It began with a trade. A trade that looked like nothing but one under-performing player for another. The Nationals wanted more infield depth and the Mariners needed more outfield depth and so the Michael Morse for Ryan Langerhans trade happened. No one knew what would happen next.
Morse spent much of his time in Seattle on the DL, and that didn’t change
when he got to Washington, but what did change was he got a chance to play when
healthy. In 2009 Michael Morse debuted as a National towards the end of the
season and showed some power but not much plate discipline or contact skills
with a .250/.291/.481 batting line in 55 plate appearances. It was a small
sampling, but the Nationals at that time were so bereft of talent it
was enough to earn Morse an invite to Spring Training in 2010 where he won a
job platooning with Willie Harris in the Nats outfield.
Unfortunately for Morse the injury bug
soon reared its ugly head and he hit the DL with an ankle injury. Once he
returned from the DL Morse was a monster. From May 16 to the end of the season
Morse hit .292/.355/.527 becoming the Nats permanent right fielder
and replacing Josh Willingham full time in left when he was lost for the season
in August. Jim Riggleman and others in the Nationals organization questioned if
Morse should be a starter because they thought he would struggle against tough
right handed pitching, but in 2010 he hit right handers (.287/.340/.466) well
and left handers (.295/.374/.625) spectacular.
Heading into the 2011 off-season there
was no question the Morse could hit. The big question was where would he play,
and when the Nationals lost Adam Dunn to the White Sox that opened up
first base for Morse. There was some reluctance on the Nationals part to make
it his permanent home as Morse had not played the position much in his career.
Instead of handing the job to Morse the Nationals went out and signed Adam
LaRoche, but the trade of Josh Willingham to the A’s gave Morse a home in left
April of 2011 was not kind to Michael
Morse as he hit just .211/.253/.268. Morse’s bad April got lost in the shuffle
a bit as Ryan Zimmerman got injured on April 9th in New York and the big free
agent signings of Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche were both under-performing. The
issue with Adam LaRoche had more to do with a torn labrum he was attempting to
play through than anything else and on May 21 he informed the team he could no
longer play through the injury and was doing more harm than good by continuing
to force himself onto the field.
That was the moment Morse seized the
spotlight. He was put at first base and not only produced, but was arguably the
MVP of the 2011 Nationals. From May 22 on he hit .313/.377/.595. It was an
amazing season on the field, but what made it even better is Michael Morse was
a personality off the field. It all started innocently enough. Pro-athletes had
started to use the phrase, “Beast Mode,” to celebrate their
accomplishments. There is some debate where it started, but most trace its roots
back the Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks. The phrase “Beast
Mode” then became popular enough for the company 22 Fresh to put it on a
t-shirt. T-shirts that happened to be quite popular with Nationals short stop
Ian Desmond, and so when Morse was struggling in April Desmond gifted him one
of these shirts, and when Morse started hitting in May he wore the shirt in a
post-game press conference.
Combine the on-field talent, the fan
friendly personality, and the catch phrase and there were all the makings for a
fan favorite. There was still something missing though. Morse was a great
talent on the field and entertaining off it, but there was one more piece of
the puzzle. Like Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, Michael Morse needed a
song that would announce his presence like none other. Enter the Ah-Ha hit ‘Take
On Me’. It is a catchy song and while few know the exact lyrics they
can approximate them to some degree. Whenever this song would hit a
small band of Nationals fans would continue singing along when the music was
cut and Morse began his at bat.
And then there is the at bat itself.
Aside from the entrance music, and the mammoth homeruns that often were
produced in 2011, Morse also had an interesting at bat ritual. He called it the
samurai cobra snake. It looked like some sort of yoga pose where Morse was
raising his knee and twisting at the hips at the same time. It was an
entertaining sight to behold. He said it was to remind him to use his hips and
it must have worked as Morse generated a lot of power that season in route to
31 homers, and after each homer Morse tapped his helmet while rounding first
and heading to second.
Morse wasn’t simply a good baseball
player, he was a fun character. 2012 should have been a continuation. It should
have answered the question of if 2011 was a career year or a breakout year, but
it didn’t. Morse started the season with a torn lat. The degree of the injury
was unknown at first and many thought it would be a quick turn around, but
Morse found himself unable to throw during a rehab assignment and was shut down
for eight weeks. While Morse was out Adam LaRoche carried the Nationals. In the
50 games Morse missed the Nationals offense average 3.84 runs a game, and after
his return on June 2 4.81. It was a dramatic jump and not all of it can
be attributed to Morse. Harper came up and hit his groove, Jayson
Werth returned later in the season, Ian Desmond had a breakout season, and most
importantly Ryan Zimmerman got his cortisone shot. Still it is hard to deny the
impact that Morse had on the Nationals batting order in 2012.
As much of an impact as Morse had on
the field, he continued to make waves with the fans. The singing of ‘Take On Me’
reached a different level as it was no longer a small band of Nationals fans, but
at times the entire stadium. And when the Nationals were announced as the new
NL East Division champions it was Take On Me that hit over the loud speaker and
Morse that came up to bat. It was also Michael Morse who was involved in one of
the oddest plays of the year. On September 29 in the first inning of a game in
St. Louis Michael Morse hit a ball that appeared to careen off the top of
the wall and back into the field of play. It caused quite a bit of confusion on
the base paths and when the umpires reviewed it and ruled it a homerun it
caused even more confusion. Morse first ran the bases backwards afraid to miss
a single base, and then when that didn’t satisfy the umpires he stepped back in
the batter’s box and took a phantom swing.
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2012 was a great year for Nationals fans. The team won 98
games, the NL East, and featured some of the best personalities in the game.
With Morse on the verge of being traded it is time to thank him for all he has
given the Nationals on the field and the fans off of it. Morse made his mark in
the majors as a National and the role he played in helping to turn around the
Nationals franchise won’t soon be forgotten. Morse had his flaws as a player,
but his strengths far outweigh them, and he is going to be an important piece for
some team this season. And as nice as it would be to keep him on the Nationals
and give him 350 at bats off the bench the Nats stand to benefit more from
trading him to fill their needs in the bullpen and/or the upper minors. Morse
was an entertaining player to watch and an entertaining personality to follow.
And there is really only one way to properly say goodbye to Michael Morse.