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In a recent Sports Illustrated cover story on the Milwaukee Brewers, executive VP and general manager Doug Melvin was quoted as saying this about the new most interesting man in baseball, Nyjer Morgan: "He has brought silliness back to baseball."
Melvin's statement was a compliment. Morgan's silliness -- his postgame stand-up routines, his ubiquitous tweets, a self-created alter ego he calls "Tony Plush" (or "TGumbo") who has made hilarious third-person appearances during the season in on-the-field interviews and on radio shows -- has been cute.
|Nyjer Morgan plays to the fans as well as anyone in baseball. But maybe it's time for a line to be drawn.|
But now, the silliness could be crossing an ocean of ugliness and heading onto the islands of distraction and detriment.
The Brewers are having a season for their ages. Not only have they amassed a comfortable lead in the NL Central (8½ games before Thursday night's four-game-series opener against Philadelphia) with three weeks left to play that virtually guarantees them a spot in the postseason but they also have established an identity and (finally!) generated a following outside the 414 area code.
Ryan Braun is still Ryan Braun. Prince Fielder has totally emerged from his father's shadow. Corey Hart continues to be the most anonymous great outfielder in the game. And Zack Greinke is doing a very good CC Sabathia imitation as the ace of the staff. But Morgan has proved to be Milwaukee's MIP (Most Important Player). Which, in the case of the Brewers, makes him just as valuable as any of those other stars.
The uniqueness of Morgan's character and his ability to energize a team -- and a city -- have been the chronograph of what makes the Brewers tick. But Wednesday night, we might have witnessed something that could turn the fairy tale into an Achewood-like graphic novel with a bad ending.
When Morgan threw his freshly chewed wad of tobacco at -- or, depending whom you ask, in the direction of -- Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter after he struck out (a move that emptied both benches), the silliness went dark. Then, after the game, he posted a tweet that referred to Albert Pujols as "Alberta" and "she." ("Wat was she thinking running afta Plush!!! She never been n tha ring!!!") And the silliness took a whole 'nother turn.
"[Morgan] is having a good year for them, he's a talented guy," Cardinal's manager Tony La Russa told MLB.com. "But he's close to the edge as far as creating problems and trouble. It takes away from the player that he's been for them or wherever he's been with his fuse being so short and actually looking for things to instigate. So I hope he gets a clue."
Now, the question has to be asked: Is Morgan in danger of becoming baseball's Chad Ochocinco? Terrell Owens? An extremely gifted player having an all-star/all-pro type of season who can't separate himself from himself and eventually will be blamed for a team's not winning it all, not reaching its full potential or totally self-destructing?
Has his character and personality become so big that it could become the tail wagging the dog?
We're not there yet. And it might not reach that point in Milwaukee, if you believe people who pay close attention to the team, such as radio host Steve Haywood of "The Game" (ESPN 540AM), who refuses to fall for it.
|The scene Wednesday after Morgan struck out and hurled some words -- not to mention some chewed tobacco -- toward Cardinals' pitcher Chris Carpenter.|
"As one who really sits down and has 'real talk' with Nyjer, I know it could be a slippery slope," Haywood said in an email when asked whether Morgan is possibly getting caught up in his own limelight. "Except for the fact that the guys in the clubhouse like Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks and Ryan Braun are not just All-Stars but are the leaders too and love T Plush. They can tell him to 'chill' and he respects them enough to do so. The manager [Ron Roenicke] also seems to know how to 'manage Morgan' and that alter ego 'TPLUSH!'"
No worries about distractions or Morgan going overboard with antics. No concerns about a demise. As Haywood said, "This clubhouse is sooooo tight they won't let anything or anybody take [away] their focus."
'Cause we've all seen this before. We've seen the power one player can have on young teams on the come-up, those teams that aren't yet used to winning and are just learning how to do it. We've seen team implosions caused by less. Sometimes it doesn't take much.
Morgan has been the best thing that could have happened for the Brewers -- so far. But now, the slope is getting mad slippery. There's a time and a place for everything, but not for anything. At this stage of the season, Morgan has to be very careful not to get carried away with what -- and whom -- he created. The Brewers have too much to lose.
TGumbo. TPlush. If he doesn't get out of his own way soon, his teammates and the rest of Milwaukee might start referring to him as TPain.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.
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