Nyjer show was still in town, and they were all paying customers. It was embarrassing, and it was pathetic. What's worse is that Wednesday's brawl was just the cap of a series of events that had turned Morgan from a potential all-star outfielder to a major clubhouse distraction.
First there was the incident where he struck a Phillies fan in the face with a ball after the inning, which he is now appealing a suspension for. Next he received heat both from the Cardinals and his own manager after he unnecessarily ran over Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson. The night before the fight Morgan barreled over a Marlins catcher seemingly unecessarily, forcing him out for the season. He was seen during the next inning swearing at Marlins fans. Of course these incidents were ultimately what lead to the Marlins throwing at Nyjer twice in Wednesday's game. He is quickly making himself one of the most hated men in the game.
This season has slowly turned from one based around the rebuilding of a struggling franchise into a show about individuals. Apparently, Nyjer wants to make sure the show is all about him.
There are players in baseball who tend to rub others the wrong way but are still productive for their team. "Us versus them" type players who get their team to rally around their agressiveness. Brandon Phillips is a great example of one of these players, or Dustin Pedroia. However Nyjer has crossed the line from an "Us versus them" type player into a "me versus the world," type player...and as a result, no one is behind him.
This list of incidents over the past several weeks is embarrassing. Embarrassing to the Nationals organization and to their fan base alike. It's embarrassing to see a player representing your city by wearing your jersey, make an ass of himself in front of major league baseball and the country. Haven't the Nationals had enough embarrassment in the past few years? Haven't we suffered through Manny Acta, Jim Bowden, Elijah Dukes, Alfonso Soriano, and Jose Guillen?
This franchise is trying to turn itself around from the inside out. They can't do it with gaping distractions like Nyjer on the field. The team had already made steps to replace him at years end due to his poor on the field performance, but I think it's time to cut things short for the center fielder. He has taken the last several weeks hostage for the Nationals, it's time that we start to look in another direction.