In Milwaukee, a Fake Personality Turns Into a Real Phenomenon
Nyjer Morgan, a Brewers outfielder, has created an alter ego known as Tony Plush, who amuses fans and teammates alike.
ST. LOUIS — Milwaukee Brewers General Manager Doug Melvin thought he was getting a speedy backup outfielder with a checkered history when he acquired Nyjer Morgan from the Washington Nationals late in spring training. When Morgan arrived, Melvin discovered Morgan had not come alone.
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“I wanted Nyjer Morgan,” Melvin said. “I didn’t know I was getting two people for one. I got Nyjer Morgan and an alter ego to be named later.”
At a moment’s notice, and frequently in range of a television camera, Morgan becomes Tony Plush, a fun-loving personality who creates words and nicknames, much like the Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley.
Also known as T-Plush, Morgan calls the fundamentals of his game like bunting and moving up runners Plushdamentals. Morgan’s teammates often salute T-Plush by forming a timeout signal with their hands.
“It’s a legend, man,” Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun said. “The guy’s brilliant.”
And incredibly popular. A black “T. Plush” Brewers T-shirt is the top-selling item in the Miller Park retail store in Milwaukee, with more than 5,000 sold, said Tyler Barnes, a team vice president.
“We’ve got another 1,000 coming in and we expect to blow through them as well,” Barnes said.
Hundreds of people lined up three hours in advance for a recent Morgan autograph signing at the store; Barnes said Morgan stayed longer than the scheduled hour yet still could not fulfill every request. His Twitter account, @TheRealTPlush, has more than 21,000 followers. (Another account, @Tony_Plush, established by the Brewers fan Jason Albert of St. Paul, has about 7,000 followers.)
It does not hurt that Morgan, who replaced the injured Carlos Gomez as the starting center fielder last month, was batting .321 through Friday, when he went 0 for 1 against Pittsburgh, ending his career-best 12-game hitting streak. Morgan’s recent contributions coincided with a Brewers surge in which they took a four-game lead in the National League Central as they seek their first division title since 1982.
“It’s kind of cool being embraced,” said Morgan, 31, a former junior hockey player originally signed by Pittsburgh as a 33rd-round pick in 2002.
For now, Morgan seems far removed from the player who last year with Washington almost singlehandedly incited a bench-clearing brawl in Florida, one of a series of incidents that led to an eight-game suspension in September and eventually his departure from the Nationals.
“He’s out there having a good time,” Brewers pitcher LaTroy Hawkins said. “Last year and the year before, he had so much negative press. I think it’s kind of cool for us to go along with it. He’s doing what he’s supposed to do now, represent the game in a positive way. He’s been a model citizen. He’s not hurting anybody, so it’s fun.”
Tony Plush is not a new invention. Morgan said he and two buddies from home in San Jose, Calif., created personas for themselves about 10 years ago. One friend was Frankie Sleaze, the other James Dot Dean, and Morgan became Tony Plush. They called themselves the Rat Pack.
“It just happened,” Morgan said while sitting in the Busch Stadium clubhouse before a game against the Cardinals last week. “We were talking about how something was real plush, and I was like: ‘That’s it right there. Why don’t you call me Tony Plush?’ That’s when everything just started coming.”
Morgan says he becomes Tony Plush with the game’s first pitch.
“He’s Mr. Flamboyant,” Morgan said. “When I’m between the lines, it’s like a Jekyll and Hyde. Now I’m Nyj Morgan, the businessman. But when I get onto the field, that’s when I try to make it happen and just try to be Tony Plush and leave it all out on the field, just so the fans and whoever who have never seen me or my teammates can say, ‘Wow, this team can play,’ or ‘That kid Tony Plush, Nyj Morgan, can play, too.’ ”
Postgame interviews feature Plush’s best work, and often end abruptly when he points at the camera, stammers and says, “Got to go” before running off. Plush sometimes steals the show from others. Recently, he disrupted a television interview with Braun and Prince Fielder by acting as their one-man security detail.
“We laughed the whole time,” Fielder said. “That’s why we love him. It’s not fake. It really is his personality. That’s what makes it special. It might not be his real name, but T-Plush is really him. That’s what makes it not corny. Sometimes when guys try to have fun like that, it’s forced. With Nyjer, it’s not forced. It’s him being himself.”
Plush made occasional appearances in Washington, but Morgan was known more for trouble there.