From production to conduct, Morgan is a concern for Nats
Nyjer Morgan began this season as the Washington Nationals' center fielder of the future, their offensive green flag, their beloved clubhouse cut-up. With one month remaining, he has become something else - a snarling player in trouble with the league, a leadoff hitter who reaches base infrequently enough to be dropped to the bottom of the order, perhaps baseball's newest villain.
His transformation, highlighted by a week packed with controversy, established over a full season of regression in performance, has altered his reputation across baseball and forced the Nationals to face a question they never assumed they would need to consider: Will Morgan remain part of their future plans?
At the moment, Morgan must wait for the league to hand down punishment for his role in Wednesday's benches-emptying fracas with the Florida Marlins. Major League Baseball reviewed the brawl Thursday and will hand out any suspensions, which are likely, on Friday, according to a league official. The league office had extra time for the process, which includes reviewing video and speaking with the game's umpiring crew, because both teams had an off day Thursday.
The brawl capped an eventful, erratic week for Morgan, who ignited the brawl after Marlins starter Chris Volstad threw behind him two innings after drilling him with a pitch. Morgan is currently appealing a seven-game suspension - which the league announced and informed a stunned Morgan of Aug. 25 - for what a league official labeled an "ongoing dialogue" with a fan in Philadelphia that preceded Morgan hitting another fan with a ball.
In handing out any potential punishment for Wednesday night's ruckus, the league will treat the incident in Philadelphia and Morgan's role in the brawl as "separate incidents," a league official said.
The league considers a player's or manager's past when doling out suspensions. But because Morgan was not suspended for bumping into Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson last Saturday, the league is unlikely to hold that play against Morgan in their upcoming ruling, either. Before the league issued his recent suspension, Morgan had never been disciplined by the league.
Morgan's dearth of controversy prior to this season has made some of his recent behavior all the more puzzling. The joy Morgan played with last year has been overrun by defiance, if not anger. A video surfaced Tuesday of Morgan yelling obscenities, perhaps at a Marlins fan, while in the outfield. After he scored Wednesday night, he hollered at one heckler behind home plate. Morgan still flashes the charisma that made him an instant fan favorite in Washington, but he has worn a scowl more often than a smile this year.
Morgan's strange week - which also included a demotion to eighth in the batting order Saturday, a one-game benching Sunday and a public disagreement with Manager Jim Riggleman about it the next day - has tarnished his reputation among some inside baseball. Morgan is known for his aggressive play, but many believe he has crossed over into recklessness.
"I cannot stand when a guy shows somebody up," Marlins third baseman Wes Helms said Wednesday night. "There's no place in baseball for that. You're going to get what's coming to you if you do that. I can't really say anything good about a guy that doesn't play the game the right way and doesn't play for the integrity of the game."
Teammates and Riggleman defend Morgan as a player who plays with maximum effort, but one who must understand the game better. They believe his play Saturday night - when he ran into catcher Anderson despite the lack of a throw home, missed home plate and cost the Nationals a run - was unintelligent and inexcusable. They, unlike the Marlins, were fine with him stealing two bases down 11 runs in the fourth inning Wednesday night.
"People are going to have their own opinions," Morgan said Wednesday night. "I know what kind of player I am. . . . I'm not going to go out there and take anything for granted. I'm going to show that I'm a hard-nosed ballplayer and that's the way it is."
Riggleman - like the league disciplinary officials - did not lump together the events of Morgan's bizarre week. He faulted Morgan only for bumping into Anderson, and even then said the play was out of character. "Each situation is unique," Riggleman said. "They're separate."