Tuesday, March 20, 2012

DAHOF Top 100 -- #16 Morgan Ensberg

As is the case with several of my "favorite 100 players" I first met Morgan Ensberg when he played for my local minor league team, the Round Rock Express. Morgan was the first Express position player to land a regular major league job. He was not a highly regarded prospect after two minor league seasons (182 games) and a .236 batting average. At that time, Morgan was best known as one of the Astros minor league players assaulted and robbed in their hotel by two gunmen at spring training in March.

That 2000 season, after facing death, Morgan Ensberg came alive. He batted .300 with 28 homers and 90 RBIs leading his team to the Texas League title. In an area long starved of professional baseball, he and his teammates were adored and returned that affection to the fans all summer long. As the team celebrated their championship at the Dell Diamond, someone grabbed and pulled him toward home plate. The PA announcer hushed the crowd then and revealed that both Ensberg and teammate Keith Ginter were 'called up' by the Astros. That night I walked to my car in the season ticket parking lot with Astros owner Drayton McLean. He smiled and told me that was one of the most enjoyable baseball experiences he had ever had.

Ensberg went from walk–on to All American at USC. In 1998 he was the MVP of the last Trojan team to win College World Series. In the championship game, he stole home in the top of the 7th, in one of the most memorable plays in CWS history. He is the only player in USC history to have 20 HRs and 20 SBs in a season. He left USC at the #3 spot in career home runs behind Geoff Jenkins and Mark McGwire. He can be found among the top-10 in 15 offensive categories in USC’s record book

After big league cameo appearances in 2000 & 2002, Morgan became the Astros’ full-time third baseman in 2003, hitting .291 with 25 homers and 60 RBIs.

His best season in the majors was 2005 when he helped drive the Astros to their only World Series appearance and finished fourth in the NL MVP voting. He posted career-highs with 149 hits, 86 runs, 30 doubles, 36 home runs and 101 RBI over 150 games.. In July, he was added to the NL All-Star team at the last minute, replacing the injured Scott Rolen. He also took home the Silver Slugger award as the best offensive 3B in the league.

Things started going downhill in 2006 after diving for a bunt and hurting his rotator cuff. He could barely lift his right arm after that, and he developed biceps tendinitis, but he played through it. His production plummeted and he was traded to San Diego in 2007, where he homered twice in his Padres debut. But the end of his playing career was near, playing his last 28 games in the majors with the 2008 Yankees.

After he left the game, Morgan has started a baseball focused blog and has worked in broadcasting and is a coach at Division II power UC=San Diego.


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