Milwaukee's pride in its beer is one thing I don't believe I will ever come to understand. I've certainly had some damn good microbrews that came out of Wisconsin (Spotted Cow), but Milwaukee is home to Miller, and the best thing I will ever say about Miller is that I will at least allow it the honor of referring to itself as beer. (That's more than I will ever say about famed hipster "beer" Pabst Blue Ribbon.) I consider Miller to be swill. On the national scale, I like Budweiser better, but my favorite "big" brand will always be Samuel Adams. I don't see how being the home of a brewery like Miller is something to be proud of.
A lousy beer deserves the honor of being the inspiration for the name of a lousy baseball team. And so, there are the Milwaukee Brewers, there to cement the national reputation of Milwaukee: Lousy beer and lousier baseball. (I am not attacking the city itself, just the beer and baseball team.)
Like a lot of Major Lerague Baseball cities, Milwaukee has a rich baseball tradition stretching all the way back to the 19th century. Several of those very early teams did use the Brewers name. Today's Baltimore Orioles can trace themselves back to those old Brewers teams, the last of which was founded in 1901 before moving to Saint Louis to become the Saint Louis Browns, who stunk up the American League until their bid to supplant the Saint Louis Cardinals was destroyed by the sale of the Cardinals, which kept them in Saint Louis and sent the Browns out to become the Orioles, where they became one of Major League Baseball's mightiest juggernauts. Milwaukee then obtained the Braves on their own flight out of Boston. They stayed over a decade, never had a losing season in Milwaukee, and won a World Series title there. Then they moved to Atlanta in 1966, and that was it.
Back then, the minority owner of the Braves was a Milwaukee-area car salesman named Bud Selig. Relocation for the Braves was discussed as early as 1964, and Selig, a devoted Milwaukee guy, formed an organization called Teams Inc. devoted to local control of the team. He successfully prevented the Braves from moving in 1964, but by then, the once-thriving third coast was beginning its decline to turn into what is now known as the Rust Belt. Milwaukee was on the wane, and there was really no way to stop the Braves from heading off to the deep south, which was suddenly turning into the place to be. Selig was of a single mind, though, and MLB had clearly underestimated him. Upon the relocation of the Braves, Selig created a new goal: Get baseball back to Milwaukee, pronto! To demonstrate how big baseball would be in Milwaukee, he arranged for the Chicago White Sox to play nine home games. Those nine games drew a whopping 264,297 fans, which would have been incredible any way it went. The thing that really got MLB's attention, though, was the fact that the White Sox were (still are) the city's second team, one that still struggles to attract attention. Selig's experiment took nine legitimate home games away from the Sox' home in Chicago. The remainder of the games on Chicago's schedule that year drew a total of 539,478 fans. In other words, those few games played in Milwaukee accounted for about a third of the White Sox total attendance. Unfortunately, those numbers still didn't attract MLB's attention, and their expansion that year left Milwaukee out. The teams created were the Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres, Montreal Expos, and Seattle Pilots.
The Pilots were supposed to begin in 1971, but Senator Stuart Symington pressured them to start in 1969, well before they were ready. (Keep with me. This route has a point, I promise.) They were terrible, finishing 64-98 in last place. Their stadium was also a dump. They were supposed to get a lot of new seats and updates ready, but delays were killing the project, so their owner met with Selig during the World Series and agreed to sell him the Pilots. There was so much legal wringing during the sale that the Pilots players showed up for Spring Training the next season not knowing so much as where they would play. Eventually, Milwaukee emerged as the victor, but by then Opening Day was only six days away and there wasn't any time to order completely new uniforms. Selig wanted the colors of the Brewers to be navy and red, as a tribute to the colors of the older Brewers. But since MLB's legal wringing left him with no time to order new uniforms, Selig got stuck playing with the old uniforms of the Pilots. All the team could do was quickly tear off the old Seattle Pilots logos and replace them with new Brewers logos, so the Brewers were stuck using their current color combination of gold and blue.
As for Seattle, their legacy in baseball has been preserved surprisingly well. First, an enormous chunk of the story of the Pilots was told by this one pitcher they had named Jim Bouton. Bouton was an odd duck, an intellectual who was once a promising prospect who had played in an All-Star game and a couple of World Series games with the New York Yankees, but whose career was waning by the time he reached Seattle. He ended up getting demoted to the minor league team that year, then making his way back up to Seattle just in time to be traded to the Houston Astros. He spent most of his 1969 season taking notes which later emerged in book form. His book was called Ball Four, and it's considered THE supreme, must-read book in all of baseball literature, and that's not hyperbole I'm using there. Seriously, give it a read. I'm not sure if I would elevate it to that level, but it's excellent nonetheless. After that, Seattle eventually got a new team called the Mariners.
The Milwaukee Brewers went 65-97 in their first season. Their first decade was bad on the field, and they didn't have a winning year until 1978. They did pick up a reputation for being a fun team, though, and in 1974 they brought back an old Braves favorite: Hank Aaron. Aaron was near his career's end, but he did bring a bit of prestige to the club, and the American League by then had adopted the designated hitter, which allowed Aaron to play a couple more years.
In 1977, general manager Harry Dalton was hired. In turn, Dalton hired George Bamberger as the manager, the team's third as the Brewers. In 1978, the Brewers won 93 games. That was good enough for third place, 6.5 games behind the World Series Champion New York Yankees. The Brewers grew into a collection of home grown talents like Gorman Thomas, Paul Molitor, and the immortal Robin Yount and talented castoffs from other teams like Cecil Cooper, Ben Oglivie, and Mike Caldwell. The following season, Milwaukee won 95 games and finished second, behind the Baltimore Orioles. Ccecil Cooper set a team home run record with 45, which has since been eclipsed by Prince Fielder. The Brewers were a powerful team by the 80's, and with their potent offense and manager's nicknamed, were called Bambi's Bombers.
By 1982, the team had replaced their manager two or three times again. They fired manager Buck Rodgers during the season and replaced him with Harvey Kuenn, which effectively gave them the new nickname Harvey's Wallbangers. Under Kuenn, the team spent the rest of the season going 72-43 as the team hit 216 homers, powering the Brewers to the division title. In the ALCS, they lost their first two games against the California Angels and returned to win the next three. With their first Pennant now clinched, it was now Brew Series time! Okay, it was World Series time against the Saint Louis Cardinals, the baseball team from the primary beer rival of Milwaukee. It was a real contrast of baseball styles, too; the Cardinals were a speedy team with a defense that could catch fruit flies, and the Brewers hit for power. The Cardinals were also managed by the great Whitey Herzog. Despite a terrible bullpen, the Brewers were able to draw the Series out to seven games, but ultimately lost. Still, it didn't take anything away from a hell of a season, with Robin Yount winning the MVP and Pete Vuckovich winning the Cy Young.
For 1983, the Brewers lost a few key components: Closer Rollie Fingers tore a muscle and was out for the season; Gorman Thomas struggled and was eventually traded to the Cleveland Indians; and Pete Vuckovich was revealed to have a torn rotator cuff which had been fucking him up since 1981. On the upside, Don Sutton recorded strikeout number 3000 and Ted Simmons got hit number 2000. The team went 87-75, their last winning record until 1987. In 1987 they finished third, and they followed that up with another strong effort in 1988, finishing a mere two games out of first. They turned to shit again after that, but became contenders again in 1992 when they led the league in stolen bases with an ungodly 256. That year, Pat Listach hit .290, stole 54 bases, and was Rookie of the Year. Unfortunately, that wasn't a sign of bigger and better. It was the last time the Brewers contended for awhile. That had a lot to do with the losses of three of their spiritual leaders: Paul Molitor went to the Toronto Blue Jays, Jim Gantner retired, and Robin Yount played just one more year. Those three players had been teammates since 1978. The Brewers plummeted and, by the end of the 90's, were on their way to being a divisional doorstep for the Blue Jays, Yankees, Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, and Cleveland Indians. And also the Saint Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Yeah, about that….. By 1994, Bud Selig had become the commissioner of Major League Baseball. He decided to add a wild card format to the playoffs that year, but nothing happened because of the strike. 1995 saw the creation of two new teams, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and the league didn't want there to be an odd number of teams in per league because it was cause them to have to give players more off days and interleague play would have to be extended to year-round. (Ironic, because that's EXACTLY THE FUCKING CASE NOW!) The idea of a team switching leagues was floated by. The Kansas City Royals were offered the first opportunity, but they said no. The Brewers came up next, and they said yes. Now they didn't have to throw an astronomical salary at a designated hitter, and they would benefit from the huge fanbases following the Cardinals and Cubs. So what if the pitchers now had to take batting practice?
In 2004, the team changed hands, although the new ownership group still included Bud Selig. The new owner, Mark Attanasio, started working to really connect with Milwaukee's baseball fans. He even went as far as to give away every single ticket available to the final 2005 home game for free. A new stadium also helped, but what Attanasio really gunned for was a winner. He started building in 2004, when the Brewers finally got attention again when they managed to briefly take first place in their division before their offense went south. Ben Sheets becoming a pitcher to anchor the team, and they signed Damian Miller and traded for Carlos Lee. With them and a base of talent that included Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, JJ Hardy, and Corey Hart, the Brewers were back! In 2007 they were a sleeper team. They stayed in the division race to the finish, going toe to toe with the surging Cubs, only to lose the division by two games. In 2008 the Brewers had almost no shot at the division title because the Cubs were motoring through the league. They did fight the New York Mets to the wild card, though, winning it. Unfortunately, just their luck that they had to go to the playoffs and visit the Philadelphia Phillies, who were nearly the force that year the Cubs were, and who eventually won the World Series. They won their division in 2011, and have been more or less contenders.
Hank Aaron, Rollie Fingers, Paul Molitor, Don Sutton, and Robin Yount are the Brewers who have ended up in Cooperstown. Yount and Molitor are there with the Brewers logo itself. Four of those players have had their numbers retired by the Brewers, with Sutton being the exception. Aaron only played with the Brewers for a couple of years, but he began his career in 1954 while his Braves were still in Milwaukee. The only World Series Aaron ever won happened while he was a Milwaukee Brave, not an Atlanta Brave.
The Brewers share the NL Central with the Chicago Cubs, Saint Louis Cardinals, and a bunch of other teams. Really, who cares who the other teams are when they're all in the middle of that crossfire? Milwaukee is there now, making the division punch-around between those two teams a lot more interesting now, since Milwaukee is just about 70 or 80 minutes up the street from Chicago and Cubs fans tend to follow the Cubs up to Milwaukee. Hopefully the Brewers can keep making that rivalry interesting, just because having a third team throw a wrench into a longtime rivalry tends to do that and makes the race much better.
The Brewers are known as one of the great fan secrets of Major League Baseball. The fans are devoted, knowledgeable about the game, and ghost riders while the nearby territories are all dominated by loyalties to the Cardinals and Cubs. Their park, Miller Park, is known as one of the very best parks in Major League Baseball, if not THE best. It shares that lofty spot with the parks in Pittsburgh, Denver, and San Francisco. The Brewers also have a tradition of great seventh-inning stretch entertainment with the sausage race, which is exactly what it says on the tin: A race between a bunch of sausage mascots. It's unique and adds a little bit of flair to the fan experience of Miller Park.
The current owner seems to want to spend money to win, and fans certainly seem to appreciate the effort. Unfortunately, it may take a bit more time than they would like. They lost Ben Sheets. They made a trade for the great CC Sabathia, but lost him in free agency to the Yankees. They lost Prince Fielder to the Tigers. This past offseason, they went after Josh Hamilton, but lost him to the Los Angeles Angels. It might be awhile before the Brewers get anyone to really stay, but for now, they'll always be a fun team to follow.
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About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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