When Corey Hart got hurt in Spring Training and Doug Melvin went looking for outfield depth, no one could have imagined it would work out like this.
At the time, we felt we were basically trading Chris Dickerson for Nyjer Morgan as the 3rd/4th outfielder. There were those who were concerned that we were moving on from Brandon Boggs and/or Jeremy Reed. Sadly, we also thought the acquisition might mean the end of Mark Kotsay - if only. At the time, Doug Melvin said the move was a protection in case anything happened to Carlos Gomez and he told Gomez the trade wasn't made to take away Gomez's job.
People's hesitation over Morgan had a lot to do with his poor 2010 - he had a career-worst BA by .040. His slugging was.060 lower and his OPS nearly .100 lower than any other time in his career.
Of course, Morgan hit .455/.500/.727 with an OPS of 1.227 in March and April while Carlos Gomez hit .240/.278/.320 with an OPS of .598. Morgan started getting the larger share of games in June and it went from there.
While Morgan couldn't keep up that pace, he did end with a final line of .304/.357/.421 - that BA was second on the team.
He almost instantly became a fan favorite and, somewhat inexplicably, his appeal ranged from children to grandparents. His (and Tony Plush's) merchandise was the best-selling at Miller Park this season and a game didn't go past where I didn't see someone my parent's age wearing a T. Plush shirsey.
Maybe it was because of the many memorable post-game interviews, but it sure did feel like Morgan had more "big" moments this season than some of the other guys on the team.
There was the June 8 walk-off double that Nyjer didn't realize was a walk-off to beat the Mets 7-6. This was the advent of the crazy Tony Plush dugout interview that we saw throughout the season and gave us the "Ahhhh! Gotta Go!"
You'll remember the July 2 game as the one where the Brewers were down 7-0 to the Twins and came back to win it 8-7 with four runs in the ninth. It was a particularly big game for Morgan, who was 3-for-5 with 3 runs and 4 RBI, including a two-out, ninth inning, game-tying two-run double.
There was the ninth-inning triple on July 8 that sparked the rally to beat the Reds 8-7. And a two-run bunt single in Colorado on July 16 that scored two runs in the fifth and helped bust a slump for the team.
And the most memorable of all, 10th-inning, series-clinching, walk-off single in Game 5 of the NLDS. Despite hitting just .179 in the post-season, Morgan managed to make an indelible mark - much like he did the rest of the year.
Aside from the on-field sparks, Morgan was clearly a firework in the clubhouse. He became the poster-child for Beast Mode. After the September 23 division-clinch, he walked around in a SWAT helmet. On August 2, MLB Network's Intentional Talk did an interview with Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder where Morgan stood in the background and provided their security. Whether it's Tony Plush, Antonio Picante, Tony Gumbel or Tony Hush, he provided the best post-game interviews we've ever seen in Milwaukee.
Best Game: While other games might have been statistically better, Morgan had no bigger game that NLDS Game 5. In 20 years, its possible no one will talk about "Throwing up the T" or Beast Mode, but few of us will ever forget the Brewers winning their first post-season series since 1982 and Morgan was the one that delivered it.
Here's the video of that walk-off moment:
Contract details: Morgan had a one-year $450,000 contract for 2011 and this off-season is the first year he is arbitration eligible. The Brewers will likely offer him arbitration, which he will be required to accept. The league will set a hearing date and he and the team will have until that date to come to a contract agreement. With Doug Melvin's history of signing arbitration-eligible players, it seems doubtful he will make it to his hearing, but you never know.