Michael Morse wasn’t the sharpest pencil in the box in the Washington Nationals clubhouse when he was here. Nice guy, good for some laughs, but if the clubhouse ever had to show up for a collective IQ test, let’s just say it would be a good time for Morse to take one of his many trips to the disabled list.
Morse has resurfaced loudly and proudly in San Francisco after disappearing following his last season in Washington in 2012. After being traded to Seattle, Morse struggled with injuries last year in Seattle and Baltimore and batted just .215 in 88 games with 13 home runs and 27 RBI.
He has reunited with his old teammates this week as an opponent with the San Francisco Giants, where his career has been resurrected with 15 home runs, 57 RBI and a .275 average.
Morse hasn’t gotten any smarter, though. He told USA Today that he still has issues with the Nationals’ decision two years ago to shut Stephen Strasburg down as part of their Tommy John surgery recovery plan — a decision that looks better in light of the Atlanta Braves sending two of their pitchers back for second surgeries.
“You look back, and it just shows that this game, you never know what can happen,” Morse said. “Who knows what could have happened if Stras would have pitched? Or if we did something different? It just shows that you can be on top one year, and the next year not be in the playoffs or anything. You just got to play to win that day. And you’ve got to play to win that year.”
This from a guy who has spent time on the disabled list nearly every season he has been in baseball.
Morse was a fan favorite in Washington, because sometimes dumb can be cute and fun. His connection with fans here manifested itself in his signature song, “Take On Me,” which became the team’s seventh-inning stretch song. The team continued to play it even after Morse was gone — until recently, when it stopped.
Morse told the Washington Post on this visit to San Francisco that it’s a connection he’ll always have with Washington fans. But he also said the connection with Giants fans is better.
“I still got it here,” he said. “It’s incredible … it’s something I’ll always have with the people of D.C. But you know? It’s to another level here. It’s a whole other level.”
A smart man might have realized that was an insult wrapped in a compliment.
Look, Morse earned the love of Nationals fans while he was here. He came out of nowhere, a journeyman player in an obscure 2009 deal with the Seattle Mariners for another journeyman, Ryan Langerhans, and turned into a slugging star. In four years in Washington, Morse hit 67 home runs and drove in 208 runs in 378 games, including his standout 2011 year, when he hit 31 home runs and drove in 95 runs while batting .303.
But he was a defensive liability, and there was no place for him moving forward in Washington. Morse’s idea of running down a ball in the outfield was waiting until it stopped rolling. When you have a starting rotation like the Nationals’, you don’t want to compromise it with bad defense.
Washington traded for Denard Span to shore up the defense in center field, and he has done just that. That meant moving Bryce Harper to left field, and, with Adam LaRoche at first base, there was no position for Morse.
You see where he is playing in San Francisco? First base, primarily.
Yet there are still Nationals fans that believe that Morse is the missing piece of Washington’s championship puzzle — which is puzzling, considering his dismal performance last season.
Washington fans should be singing the praises of general manager Mike Rizzo, who first acquired Morse for nothing, and then traded an often-injured American League designated hitter type of player for Blake Treinen — Washington’s newest hot rotation fill-in prospect; A.J. Cole, the organization’s number two pitching prospect, and Ian Krol, a reliever who was part of the deal that brought Doug Fister to Washington.
Michael Morse should be celebrated by Nationals fans — for what he brought to Washington with his departure.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com