Morse gets chance to shine with Nats
Journeyman first baseman enjoying breakout season
WASHINGTON -- First baseman Michael Morse has arguably been the Nationals' MVP this season. Entering Tuesday's action against the Mariners, the 29-year-old Morse leads the team in hitting (.309), and is tied for the team lead in home runs (13) and RBIs (43). He is on pace to drive in 100 runs for the first time in his career.
However, during the spring of 2009, Morse was at a crossroads. He was in his 10th season of professional baseball, languishing in the Mariners organization. Up to that point, Morse had played in 102 big league games.
During Spring Training of that year, Morse was designated for assignment, later agreeing to play for Triple-A Tacoma. It was obvious to Morse that he wasn't in Seattle's future plans. While in Tacoma, Morse called his agent, Peter Pedalino, and told him to start soliciting offers from teams in Japan.
Feeling sorry for himself, Morse then called his stepdad, Stan Crisson, a former wide receiver for Duke University and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League, to seek advice on what to do with his baseball career.
Morse told Crisson his future plans and said that he wanted out of the Mariners organization because he was on Tacoma's bench. Crisson's response was to give Morse some tough love, which upset Morse.
"It's just easy to give up," Crisson told his stepson.
Crisson even went so far to tell Morse that he wasn't good enough to play in the big leagues.
"The things he would say would get under my skin," Morse said about his stepdad's comments. "I would get a little mad."
Morse was so furious that he called his mother and promised her he would get back to the big leagues. Morse then called Pedalino to inform him that he was not going to Japan.
"I told him, 'We are getting back up [to the big leagues].' He was like, 'Let's do it,'" Morse remembered.
Morse would get more playing time with Tacoma and put up solid numbers, hitting .312 with 10 home runs and 52 RBIs.
However, on June 28, Tacoma manager Daren Brown told Morse to come to his office. Morse thought he was going to be promoted to the big leagues because third baseman Adrian Beltre was getting ready to be placed on the disabled list.
Instead, Brown told Morse that he had been traded to the Nationals for outfielder Ryan Langerhans.
"My reaction was, 'Man, a guy gets hurt and I go somewhere else?'" Morse said. "But it was a blessing in disguise."
According to Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, the Mariners were looking for a defensive-oriented outfielder.
"It was a team scouting effort on our part," Rizzo said. "We had seen [Morse] a lot and had a good history on him. We bandied about a bunch of names, but we stuck on him. He wasn't the first guy the Mariners wanted to give up, but we stuck on him and he was the guy we wanted them to trade. They felt they needed Langerhans enough that they gave us a guy they thought could be a good player someday."
Morse turned out to be a great acquisition for the Nationals. He became a valuable bench player in 2009 and '10. By Spring Training of this year, manager Jim Riggleman announced that Morse would be the everyday left fielder.
After getting off to a slow start, Morse found himself on the bench -- until late May, when Adam LaRoche was put on the disabled list because of a serious shoulder injury. Morse took advantage of the situation, and now finds himself as the team's leading hitter -- not to mention being an above-average defensive first baseman.
"It felt good to get that opportunity again, to come out and play every day and knowing you are going to be in the lineup," Morse said. "I just keep telling myself, 'I'm going to out there and I'm going to get three hits. I'm going to drive in runs. I'm better than this pitcher. There is no reason that this guy should get me out.' I think having that mentality is helping me a lot."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.