Posts Tagged ‘Robin Yount’

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.

Brewers’ 1992 club highlighted tough decade

July 23, 2010 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — Some of the great moments in Milwaukee Brewers history occurred in the 1990s, the third decade in franchise history. But for all those moments, there were not many wins to go along with them, and even fewer winning seasons.

After finishing second in the American League East and posting just the fifth 90-win season in club history in 1992, the rest of the decade did not go nearly as well for the Brewers. In fact, the Brewers did not have another winning season, or even a .500 record, through the rest of the 90s.

This weekend, as a part of the 40th anniversary of the move from Seattle, the Brewers are celebrating and reflecting on the club’s third decade in Milwaukee. On Friday, the Brewers will wear reproductions of the club’s 1997-99 uniforms, featuring “BREWERS” in block letters on the front, while the cap features an “M” logo.

On Sunday, all fans in attendance will receive a collectible bobble head doll featuring Hall of Famer and Brewers legend Robin Yount recording his 3,000th career hit on Sept. 9, 1992, a sharp single to right field at County Stadium.

The Garner Era
Despite a winning 1991 season, the Brewers introduced a new general manager, Sal Bando, and a new manager, three-time All-Star infielder Phil Garner, before the next season. Much like the club’s first year under previous manager Tom Trebelhorn in 1987, the Brewers’ 1992 season was among the best in club history.

With just over a month remaining in the season, they put together one of the best offensive displays in club history. On August 28, the Brewers scored a franchise-record 22 runs, while setting an American League record with 31 hits in a 22-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.

But while that certainly was a memorable moment in one of the greatest seasons ever for the Brewers, three other aspects of the 1992 season stand out as the true highlights.

One of those was 24-year-old rookie shortstop Pat Listach, whose arrival with the big league club came due to an injury to Bill Spiers.

After spending the previous four seasons in the Minor Leagues, Listach was perhaps the biggest surprise of the season for the Crew.

“Pat had his bags packed for Denver,” said Garner in the book “True Blue,” referring to the Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate at the time. “Then he went out and had a Rookie-of-the-Year-type season. He was a consistent, solid player from Day 1.”

Listach batted .290 in his rookie season while driving in 47 runs and recording 54 stolen bases, becoming the first Brewers player to swipe more than 50 bases in a single season.

That performance earned Listach the American League Rookie of the Year Award as well as a handful of votes for AL MVP in 1992.

“Rookie of the Year. That’s a pretty good first season,” Yount said of Listach. “He was an exciting player. What I remember specifically about him was that he seemed to deliver a large amount of big hits that season, which is unusual for a rookie.

“He was able to deliver in key situations numerous times, which impressed me quite a bit because he was such a young player coming up so big for us so often.”

As great as Listach’s individual season was, the Brewers as a whole put together their best campaign since the club’s AL-pennant-winning season of 1982.

As the Brewers’ leadoff hitter, Listach led an offense that featured Yount in center field, B.J. Surhoff behind the plate, Greg Vaughn in left field and designated hitter Paul Molitor, playing his final season with the Brewers.

Milwaukee finished 92-70 in Garner’s first year at the helm, good for the fourth-best record in franchise history. The Brewers ended the season four games out of first place in the AL East, behind the Toronto Blue Jays, who went on to win the World Series.

Though they came up short in the end, the Brewers thrilled fans in the season’s final month, posting a 20-7 record in September. In the club’s home finale, the Brewers beat the Oakland A’s, 5-3, on Sept. 27, to complete the sweep and cut the Blue Jays’ lead to just 2 1/2 games with six games remaining in the regular season.

“The players need to take a curtain call,” Garner told reporters that day after a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 55,000 gave the Brewers a standing ovation. “They could not have played more inspiring ball than they have the last five or six homestands.

“There was an air of excitement all around today.”

3,000 hits
Of course, Yount had a handful of highlights of his own in the 1990s.

Along with the pennant race and Listach’s impressive rookie campaign, the 1992 season was highlighted by Yount’s push for 3,000 career hits.

The moment finally came in early September. With a seventh-inning single to right field off Cleveland pitcher Jose Mesa on Sept. 9, 1992, at County Stadium, Yount became the third-youngest member of the 3,000-hit club at 36 years, 11 months and 24 days old.

After collecting the hit, Yount was mobbed by teammates and lifted onto their shoulders in a celebration that lasted nearly 10 minutes.

“Obviously it was an exciting moment,” Yount said. “But it was more about the pennant race than the 3,000th hit for me. It was September and every game meant something.

“Certainly, the 3,000th hit was a highlight from an individual standpoint, but more importantly, we were in a pennant race, so that made it doubly exciting.”

Yount retired after the 1993 season with 3,142 career hits.

A year later, on May 29, 1994, Yount had his No. 19 retired by the Brewers in a ceremony at County Stadium. As a part of the festivities, the Brewers and Harley Davidson gave Yount a new motorcycle, which he rode a lap on around the stadium, recalling memories of his famous ride following the 1982 World Series.

“That was always fun,” Yount said of the motorcycle ride. “It kind of ended up to be a circus a little bit, but I’ll ride a motorcycle any time somebody gives me a chance.”

Five years later, Yount was honored again, this time by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Included on 77.5 percent of ballots in 1999, Yount was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, the first player to ever enter Cooperstown wearing a Brewers cap.

During his speech, Yount borrowed from Lou Gehrig’s famous farewell address.

“Now’s the time where I’m supposed to wake up from all of this. I mean, it’s OK, it’s been a great dream,” Yount said. “But if in fact this is reality, then with all due respect Mr. Gehrig, today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”

We’re taking this thing National
In the years between Yount’s retirement and his induction into the Hall of Fame, a number of changes were introduced by Major League Baseball.

First, in 1994, the Central Divisions were added in the AL and NL. The Brewers, along with the White Sox, Twins, Indians and Royals, formed the AL Central Division.

The Brewers would spend just four seasons in the AL Central, however. In 1998, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks joined the AL East and NL West, respectively. Their addition forced the move of one club from the American League to the National League, in order to preserve an even number of teams in each league.

After the Royals opted not to switch leagues, the Brewers decided to make the move.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing for baseball,” former home run king Hank Aaron said at the time. “It’s a great day for Milwaukee. Milwaukee’s first identification was with the National League.

“Nothing against the AL. They won a championship there [in 1982]. But we won a World Series [in 1957].”

Thanks to a pair of home runs by Jeromy Burnitz, including a grand slam in the top of the 11th inning, the Brewers secured their first National League victory on April 2, 1998.

Fittingly, they defeated the Atlanta Braves, 8-6, at Turner Field.

“I was ready to get out of here,” Burnitz told reporters after the game. “I hope all our National League games aren’t this tough.”

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

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.

Brewers seventies feature 5/13

May 14, 2010 Comments off

1970s a decade of growth for Brewers

MILWAUKEE — With 95 wins to just 66 losses, the 1979 Milwaukee Brewers posted what remains the franchise’s best record to date. But while they finished their first decade in second place in the American League East, it was a long road to success in the 1970s.

Just days before the beginning of the 1970 season, the franchise moved unexpectedly from Seattle to Milwaukee, as the Pilots became the Brewers.

This weekend, as a part of the 40th anniversary of the move from Seattle, the Brewers are celebrating and reflecting on the club’s first decade in Milwaukee. On Friday, the team will wear reproductions of its 1972-77 uniforms with “BREWERS” in royal blue block letters on the front of the jerseys and the yellow “M” logo on the cap. On Sunday, all fans in attendance will get a bobblehead doll commemorating Hank Aaron’s 755th and final home run.


At 10:15 p.m. on March 31, 1970, Bud Selig received official word that he, along with a group of investors, had won the franchise for just $10.5 million in federal bankruptcy court and the Seattle Pilots were headed to Milwaukee to become the Brewers.

With Opening Day scheduled just seven days later, the move was a swift one. When the players learned of the move, doubts arose in their minds.

Will they have uniforms for us? Where will I live? What about all my stuff in Seattle?

Those questions would all soon be answered, but not without a few stressful weeks in Milwaukee.

Opening Day pitcher Lew Krausse, who had been recently married before the 1970 season, had a lot more to deal with after the move than some. With it being his first year with the club, Krausse was not yet settled in Seattle and had sent many of his belongings ahead of him to the city.

Originally thinking he was “getting ahead of the game,” Krausse’s decision to send his stuff to Seattle only further complicated the move to Milwaukee.

“They said, ‘Well, you’re going to Milwaukee,'” Krausse recalled. “It was just really hectic. We came up here, flew the whole families on charter planes and stayed in hotels for four to five days; and with kids, it was mess.”

On the field, the Brewers were a nearly .500 team at County Stadium in 1970, while losing almost twice as many as they won on the road. Milwaukee finished tied for fourth in the American League West that season with a 65-97-1 record, 33 games behind the first-place Minnesota Twins.

The Brewers improved in their second season under manager Dave Bristol, winning four more games than the year before, but they managed to finish last in the standings, 32 games out of first place. Following the 1971 season, the Brewers moved from the AL West to the AL East, where they would remain until ’93.


Over the next six seasons, the Brewers remained in fifth place or worse in the East, averaging just 69 wins per season. Two major highlight of those seasons, for fans and players alike, stand out: the debut of Hall of Famer Robin Yount, and the return of the home run king to Milwaukee.

In 1973, the Brewers had the third overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft, and with that pick, they selected Yount, a 17-year-old shortstop from Southern California.

Yount wasted little time making his way to the Majors, debuting on April 5, 1974. As the Opening Day shortstop for the Brewers at the age of 18, Yount was the youngest player in the AL in 1974 and ’75, and the youngest ever to play for Milwaukee.

“He was probably one of the best overall, all-around great players that I played with,” former Brewers center fielder Gorman Thomas recalled. “He was a phenom. He was just as smooth as glass. To this day, I’ve never seen anybody have the range at shortstop to his left that Robin had.”

A year later, another player making his Brewers debut on Opening Day generated plenty of buzz. After the 1974 season, the club dealt for Hank Aaron, who had just surpassed Babe Ruth as the all-time home run leader during the previous season.

The move brought a great deal of excitement and credibility to the Brewers, who had just completed what was then the best season in franchise history, going 76-86 and finishing 15 games out of first place.

“That was a treat,” Thomas said of playing with Aaron. “He was my childhood hero; he and Mickey Mantle. And yet, I got to play with him for two years in ’75 and ’76.”

Aaron hit his final 22 home runs over two seasons with the Brewers, bringing his then-all-time-record total to 755. He batted just .229 in his final season, down from .234 in 1975, while collecting 95 RBIs.

The Brewers hosted the All-Star Game in 1975, the second in Milwaukee and first since ’55. Aaron made his record-tying 21st and final All-Star Game appearance. His first, like his last, also came at County Stadium.

Aaron played in his final game, the 3,298th of his career, on Oct. 3, 1976, at County Stadium. The Brewers’ designated hitter went 1-for-3 on the day against the Tigers, in a game that longtime Brewers second baseman Jim Gantner — among many others — will never forget.

“I got to pinch-run for him his last at-bat,” Gantner said. “He got a base hit, they took him out of the game and I got to pinch-run for him. That was special. He was my idol growing up and now I can tell my grandchildren I played with Hank Aaron. It’s incredible. That’s a moment I’ll never forget.”


Just as Aaron retired from Major League Baseball, the Brewers were on their way to becoming relevant in the AL.

The club finished an average of 31 games out of first place from 1975-77. Finally, in the franchise’s eighth year after moving to Milwaukee, though, the Brewers earned their first winning record in 1978.

In George Bamberger’s first year as manager, and the first since Larry Hisle joined the team as a free agent, the Brewers put together one of the best offenses in baseball, earning the name “Bambi’s Bombers.”

Seven Brewers hit 10 or more home runs, while two — Hisle and Thomas — hit over 30 homers. Hisle batted .290 on the year with 34 home runs and 115 RBIs, which earned him a third-place finish in the AL MVP race.

Unfortunately for the Brewers, who finished third in the AL East and six games out of first with a 93-69 record, Hisle suffered a torn rotator cuff injury in April 1979. Hisle’s injury limited him to no more than 27 games in each of his final four seasons with the club.

“It’s a shame that he got hurt,” Thomas said. “He was right in his prime, hitting 30 home runs, stealing bases.”

Of course, Thomas was no slouch himself. Originally selected as a shortstop as the franchise’s first Draft pick, Thomas had become a fan favorite both for his reckless, acrobatic play in center field and his prowess at the plate.

After hitting 32 home runs with 86 RBIs in 1978, Thomas had a career year in ’79, leading a Brewers offense that tied or broke 73 club records. Milwaukee finished second in the AL in home runs (185), doubles (291), slugging percentage (.448) and total bases (2,480).

Thomas set a club record with 45 home runs, which would stand until 2007. He also had career highs in several categories, including RBIs (123), runs scored (97) and hits (136).

“I knew this guy would run through fences,” said Bamberger, in the 1993 book “True Brew” by Chuck Carlson. “I knew he’d hit 35-40 homers in the Minors, and I was convinced he could hit 20 in the big leagues.”

But Hisle and Thomas were far from the only offensive stars that season. In 1979, the Opening Day lineup featured Brewers greats throughout, including Paul Molitor, Don Money, Cecil Cooper, Hisle, Sixto Lezcano, Sal Bando, Yount and Thomas.

With so many great players on the field together, Thomas could not pick just one who was the best he had played with.

“There were so many great guys, but what made it all good, though, was that we all just blended together,” Thomas said. “Everybody did their little niche. Nobody was ever overly egotistical about what they did because we were a team, and that’s the way we looked at it. And that’s why we were successful.”

Even with all their talent, the Brewers still could not overcome the Baltimore Orioles that season. They finished in second place, eight games out, despite establishing what remains a franchise record for most wins in a season.

It took until the early 1980s before the Brewers got their first taste of the playoffs.

“We were there; we had a chance to be in it,” said Thomas, referring to the Brewers clubs of the late 1970s. “We were almost like the Atlanta Braves of the early ’90s who won 14 division championships and only one World Series. We only got to one.”

Next month: the 1980s, when the Brewers had their greatest success.