Saturday, April 16, 2011

Did You Hear The One About The Overhyped Player?

If there's one thing we learned last night (aside from heart/hustle/grit) it's that you don't need to start your weak-hitting, left-handed centerfielder against a left-handed starter, a lesson that Jim Riggleman hasn't really learned this year and didn't really learn last year. (Segue warning!)

Nyjer Morgan was on the bench last night and 'respectfully' declined to speak to the media before the game. I can't really imagine how that's done: "Good sir, I do understand the responsibilities with which your employer places upon you, and how that requires you to seek statements from me..." No, prolly nothing like that.

At any rate, Morgan's spent the last few days popping off about how lousy the Nats are, how they railroaded him, and how a guy who's won about 3 games in the major leagues is a better manager than Jim Riggleman (point conceded there).

Nyjer's becoming the ex player Nats fans like to hate... He's not quite in FLop territory, but close.

But here's the thing. I don't blame Nyjer. I blame the team.

The reason most fans feel so strongly about him is because they were so disappointed in him last season. And the reason they were so disappointed in him is that Mike Rizzo and the team's spin machine spent the previous year telling us what an amazing player he is. They marketed Nyjer Freaking Morgan as a key cog to the Nats' renaissance fer crissake! They set the guy up to fail!

So last year's dreadful season was amplified because of how much everyone thought they'd get from him. He didn't just fall from the top of the mountain to the base. He rolled a few feet then fell into the cliff. A few other Nats had seasons just as lousy, but they didn't get the vitriol because they only stumbled into the pit from ground level.

That same sort of effect, truthfully, is one of the reasons Nyjer was viewed as a 'star' that first year. Remember the man he replaced? That stud outfielder now playing in Charlotte? Lastings Milledge had as much business being a major league centerfielder as you or I. His bat wasn't that great. And his glove sucked. Not since the dark days of Preston Wilson -- who always ran like he had just shit his pants -- had the Nats seen such terrible CF defense.

Milledge was at the bottom of the cliff. And when Njyer came, he was like a Golden Sherpa, laughing, dancing, mugging for the camera from the high heights of the peak. We didn't go from average CF to great CF. We went from bottom of the league to the top.

Nyjer got all that credit. But he only deserved half.

This was also the time that Rizzo was working hard to consolidate his image in the media and to the fans. The team thrust him out there as the new non-leather-panted face -- a true man of action. The Nyjer trade looked like an absolute farce because 1) that comparison to Milledge and 2) because Njyer really played out of his mind. Rizzo constantly praised the move, and talked about how key a player Nyjer was -- praising himself in the process. It was in Rizzo's best interest to inflate his value, and puff away he did.

When Njyer broke his hand, missing the last month or so of the season, I wrote that the broken hand would be the best thing for him. He went out on a high, batting .350 or so, before the inevitable regression happened.

I was right, but wrong. It just delayed that regression.

I don't want to play pop psychologist, but I'm going to anyway. I never fell in love with the whole Tony Plus shtick. It reeked too much of someone seeking attention, and it seemed kind of creepy to me. It always struck me as someone on the pathway to bipolarity more than someone genuinely having fun. Regardless of that, it seems that the pressure and expectations of being one of the keys to the franchise's success got to him. He didn't really seem to be able to handle it. And perhaps he started to believe Rizzo's press clippings.

When he started out slow, you could see him working harder (perhaps the wrong phrase, given his rep) to figure out what was wrong. But the harder he tried, the more frustrated he got. This, of course, culminated in a glove-throwing, two-inside-the-park-HR-allowed-in-a-week, damn-he-got-picked-off-again, make-this-season-end-please kind of year. Nothing went right.

And down he tumbled. Down into the valley. Rolling along... til he hit the rim of the cliff... where the sound waves of the loud boos of Nats fans pushed him over the edge, down into Milledgeville.

Obviously, I'm not excusing his effort or what he actually produced.

But he was the product of unreasonable, over-inflated expectations because of what the team said about him, the poor timing of his injury, and how much an improvement he was over a player who had no business playing.

Those are all factors outside his control. And they're every bit as important.

So boo Nyjer if you must. But before you do, think about how much those external factors played a role in 1) how loudly you cheered for him initially and 2) how quickly you turned.

8 Comments:

  • Set up to fail is right. Excellent post. I think that the same could be said for a number of marginal players that the team has oversold.

    PB69

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/16/2011 10:23 AM  

  • This post is what I would have said until the last week of August last season. You can't really tell the Nyjer Morgan story without mentioning Bryan Anderson, Brett Hayes, Chris Volstad, and "shut up fat bitch."

    By Blogger Steven, at 4/16/2011 11:36 AM  

  • Riggleman isn't the worst manager Morgan's had - at least he doesn't put the shift on for EVERY batter regardless of his tendencies.

    By Blogger mockcarr, at 4/16/2011 1:03 PM  

  • Entertaining and well written, but it doesn't matter. I retain the right to be fickle, and to place Nyjer in the Anti-Pantheon. I'd love to see Wilson Ramos throw him out because he overslid 2nd base. Hell, I will go for some magic realism and have Cutter Dykstra be the one who receives the throw.

    By Blogger Positively Half St., at 4/16/2011 4:51 PM  

  • Oh bull-f@cking-sh|t!

    He apparently studied at the Marlon Byrd School for Public Relations.

    A guy can get away with larger-than-life self-aggrandizement if he walks the walk.

    Whether or not Nyjer believed the Rizzo hype, he strutted in here as if he owned the city before he had ever walked away from a fly ball hit his way. It'd be one thing if he had arrived with a work record akin to Willy Mays, but he was so full of himself without the requisite performance that there really wasn't much to root for.

    Who cares what Rizzo said? The proof was right before us on the field and it was damning.

    Take your meds.

    By Blogger Bote Man, at 4/16/2011 10:00 PM  

  • Nyjer is still one of the better leadoff men in his division and is still one of the fastest players in the MLB. I have seen him play in person and let me say that I enjoyed it.

    By Blogger From This Seat.Com, at 4/17/2011 4:21 PM  

  • It's partly my fault too. If the Nats traded for the Donner Party, I'd talk all about their upside.

    By Anonymous ntr Bob Carpenter, at 4/17/2011 10:13 PM  

  • Guy lost me when he breaks his hand sliding head first, the team suggests he try sliding feet first, and continues to slide head first the following season. Nicely written, Chris, but clearly not the sharpest pair of spikes on the field. Hockey mentality, all right. Plays like somebody who's suffered multiple concussions.

    By Anonymous Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me, at 4/17/2011 11:39 PM  

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