Every baseball team has an identity – while every team is focused on winning, the way in which they approach their goal of winning the World Series varies by organization. Whether a team is all business, a team that has fun, or a power team that’s sole mission is to gather as many big-name stars as possible, there is a label that every team owns and runs with.
Last season, the Indians seemed to be attempting themselves as the “fun” team, the team with more of a personality than a label. The addition of the bold persona of Nick Swisher made the Tribe relevant on the personality front, and their antics such as the Rally Chicken in the outfield further the team’s ability to prove themselves as a team of characters who had fun, regardless of their record. While the antics may not always have been appreciated, the Indians certainly became the team that knew how to have a good time on the field and in the clubhouse.
This season, the Indians added another major personality to their roster with the addition of Nyjer Morgan. Actually, it seems that the Indians added two personalities – Morgan and his alter ego, Tony Plush.
So this begs the question – who is Nyjer Morgan, really? Is he two different people? Is he the player on the field? Or is he the ridiculous character portrayed in Tony Plush? Or – shockingly – is he both?
Morgan (or Plush? This is where writing this piece gets tricky) created his alter ego while playing with the Milwaukee Brewers and uses Plush as his “name on the field.” Plush serves as the handle of Morgan’s Twitter account (@TheRealTPlush) and has become a favorite figure for fans of his throughout his career. When the Indians acquired Morgan and chose to use him on the Major League roster, Terry Francona joked that there was only room on the team for Morgan – Plush had not earned his spot.
However, Plush has emerged a few times in recent games, making his mark on the Indians organization and leaving fans with quotable moments and enjoyable interviews post-game. The ridiculous nature of Morgan’s interactions with the media, both print journalists and radio broadcasters alike, has provided fans with a source of excitement and laughter following games and adds a level of humor to post-game interviews and broadcasts. So, does having a strong personality like Morgan’s add something to the team?
I’m not here to argue how teams should or should not conduct themselves off the field; instead, I just want to look at the role that players such as Morgan and Swisher play on a team.
Yes, it may appear goofy and strange that Morgan is 33 years old and still maintains such an active alter ego in Plush. However, it can be argued that Morgan is healthy in his acceptance and use of Plush, as he attempts to keep the more ridiculous behaviors of Plush under wraps as much as possible in a professional setting. He has acknowledged a few times this year that Plush has almost “gotten out” during impressive catches and the subsequent post-game discussion, but has managed to keep himself in check when he deems it inappropriate to have Plush engage with fans or the media. Plush is the character that comes out when Morgan performs well – and Morgan is the one doing all the work.
When Morgan does let Plush free, he does so in bursts – the now well-known “Woo woo!” interview Morgan had with Tom Hamilton after he hit his first home run of the season during Sunday’s game paints Morgan as a player who gets easily excited when something goes well for him. At the surface, Morgan doesn’t seem so strange – just excitable. Morgan and Plush are not so much two different people, but rather one in the same.
Morgan’s interview on Sunday is something that gets people talking. It brings attention to the good things that happen to the team. Morgan isn’t conducting interviews in which he claims he would like his former teams to go 0-162 during the season, drawing negative attention to his current organization and framing him as a bitter or resentful player. Instead, Morgan gives off the impression of a happy and grateful member of the team.
The same can be said for Swisher. Last year, Swisher was one of the biggest new additions to the Tribe roster. He brought with him not only the fame and notoriety that came with his name, but the energy of being an “Ohio guy” coming back to his roots. Furthermore, with the addition of Francona as manager of the team, the Indians became a team of players and staff who wanted to be there, and who made it blatantly obvious how much they loved their team, their staff, and the good things that were happening to them.
Morgan fits in well with the exuberance shown by Swisher and Francona. Morgan also has the performance level to back up his actions, as he is hitting .341 in 14 games, giving fans a further reason to get behind his personality and demeanor. And although Swisher is having a rough year (hitting .204 in 38 games), at least he’s given fans Brohio to look forward to every game.
That’s the thing about these players who form identities (or multiple identities) for themselves – they do it for the fans. Swisher has created a whole community for fans to share in his love of Ohio. Morgan has created Tony Plush to give fans a character to latch onto and laugh with. Who knows what else we’re in for? Maybe eventually, we’ll have a Plush Boyz section, complete with Morgan plush toys or bobbleheads with their hands displaying the famous “T” that has become Morgan’s trademark. And instead of “O-H,” we’ll be yelling, “WOO WOO!”
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