Posts Tagged ‘Paul Molitor’

Vote Twins’ greats to Pepsi Max Dream Team

July 22, 2011 Comments off

Two of them grew up in St. Paul, the other is one of the greatest Twins of all time. All three — Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield and Rod Carew — were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

What more could a Twins fan ask for when building their very own dream team?

Molitor, who went to Cretin-Durham Hall High School as well as the University of Minnesota, played the majority of his career with the Milwaukee Brewers before spending three years with the Toronto Blue Jays and the final three with the Twins.

In his first season with Minnesota, Molitor collected his 3,000th career hit, and he remains a special assistant to the general manager for the Twins.

Winfield, who attended Central High School in St. Paul and the University of Minnesota, split the majority of his career between the San Diego Padres and New York Yankees. Near the end of his career, Winfield spent two seasons with the Twins.

Like Molitor, Winfield also collected his 3,000th career hit with the Twins, three years earlier to the day.

Carew spent the first 12 years of his career in Minnesota, earning American League Rookie of the Year honors in 1967 and winning the 1977 AL MVP Award. Carew picked up his 3,000th hit against the Twins in the final year of his career with the Angels, and was the second Twins player to have his number retired.

All three players could be part of a dream team that could square off against you and 10 of your closest friends as they represent the Twins in a once-in-a-lifetime contest.

From now through Aug. 31, vote up to 25 times a day for your favorite living legends and help create the Pepsi MAX Field of Dreams Team. All-time greats have been nominated at each position, from catcher to reliever. For each ballot cast, you will be entered to win the chance to take on the winning Pepsi MAX Field of Dreams Team with 10 of your friends on your home turf next spring, surrounded by family, fans and media.

Between the three of them, Molitor, Winfield and Carew have 37 All-Star Game appearances, two World Series titles, 10 Silver Slugger awards, an MVP Award and a World Series MVP. In addition to the Twins retiring Carew’s number, he also had his No. 29 retired by the Angels, while Molitor’s No. 4 was retired by the Brewers and Winfield’s No. 31 by the Padres.

Each of the three was a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection, with Carew entering in 1991, Winfield in 2001 and Molitor in ’04.

Carew won seven AL batting titles with the Twins, while also leading the league in hits three times. Molitor also led the league in hits three times and in runs three times as well. Winfield was known more for his power than the other two, finishing with 465 career home runs and 1,833 RBIs, which rank him 31st and 17th, respectively, on the all-time lists.

During his MVP season of 1977, Carew batted .388, which was the highest since Ted Williams hit .406 in ’41 for the Red Sox.

Molitor is one of just four players with at least 3,000 hits, a .300 career batting average, and 500 stolen bases. Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and Eddie Collins are the other three to have accomplished the same feat. Molitor is the only one of the four to also hit 200 career home runs.

Winfield was a two-sport star in college, playing both baseball and basketball for the Gophers. He was the fourth overall pick by the Padres in the 1973 Draft, and also was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks, Utah Stars (ABA) and Minnesota Vikings before choosing baseball.

These three former Twins may not be as fast or as strong as they once were, but fans could have the opportunity to see these three Twins greats play together for the first time.

So, what are you waiting for? Cast your ballots for these legends now, and you could end up playing against them in your own backyard.

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Twins notebook, 6/14

June 14, 2011 Comments off

Morneau tries to hit, placed on disabled list

MINNEAPOLIS — First baseman Justin Morneau is the latest in a long list of Twins to hit the disabled list this season.

Morneau was placed on the 15-day DL with a left wrist strain and will have his wrist immobilized for 10 days, Twins general manager Bill Smith said after Tuesday’s rainout. The move is retroactive to June 10.

“We’re looking at this as a short-term event, but we will put him on the DL,” Smith said. “Rest, and they believe it will come around in that 10 days, plus a few days to get his range of motion back.”

The Twins will make an additional roster move before Wednesday night’s game to replace Morneau on the 25-man roster.

Morneau, who has not played since Thursday to rest his sore left wrist, had the MRI on his wrist looked at by a specialist, Dr. Thomas Varecka, who recommended a cortisone shot. After getting the cortisone shot on Sunday, Morneau hit in the cage on Tuesday and didn’t feel good.

“He came in today, said he felt pretty good, went down to the cage, took about 20 swings, and it wasn’t as good as we had hoped,” Twins head trainer Rick McWane said.

After the session in the cage did not go well, Morneau was sent to see Varecka, and that meeting resulted in the decision to put Morneau on the DL.

Nishioka may rejoin Twins on Wednesday

MINNEAPOLIS — It’s not official yet, but Tsuyoshi Nishioka could be back in a Twins uniform as soon as Wednesday.

Nishioka played nine innings at shortstop on Tuesday in Toledo for Triple-A Rochester, and is scheduled to travel back to the Twins Cities on Wednesday.

“What we want to do is let the doctors and trainers see him,” said Twins general manager Bill Smith. “They haven’t seen him in a long time. He’s been down in Fort Myers for a long time. So we want to let them see him before we do anything further.”

Nishioka went 0-for-4 on Tuesday, and batted .333 in three games with the Red Wings, going 4-for-12 with a double, an RBI and a walk. In four games with Class A Advanced Fort Myers, Nishioka also was 4-for-12, with a double, an RBI, two walks and a stolen base.

Before fracturing his left fibula against the Yankees on April 7 in New York, Nishioka played six games at second base for the Twins. He batted .208/.269/.519 with a double, two RBIs, two walks and a stolen base.

Since going down to Fort Myers, Nishioka has been working on turning double plays at both shortstop and second base, even spending some time with Hall of Famer Paul Molitor.

“Molitor did a lot of work with him,” Gardenhire said. “I talked with Moli today, and he said he actually moved around really good both sides. He’s moving around very well at shortstop, arm strength’s a lot better than Moli saw in Spring Training.”

Gardenhire and the Twins have said they plan to move Nishioka to shortstop when he returns, in part due to the nature of his leg injury. At shortstop, Nishioka will have a better view of the runner coming at him during a double play, rather than facing away from the runner while awaiting the throw as the second baseman.

In addition to working on his play at shortstop, second base and around the bag on double plays, Molitor gave Nishioka some advice on recovering from injuries, having dealt with a few during his career himself.

Molitor said he really didn’t get to see much of Nishioka before the injury, but he does like what has seen during his rehab work in continuing to adjust to the differences between baseball in Japan and the Major Leagues.

“He’s done very, very well,” Molitor said. “How well he’ll do as he comes back from not only a disappointing injury but also acclimating to Major League Baseball, I couldn’t tell you. But I do believe that, in time, he’s going to be a very good player.”

Players became fans when it came to Killebrew

May 26, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — For all the home runs he hit in his career, and the impressive distances they traveled, it was Harmon Killebrew’s personality that left a lasting impact on his friends, family, former teammates and the Twins organization.

They made that clear Thursday night at Target Field, when several current and former Twins shared their memories of the Hall of Fame slugger.

“He was more than a great baseball player,” said Hall of Famer Rod Carew in one of the more touching speeches of the night. “He loved people. And he loved treating them the right way — and respected everyone.”

Carew shared a story, about the nicknames he and Killebrew had for each other.

During his second season with the Twins, Carew was talking one day in the dugout with Killebrew, who told him that he couldn’t call him “Rookie” anymore, so he was going to call him “Junior.” From that day forward, they addressed each other as “Junior” and “Charlie.”

Carew never explained why he called Killebrew by the name “Charlie,” but it gave everyone in attendance a look into their close relationship just the same.

“I tried to model myself after Harmon Killebrew, that’s how much he meant to me,” Carew said. “There will only be one face of this organization, and that’s Harmon Killebrew.”

Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau shared their thoughts, and a video from former Twins Gold Glover Torii Hunter was shown on the video board as well. Each described the way Killebrew helped them change their signatures to make them more legible for fans.

Killebrew’s autograph — which was added to the wall in right at Target Field — was among the best in baseball, and he made it a point to ensure that fans could tell it was his. It was one of many examples of the concern Killebrew had for others, no matter their status in life.

When he reached the podium, Paul Molitor shared a note about his signature as well, in one of the more lighthearted moments of the night.

“Harmon actually liked my autograph,” Molitor said. “Just to get that out of the way.”

Molitor talked about another common topic regarding Killebrew, his nickname.

“Much has been made of the irony of his nickname, Killer, given his tranquil personality,” Molitor said. “But there’s irony in his first name, too, Harmon, or Harm. Because he never did any harm to anyone — except for opposing pitchers.”

Like many Twins fans, Molitor grew up idolizing Killebrew as a child. He recalled the way players would always fight over the No. 3 jersey when he played Little League.

Now a Hall of Famer himself, Molitor eventually became close friends with his idol.

As much as they remembered him for his kindhearted nature, Killebrew’s friends and former teammates were among his biggest fans, too.

And just like any other Twins fan, they loved to see him hit the ball out of the park.

“The thing that set Harmon apart from other home run hitters was the trajectory he hit in his home runs,” said former Twins All-Star pitcher Jim Kaat, who was also a teammate of Killebrew’s. “There were two players in the American League who made you say, ‘Wow’. And that was Mickey Mantle and Harmon Killebrew.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Carving his own niche

February 11, 2011 Comments off

Photo by Steve Paluch

Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, and… Ryan Braun?

While it may seem a bit premature to add Braun to a list with two Hall of Famers, the three do share many similarities. Each was drafted by the Brewers and rose quickly through the team’s farm system. Each, through Braun’s fourth season, was named to the All-Star Game at least three times as a Brewer. In 1982, Yount and Molitor helped lead Milwaukee to its first World Series. Braun brought the Brewers to their next playoff appearance, 26 years later.

Undoubtedly, Braun has a long way to go to reach the level of Yount and Molitor — Hall of Famers and all-time Brewers fans favorites — but it certainly is not too hard to imagine him getting there someday. In just four seasons with the Brewers, Braun has reached a level of personal success and popularity that has not been achieved in Milwaukee since the glory years of Yount, Molitor and Harvey’s Wallbangers in the 1980s.

A quick look at Braun’s accomplishments through the end of 2010 — a down year by his high standards — will show that in just four seasons, Braun has already become one of the best in Brewers history. Let that sink in. Braun, at 27, is already one of the best in franchise history, regardless of how the rest of his career goes. That fact alone assures that if Braun maintains even his 2010 performance level, he could certainly find himself mentioned among the greatest Brewers of all time.

Start with the All-Star selection, an honor Braun even admitted he may not have deserved after the first half of the 2010 season. Whether he did or did not deserve it, Braun was elected to start for the National League for a third straight year. Braun also led all Major League outfielders in voting for the third consecutive season, despite playing in the smallest media market in baseball.

“To me he’s kind of the 2000s version of that trio of great players they had in the eighties, the Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and Jim Gantner trio,” said Brewers reporter Adam McCalvy. “They’re home grown, drafted by the Brewers, came through their system quickly, and then played a long time with the team. Who knows how long Braun will be around, but given his contract, it looks like he’ll be a Brewer for, in today’s game, a really long time.”

Despite a prolonged slump in the middle of the season, Braun rebounded late last season to add some postseason hardware to his trophy case. Braun earned another Silver Slugger Award, his third straight, joining Cecil Cooper as the only player in franchise history to achieve such an accomplishment. Yount is the only other Brewers hitter to win the award three times, which he did over the course of his 20-year career.

Despite hitting a career-low 25 home runs in 2010, Braun also became the first player in Brewers history with 20 or more home runs in each of his first four season. Not bad. Especially considering Braun has more of a gap-to-gap approach than most sluggers.Braun also joined Richie Sexson and Prince Fielder as the only Brewers with 100 or more RBIs in three consecutive seasons, while becoming the second player in club history to post back-to-back 100-RBI, 100-run seasons, another mark previously achieved only by Cooper.

All that, in what was easily his worst statistical season in the Major Leagues.

In 2007, Braun exploded onto the scene in Milwaukee, belting 34 home runs and tallying 97 RBIs, despite not being called up until May and playing just 113 games. Braun also batted a career-best .324 in his rookie season, with a 1.004 OPS. Despite playing less-than-stellar defense at third base, Braun picked up the National League Rookie of the Year award, while even garnering a few votes in the NL MVP race.

By comparison, neither Yount nor Molitor were named rookie of the year in their first seasons with the Brewers, though Molitor did finish second in 1978.

Starting at a white-hot pace that even the best MLB hitters would struggle to maintain, Braun answered with an equally impressive season in 2008. Some struggles were evident, though. While playing in 38 more games than his rookie season, he added only three home runs and nine RBI to his rookie totals, and his batting average went down. But Braun finished third in the NL MVP balloting after helping lead the Brewers to the playoffs. While he’s still just heading into his fifth season in the big leagues, Braun’s numbers put him among the greatest Brewers off all time.

“It’s maybe a stretch because you’re talking about two Hall of Famers with Yount and Molitor, but I kind of think with the way the fans have embraced him, and the way his career has gone so far, there’s some similarities there,” McCalvy said. “The bottom line is that he’s really good, and if you’re looking at comparisons in the history of the team, it’s hard to not go back to those types of players.”

Braun’s career highs in home runs (37) and RBI (114) are equal to or better than those of Yount and Molitor. His 1.004 OPS  in 113 games as a rookie was better than any in the two Hall of Famers’ combined 41 seasons, though Molitor did post a 1.003 in 1987 over 118 games.

If he can maintain the necessary pace to keep his name in the discussion with players like Yount and Molitor, Braun will go down as one of the all-time fan favorites in franchise history as well. His popularity is impossible to miss at Brewers games, as the team store is filled with No. 8 jerseys and t-shirts, while fans and even the kids of some Brewers teammates walk around with ‘Braun’ on their backs.

Of course, if a Brewers fan is not wearing No. 8, there’s a good chance their shirt or jersey has a No. 4 or No. 19 on it.

Ryan Braun, the playmaker

With the numbers he’s put up over the years, you could put together quite the highlight reel featuring Braun and only Braun. In 2010 alone, he had a diving catch in the All-Star Game, climbed the wall to bring one back in September at San Francisco, hit a walk-off single against the Pirates in early July and had a two-homer performance in the home finale against the Marlins, just to name a few.

Braun’s biggest moments to date came in just his second season, however, with the Brewers in the middle of the wild card race. In a must-win situation on September 25, with the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 10th, Braun blasted a walk-off grand slam off the Pirates’ Jesse Chavez. The win kept the Brewers and Mets tied for the wild card lead after New York had enjoyed its own walk-off victory earlier in the day.

Just days later, Braun had what remains to date as the defining moment of his young career.

With two out in the bottom of the eighth, the game tied 1-1, and runner on first, Braun stepped into the kind of moment most players can only dream of. As Chicago reliever Bob Howry delivered a 93-mph fastball toward the inner half of the plate, Braun’s eyes lit up. Howry’s pitch was a mistake, and Braun made him pay for it, blasting a tie-breaking, two-run home run to help the Brewers defeat the Cubs and clinch the wild card for their first playoff birth since 1982.

From the moment the ball jumped off Braun’s bat, it was clear that it was gone. Braun knew it, as did Howry, the 45,299 in attendance, and the thousands watching at home. All the Brewers had to do then was hold on and wait for the Mets to lose two hours later. Once they checked both those items off the list, the Brewers were set to play meaningful baseball games in October for the first time since Ronald Reagan was president.

“It doesn’t get any better than that. It’s difficult to describe,” Braun said afterward. “The grand slam the other night, that was pretty special, but this one was pretty meaningful.”

With those two home runs, and the role he played in leading the Brewers back to the postseason for the first time in 26 years, Braun — in just his first two years — firmly established himself in franchise history.

But does all that, along with his status as a fan favorite under contract for five more seasons, make Braun the face of the Milwaukee Brewers franchise?

“Right now he is,” says Trenni Kusnierek, a reporter for Milwaukee’s 540 ESPN Radio. “They smartly inked him to a really, really cheap — which is kind of terrible when you sign for $40 million — major league deal. He is in Milwaukee. He’s got restaurants here; he’s the guy that’s on all the AirTran billboards… when you think now of the star in the middle of that lineup, you think of Ryan Braun.”

While he came up to the Majors after fellow fan favorite Fielder, the connection between Braun and Brewers fans is unmistakable, and it’s something that’s never quite been the same case as far as Fielder is concerned. With Ben Sheets no longer a part of the organization, Braun has supplanted the former Olympic gold-medal winning ace as the face of the Brewers franchise.

What’s more, with the Brewers as a better team today, it seems Braun is even more popular than Sheets, who played for years on sub-.500 ballclubs in Milwaukee.

Boosted by the Brewers’ success, Braun’s popularity has soared, as he has been emblematic of the Brewers franchise as a whole. Braun’s rapid rise through the ranks and finally to the Major Leagues in May 2007 mirrored the rise of the franchise. Just as Braun impressed in 2007, but did not play a full season, the Brewers led the NL Central for an extended period before eventually coming up just short behind the Cubs.

In 2008, Braun was with the team for a full season, putting together an MVP-caliber performance in leading the Brewers, who finally got over the hump and reached the playoffs again. And don’t forget that home run in September.

“That was one of the greatest hits in Brewers history,” McCalvy said. “It’s right up there with the Easter Sunday home run and Cecil Cooper’s game winner in Game 5 of the 1982 World Series.”

After the thrilling 2008 season, Braun and the Brewers took a step back in 2009, and yet another in 2010.

But with the recent additions of right-handers Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum from Kansas City and Toronto, respectively, Braun and the Brewers fanbase are excited about the potential for the 2011 season. And rightfully so.

“Excited would be a severe understatement,” Braun said following the Brewers’ trade for Greinke. “It just shows the players, the fans, once again the commitment to winning from our ownership and management. It’s really exciting. We just got one of the best players in baseball and I can’t wait to get started.”

Based on all the excitement surrounding Greinke’s arrival in Milwaukee, though, the Brewers left fielder may have some competition for the team’s most popular player. Greinke has certainly given him a run for his money so far in the team store. Of course, Braun’s connection to the fanbase goes well beyond his on-field performance.

Face of the franchise

For most, the cold and snow that come along with a Wisconsin winter provide excellent reasons to head south to warmer climates. In early December this off-season, Braun did just the opposite.

Trading 70-degree weather for temperatures just below freezing, the Los Angeles native spent several days in the Dairy State. Braun was in southeastern Wisconsin to promote Limelite, a new energy drink, while also partaking in the Lake Geneva holiday festivities.

Since signing a seven-year contract extension — one that should keep him in a Brewers uniform through the 2015 season — Braun has established himself as far more than a baseball player. Braun has developed and marketed his own personal brand, which includes the clothing line Remetee and two local restaurants, Ryan Braun’s Waterfront in Milwaukee and Ryan Braun’s Tavern and Grill in Lake Geneva.

On December 5, as part of his ongoing involvement in the Lake Geneva community, Braun served as the grand marshal of the 35th annual Great Electric Children’s Christmas Parade. Following the early evening parade, Braun held an appearance at his restaurant, signing autographs for fans.

Braun’s affinity for the Lake Geneva area is something that has developed over his years with the Brewers. The left fielder has spent many an off-day in the quiet community less than an hour southwest of Milwaukee. Because of his love for the popular tourist destination, Lake Geneva was a no-brainer location for Braun’s second restaurant.

When the restaurant opened in late June, the fan turnout was overwhelming. Fans traveled near and far to catch a glimpse of Braun, take a photograph with him, or even get the three-time All-Star’s autograph. One incredibly dedicated family drove more than 10 hours from their Michigan home for the event.

While the outpouring of support for his restaurant opening was a surprise to him, Braun’s popularity was clearly on display throughout the night, with requests for autographs and photos seemingly never ending. After arriving around 7:30 p.m., to large crowds waiting both inside and out, Braun finally was seated with his private party for a quiet meal nearly two hours later.

“This is far more people than I expected to see come out here tonight. I was expecting more of a low-key, quiet, private gathering. But it’s great, I’m really impressed,” Braun said after dinner. “The community here in Lake Geneva is great. I’ve been here a lot, but I’ve never really met many of the people who live in the area. They’ve all been very nice and given a lot of feedback, both about the Brewers and the restaurant.”

It’s not hard to figure out what’s behind Braun’s incredible popularity among Brewers fans. Since coming up in May 2007, he’s been, without question, the club’s most consistent hitter, while also providing a number of hugely memorable moments through his first four seasons. Another thing that has drawn Brewers fans to Braun — while simultaneously turning away opposing clubs, announcers and fans — is his unwavering confidence, something that occasionally borders on cockiness.

Some may view Braun as cocky or see his demeanor as an issue, but it’s something that certainly can be a benefit to Braun, especially with a grueling six-month, 162-game schedule. Everyone goes through slumps, but it’s how you react to them that determines how successful you’ll be.

Staking his claim

It’s 4:45 p.m., on Aug. 2, 2010. With his team sitting nine games under .500 and 11 games behind the NL Central-leading Reds, Braun stands by his locker in the tiny visitor’s clubhouse at Wrigley Field, fielding questions about his recent slump.

As he speaks, his batting average is a very un-Braun-like .274, and he has just 16 home runs, 64 RBI and a .787 OPS through 104 games. After jumping out to a hot start early, Braun has batted just .236 with 10 homers, 36 RBI and an OPS of .671 since being hit on the elbow by a Tommy Hanson fastball on May 10.

Over the month of July — the same month in which he was named to a third straight All-Star Game — Braun’s struggles were even greater, as his batting average was just .200 with five home runs, 15 RBIs and a .615 OPS in 26 games. Despite this, however, Braun still had a relaxed, cool confidence about him. One that really made you believe he was not worried about what his numbers were so far.

“I just try to move on, man,” Braun said. “There’s no reason to dwell on the past, dwell on what’s negative. For me, I try to stay positive, stay optimistic and move forward. I can’t go back and get an extra 20 hits or 10 home runs or drive in an extra 30 runs.

“Of course it wears on you. Everybody says it doesn’t, but it’s impossible for it not to. Obviously, I understand where I’m at. Obviously, I’m disappointed in my performance to this point. But I can’t go back. I can’t rewind time to two months ago and play better.”

No, he certainly could not do any of those things. But if he could have, his numbers would have looked a lot more standard. Add those 20 hits, 10 home runs and 30 RBIs, and see what you get. It’s a Braun with a .298 batting average, 26 home runs and 94 RBI.

Through 104 games the previous season, Braun hit .318 with 22 home runs and 74 RBI. In 2008, he had hit at a .303 clip with 29 homers and 81 RBI. As a rookie, Braun had a .322 average through the same number of games with 31 home runs and 85 RBI. A quick look at the stats show his power numbers dropping year-to-year, while his batting average remained fairly unchanged until 2010.

But the important numbers are not the ones through 104 games. No, all anyone truly will look at down the road are Braun’s numbers over the course of the entire season. As Braun stood there that day, he knew there was more than enough time to improve upon those.

“My whole thing is that I have two months left,” he said. “If I finish strong, there’s no reason I can’t have just as good a season I had last year. There’s no reason I can’t have my best season if I finish great this year. There’s no reason for me to reflect until the end of the season.

“At the end of this year, I’ll look back and realize that this was a tremendous learning experience. Hopefully, I’ll become a better player and a better person because of it. But when you’re going through it, it’s definitely not fun.”

As it turns out, Braun would not have to wait two months for things to improve. That very same night, he batted 5-for-7, slapping five singles from gap to gap, while scoring three runs and driving in two more as the Brewers embarrassed the host Cubs, 18-1. The next day, Braun was 3-for-4, and then 1-for-3 in the series finale, giving him a 9-for-14 mark with two RBIs and four runs over the series.

If you were to reflect after the season, Braun’s numbers would be excellent by most standards. But when you average more than 34 home runs and 105 RBIs a season while hitting at a .308 clip over your first three years in the big leagues, you set a pretty high standard for yourself, and everyone else’s expectations are raised as well. Even so, Braun’s slash line of .304/.365/.501 was down from the past, but still very respectable.

Braun batted .364 over his final 55 games with nine home runs and 35 RBI to boost his numbers, but his OPS of .866 was still a career-low. Still, his 25-home run, 103-RBI season earned him 19 points in the NL MVP balloting, good for 15th out of 25 players listed on ballots in 2010.

But what caused the down numbers for Braun?

He often spoke of facing adversity, though he never truly clarified what he was referring to. The struggles were the first prolonged slump of Braun’s career, and all indications would point to injuries being the cause of such struggles. His numbers dropped off noticeably from early May, when he was hit on the elbow with a pitch, until he snapped out of the slump in August.

Yet, the Brewers slugger would never acknowledge any injury as the reason for his struggles. Instead, he just referred to dealing with unspecified adversity. Fortunately for Braun, the Brewers and their fans, his late-season hot streak provided some assurance the “real” Braun could return for the 2011 season.

In fact, a “down” year in 2010 is no reason to believe Braun won’t be better than ever in 2011. After all, he’ll need to make up some lost ground to reach Yount and Molitor.

The ’80s were a banner decade for Crew

June 25, 2010 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — If you were at County Stadium on that late October day in 1982, you might never guess the celebration was for the World Series runners-up.

When Robin Yount circled the warning track at County Stadium on a Harley Davison motorcycle, the crowd of more than 20,000 fans was thrilled for the return of their beloved Milwaukee Brewers.

To this day, the Brewers’ 1982 team is adored by fans for giving Milwaukee its first World Series since the Milwaukee Braves won back-to-back National League pennants in 1957-58.

After finishing the previous decade with what remains the club’s best record to date in 1979, the Brewers enjoyed their greatest success of any decade in the 1980s, finishing .500 or better five times while reaching the playoffs twice and making the franchise’s only World Series appearance in ’82.

This weekend, as a part of the 40th anniversary of the move from Seattle, the Brewers are celebrating and reflecting on the club’s second decade in Milwaukee. On Friday, the team will wear reproductions of its 1978-89 uniforms, highlighted by pinstripes with “BREWERS” block letters on the front and the ball and glove logo on the cap. The Mariners will wear light blue road uniforms worn from 1981-84.

On Sunday, all fans in attendance will get a bobblehead doll commemorating Cecil Cooper’s base hit to drive home the winning runs in Game 5 of the 1982 American League Championship Series.

Harvey’s Wallbangers
While nearly everyone’s first thought of great Brewers teams goes immediately to the 1982 squad, the 1981 team was impressive in its own right.

With a 62-47 record, the Brewers finished with the best overall mark in the AL East and earned a playoff berth for their second-half record due to the split schedule that season caused by the players’ strike from June 12 to Aug. 10.

But while the Brewers lost the division series to the Yankees, three games to two, the 1981 season is remembered fondly by the players involved.

“That was probably our best team, we just jumped out in front and never looked back,” said Rollie Fingers, who won the AL MVP and Cy Young Awards in 1981. “It was a shame we had the strike in the middle of it, but it may have helped me.

“I remember I only gave up one earned run in Milwaukee that year. It was on a triple to Freddie Patek, I remember. It was one of those years where nothing went wrong.”

Following the club’s first-ever playoff appearance in 1981, expectations were high for the Brewers in 1982. Through the season’s first two months, however, things did not go as planned.

After the Brewers struggled to a 23-24 record on June 1, manager Buck Rodgers was fired in favor of Harvey Kuenn. With that, Harvey’s Wallbangers were born.

“When I think about the 1982 season, that’s the first thing that comes to mind: Harvey’s Wallbangers,” said Robin Yount, who won the first of his two AL MVP awards in 1982. “We worked hard, but we had a lot of fun that season, too. We wanted to win it for Harvey, and we did it his way.”

Over the last four months of the season, the Brewers went 72-43 to finish first in the AL East, one game ahead of the Baltimore Orioles. After losing in the division series the year before, the Brewers returned to the playoffs for the second time in franchise history.

As they squared off with the California Angels in the AL Championship Series, the Brewers immediately dropped the first two games of the series in Anaheim. But as the series returned to Milwaukee, the Brewers swept all three games at County Stadium, including a thrilling 4-3 victory to clinch the AL pennant.

Milwaukee loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh, which led to the most famous single of Cooper’s career, a two-run hit that put the Brewers on top and won the series.

After winning the ALCS, the Brewers were set to face the St. Louis Cardinals in the “Suds Series,” the first World Series in club history. Though they fell short in Game 7, the 1982 season remains fresh in the memories of players and fans alike.

“My career might be over, and the games are in the past, but the memories, those last forever,” second baseman Jim Gantner said. “That group of guys we had those years, it was unique. No matter how many teams you look at, I don’t think you could find another with so many characters like we had. It was incredible.”

“Pitching was the difference”
But the Brewers would not make it back to the playoffs in the 1980s.

Despite having much the same ballclub as the previous two seasons, the Brewers dropped from first in the AL East in 1981-82 to fifth in ’83, seventh in ’84 and sixth in ’85 and ’86.

In looking back, Yount sees a distinct difference between the successful clubs of the 1981-82 seasons and those that never made it back to the playoffs in the years following that success.

“Pitching was the difference,” Yount said. “I think that’s true of any great team. Look at any team that wins a championship, they’ve probably got great pitching.”

When asked if it was disappointing not to make it back to the playoffs in his career, Yount did not hold back his feelings on the matter.

“Of course it was disappointing,” Yount said. “That’s an understatement.”

Though they still would not reach the playoffs over the decade’s final three seasons, the 1987 team would provide plenty of memories.

And all within the first two weeks.

To open what turned out to be a wild and wacky season, the Brewers tied a Major League record, winning its first 13 games of the year. One month later, the club lost 12 in a row.

But the 13-game stretch to open the season is among many Brewers fans’ favorite memories. Along the way, two highlights stand out.

First, in the team’s ninth game of the season, lefty Juan Nieves tossed the first no-hitter in franchise history, blanking the Orioles on April 15, 1987, at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.

Nieves became the first Puerto Rican-born pitcher to toss a no-hitter, but he couldn’t do it without a little help from Yount, who made a tremendous no-hitter-saving catch in center field for the 27th and final out.

“There’s no way I wasn’t going to catch that ball,” Yount said. “When I saw it, I just took off running. There’s no time to think in that kind of situation. So I just reacted and luckily I got there and was able to be part of the Brewers’ only no-hitter.”

Three days later, the current Brewers hitting coach delivered the most famous home run in Brewers history, on Easter Sunday no less.

With the winning streak on the line, the Brewers headed to the ninth down, 4-1. At that point, the might have Brewers thought it was over, as did their fans. With that in mind, the crowd of 29,357 gave a standing ovation in appreciation for the 11-game win streak.

But it was far from over.

With two on and one out, slugger Rob Deer crushed a 1-0 curveball out to left, tying the game at 4-4. Rookie B.J. Surhoff followed Deer with a strikeout, but after a walk was drawn by Gantner, the switch-hitting Dale Sveum had a chance to make it 12 in a row.

He did just that.

With a full count, Sveum got a cut fastball, waist-high over the middle of the plate. Sveum jumped on it and blasted a two-run walk-off homer, sending County Stadium into a frenzy, as the Brewers had won their 12th straight to start the season.

“It was one of those games where nobody really wanted to leave,” said Brewers infielder Craig Counsell, a Wisconsin native who stood in the stands that day as a 16-year-old. “If you were there, you’d remember it.”

Later that season, Paul Molitor drew national attention when he hit in a team record 39 straight games. It remains the seventh-longest hitting streak in big league history, and fifth-longest since 1900.

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.