Werth and Morgan both soon wound up in the Nationals’ clubhouse, where the confrontation continued and escalated, to the point where punches were about to be thrown, until teammates stepped between them and separated them.
A few weeks later, Morgan was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for a fringe prospect. And what has happened since then is almost unfathomable to anyone in Washington who saw Morgan brood and brawl his way to a career-worst season in 2010: Morgan has become a cult hero in Milwaukee, a unifying force in the Brewers’ clubhouse and one of the stars of the 2011 postseason.
Although Morgan, 31, has just three hits in 20 at-bats this postseason (.150) — as the Brewers prepare to face the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Wednesday night — he will forever be remembered in Milwaukee for the third of those hits, a 10th-inning, series-clinching, walk-off single in Game 5 of the Division Series that vanquished the Arizona Diamondbacks and put the Brewers one step away from the franchise’s first World Series appearance in 29 years.
From the roguish charm of his Tony Plush alter-ego, to his central role in the Brewers’ “Beast Mode” shtick, to his solid offensive production (a .304 batting average and .778 OPS as a platoon center fielder and No. 2 hitter), Morgan, after only 61
2 months with the team, is as beloved in Milwaukee, by some regards (including applause volume and jersey sales), as MVP candidates Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.
“I know from talking to him in spring training that he wanted to end the perception of him in D.C.,” said Brewers third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr., who was with the Nationals for the first half of the 2011 season before being traded to Milwaukee in July. “He’s worked hard at that. Here in Milwaukee, he’s really worked to narrow that competitive edge he has. He’s had an incredible year. He’s really kind of grown up. He’s a great person. He really is.”
Morgan confirmed the details of the March confrontation with Werth, but otherwise declined to comment on it. He did, though, express a feeling of redemption through their respective batting averages: “Even in my worst year [in 2010], I hit .253,” Morgan said. “What did [Werth] hit?” The answer to that rhetorical question, of course, is that Werth hit .232 in 2011.
Morgan acknowledged the notion that his act — equal parts play-to-the-crowd theatrics, keep-it-loose clowning and in-your-face edginess — plays better on a winning team than on a losing one. On a winning team, you’re a charming eccentric. On a losing team, you’re an obnoxious loudmouth. But there is little question Morgan’s personality turned dark at times in Washington in 2010, as he dealt with some personal issues — which he has referenced in the past, but has never fully explained — as well as a steep decline in production from his dazzling 2009 season.