Gamesmanship, Nyjer Morgan

Big League Chew: Morgan Pulls Out All the Stops (Among Other Things) to Get into Carpenter’s Head

This is what happens when baseball’s premier red-ass butts heads with one of the game’s loosest cannons. As if there wasn’t enough tension built in to St. Louis’ desperate chase of the Brewers in the waning days of the NL Central, Nyjer Morgan threw decorum—and his chew—to the winds Wednesday, shouting down Chris Carpenter as the Cardinals ace tried to finish a complete-game shutout.

After the right-hander struck out Morgan for the first out of the ninth inning, he directed an inflammatory comment toward the plate (at least according to Morgan), to which the hitter replied—and I lean here on my decades of experience reading lips via sports telecasts—“fuck you.” (Watch it here.)

Morgan, it seems, had been swiping at low-hanging fruit throughout the game, trying to rattle a pitcher who’s proved susceptible to such tactics in the past. To Carpenter’s credit, he didn’t cave.

“He was yelling at me at second base,” said the pitcher in an MLB.com report. “He was yelling at me down the line when he hit the double. The whole game he’s screaming and yelling, the whole game. I’m not going to allow it to happen. I don’t know if that’s the way he plays, to try to get guys out of their game or what. But I’ve been around too long to allow that to happen, I can tell you that much.”

As Morgan strode purposefully back to the dugout following his at-bat, he dismissively tossed his wad of chewing tobacco toward the mound. It didn’t come anywhere close to Carpenter, but that wasn’t Morgan’s intention. It was simply as dismissive a message as he could send in that moment.

Albert Pujols responded by charging in from first base, Prince Fielder raced to restrain Morgan, and the benches emptied. (No punches were thrown or shoves exchanged.) Morgan was eventually tossed by the umpires, at which point he could be heard on the telecast saying, “He said it first, he’s got to go, too.”

Were it only that simple. Morgan knows—and was likely trying to exploit—a history with the Cardinals that dates back to August, 2010, when the outfielder—then with Washington—went out of his way to senselessly collide with Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson in a non-play at the plate.

That was followed this spring by an exchange that started when Morgan ran into Pujols in a play at first. Morgan and Carpenter got into a verbal spat during a series at Miller Park earlier this season. The teams also had tension over a tit-for-tat hit-batter exchange involving Pujols and Ryan Braun.

Ultimately, Morgan is either genuinely off-kilter or wildly canny, using the tactic of supreme annoyance to get his opponents off their collective game. (The former was bolstered by his recent run-in with fans in San Francisco. The latter has been ably demonstrated for years by A.J. Pierzynski.)

No matter the answer, it comes down to Nyjer being Nyjer. He said after the game that the confrontation “was over with”—but he wasn’t quite telling the truth.

Not long afterward, Morgan sent out a series of tweets referring to Pujols as “Alberta” and saying “She never been n tha ring.” (See below.)

Ozzie Guillen once described Pierzynski this way: “If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less.”

Through Morgan’s tenures in Pittsburgh and Washington, that appeared to be the case with him, as well. The Brewers, however, seem to love the guy.

He’d be well-advised to keep it that way.

Update: Morgan is headed in the wrong direction. Brewers management is not taking kindly to his act.

– Jason

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Fan interaction

Not Among Friends: The Fine Art of Ignoring Hostile Crowds. Or: Nyjer Morgan, Come on Down!

Forget lefty-on-lefty matchups; there’s one battle a baseball player simply can not win: going nose to nose with any segment of the crowd, particularly on the road. One of the first things a player learns, even in the minors, is to avoid negative engagement at nearly any cost. Bleacher bums like nothing better than turning a minor on-field gesture into a mountain of grief.

This particular lesson continues to evade Nyjer Morgan.

On Friday night in San Francisco, Morgan made a series of running catches in the vast power alleys of AT&T Park to rob the Giants of several extra-base hits. With each grab, the jeering from the center-field bleachers got a little louder. Eventually, Morgan bit.

In the seventh inning, after ranging far to his right to track down a drive by Nate Schierholtz, Morgan ended up bouncing off the wall in left-center. As he jogged back to his position, he spun and made several gestures toward the bleachers widely perceived to be obscene. This served to inspire the crowd, which doubled down on whatever it had been yelling. Morgan spun to face them sporadically through the inning, gesturing all the while (though nothing any more conspicuous than arm waving, chest-thumping and head nodding).

He kept it up all the way to the dugout after the inning, bringing fans in different sections of the ballpark into the action. The act was blatant enough for umpire Joe West to have a word with Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke. (Watch it all here.)

These kinds of interactions can end up one of two ways. The first example is from Jose Canseco, who was greeted by Boston fans during the 1988 American League Championship Series with chants of “STER-oids, STER-oids.” Canseco, like Morgan, didn’t let it go. He pulled up his sleeve and showed his bicep to the crowd. Then he hit three home runs over the course of Oakland’s four-game sweep.

On the other side of the equation is David Wells. He tells the story himself, in his book, Perfect I’m Not. The scene: the bullpen in Cleveland, where Wells is warming up as a member of the Yankees, prior to a start.

“You’re an asshole, Wells! You suck! Fuck you!” they shout, hanging over the bullpen like a bunch of drunken, potbellied baboons wearing acid-washed jeans. Standard stuff, really. I barely even notice . . . until they shift gears. “Hey, Wells! Your mother’s a whore!” they shout from above, lauhing, and at that point I can’t help but shoot them a glare. Bad move. They’ve struck a nerve, and they know it. Now the jackasses take it up a notch, laying out a long, steady, completely obnoxious string of mom-centered insults, none of which I’ll reprint for you here. I’m dying to break a nose.

More dick-heads join the glee club. More insults get thrown, and by the time I’ve finished my warm-ups, I’m astonished to find that a bunch of little kids, just eight or nine years old, are now mimicking the older morons, reshouting every bit of filth the alpha mooks dish out. The “adults” all crack up at the sight. Welcome to Cleveland, ass-wipe capital of the USA.

It really bothers me. I know it shouldn’t., but it does. Insults aimed at me just roll off with no effect. It’s part of the territory. But here, today, with the rifle sights shifting to my mom, I’ve become furious to the point of distraction. Minutes later, hands still balled into tight, homicidal fists, my head still spinning, I sit in the Yankees’ dugout, stewing and staring, barely cracking a smile, even as my teammates are jumping all over a wild Chad Ogea and gifting me with a quick, 3-0, first-inning lead. In just a few moments, I’ll give most of that back.

Taking the mound to my usual chorus of  boos, I’m now raging inside. Sweating, scowling, still looking to fracture a skull, I’m knocked off my game. I’m distracted. My mechanics are off. My delivery sucks, my fastball is up, and I pay for it all through the first. The assholes have won.

In Morgan’s defense, what was first taken to be an indecent gesture was actually a “T” symbol the outfielder made with his arms—something he does regularly to acknowledge his alter-ego, Tony Plush, or T-Plush.

He also flashed devil horns toward the bleachers, which happens to be the hand sign for two outs—which there were once he retired Schierholtz. He then flashed the sign toward the infield. Standard procedure.

“Just fans being fans, and me being an entertainer,” he told the San Jose Mercury News after the game.

Ultimately, Morgan is innocent of luridness and guilty of stupidity. His gestures, innocent though they may have been, were clearly intended to be provocative. Morgan should know better.

But he doesn’t. Last year, remember, Morgan was suspended for eight games and fined $15,000 after he cursed at Marlins fans in Florida, then initiated a fight with Marlins pitcher Chris Volstad. This came on the heels of a seven-game suspension (later waved) after he allegedly threw a ball at a fan in Philadelphia. (Morgan claimed he threw the ball to the fan.)

So never mind the fact that Morgan told MLB.com that he would alter his “T” sign to avoid future misunderstandings, saying that “we don’t want any controversial stories here.” The guy is a loose cannon, and likely always will be.  On Friday, that personality trait guaranteed him that he will not play another grief-free game in San Francisco in the foreseeable future.

Only he can decide whether it was worth it on a personal level, but institutionally it’s clear. The Code says no.

– Jason