It’s all quiet in the cathedrals of the sport. The last game of the season has been played. No more fans in the stands. No more vendors hawking things. The ball park is quiet today.
The sport of baseball is like that as we enter the period the Hotstove League. This is a time to look back but more importantly, look forward to the time with pitchers and catchers report to spring training. The GMs are down in Arizona soon for their annual meetings and it is a time when the Free Agent agents swarm around, kill bees finding new honey for themselves as their slice is big.
Some time things work out where fans and free agents find a satisfying conclusion. And none would be better than having Nori Aoki sign with his home town team, the Milwaukee Brewers. There is real benefit her. Aoki has a great consistency to his game. Look at this: he has batted .288, .286 and .285 in his three seasons in the big leagues, the first two with the Brewers. But it is his ability to get on base that is of great value. His OBPs of .355, .356 and .349 is remarkable. The man walks a lot. But his real hidden key is his ability to hit left handers. He has batted .363/.428/.435 against lefties in his first three years. Imagine, a left-handed hitter banging at that rate against left-handed pitching.
He’ll be 32 this year, right in the prime of his career. With a two-year contract, probably at a $15 million for two-year agreement, the Brew Crew could once again have the kind of player that is perfect for the City of Milwaukee. Ron Roenicke said of Nori, ‘He fit in really well with the guys. We had fun with him. But he worked as hard as you could work. You can’t put more effort into the job than he did.’
This would be a perfect move as it would allow the team to trade a valuable Gerardo Parra, who is one of the best defensive players in the league as shown by his two Gold Gloves. But he simply cannot hit and get on base at the rate of Aoki. Every team wants and need a starting outfielder who is a good defensive player. But the Brewers do not. Use the value of Parra to trade for more pitching.
We know the heads of the management of Cream City’s Nine do not like Aoki for whatever reason. So this may be moot in thinking…in hoping such a player who gives his all would come back.
Milwaukee needs the kind of player Nori represents. That would be A OK.
The chance was still there and it was in their hands. But as the manager made the decision to insert a rookie in his first Major League start, brought up in the September call-up from Huntsville in AA ball, to play first, it seems as though it was not in their hands. On one of the easiest 5-4-3 double play opportunities, the newbie could not catch the very catchable throw from second. Error on the 1st baseman for dropping the ball. It was discovered that his glove did not work. Thus the reason he is called a minor leaguer. The door opened for the Cincinnati Reds to pull ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers in the fourth-to-last game of the season and they took a 3-2 lead which they never relinquished.
This was an important game.
In fact, it was one of the most important games of the year.
The manager again did something that has eluded him from past mistakes. When this team has more veteran first basemen than any other team, why start someone who isn’t even #5 on the depth chart? The manager continues to make moves to lose, not to win. But it isn’t just the manager and his coaching staff that are less than adequate.
The veteran second baseman committed yet another fielding error when he failed to field a pop up.
Again, the veteran second baseman committed his second error, and the team’s third in the game, by making a wild throw to second.
The second year shortstop who brought us so much hope before this year, stayed on the ground rather than rush to the ball to control the game. A mental error.
The season ended at Great American ballpark on the banks of the Ohio River.
The catcher was left in the game to see if he could hit some sort of record double, again leaving the backup catcher sitting on the bench. The catcher, who has been attempting to get this double for a week, would break an existing record of a catcher leading his league in doubles. Hasn’t been done for quite a while. Let’s go after some records rather than try to win a game that could keep you in the hunt.
The right fielder looked tired. For the first time in his career, his bat looked too long…too big for him to catch up to a 95+ mph heater. In a season which greeted him with catcalls throughout the games wherever the team went, he progressively broke down physically at first with a hand injury and a hammy, a this or that which a season is made of. But this season, in an effort to blow all of the negative thoughts out of his head, it became clear to his loyal fans, he no longer was the player he used to be. The center fielder, playing with more heart and soul than anyone on the team gave his all, that Go Go spirit, played hurt down the stretch, and just hit pop ups, no more slashing singles turning into doubles as he had early in the season to bring him All-Star status. Scooter just hit shallow pop flys. Rickie, at bat, hit. In the field, he was not such a hit.
Why all the concern over a baseball team? When one follows a team and a home town with a team for most of their lives, an attachment grows. It boils in the blood. It reaches the heart. It possesses the soul. There is a bond of escape filled with moments of joy and wonder that are the adrenaline of the spot. But if you are a Milwaukee Brewers fan, if you are one of the faithful of the Cream City Nine, it has been 57 years since the City was presented with a World Champion in baseball from its team. Two owners. Fifty-Seven years. In dog years, that’s more than four dog lifetimes. It is almost incomprehensible that a team, outside of those hapless loveable Northsiders of Chicago, can go through such a drought with players like Joe Torre, Tony Cloninger, Roy McMillan of the old Braves and Cecil Cooper, Jim Gantner, Paul Molitor, Don Money, Robin Yount, Ben Oglivie, Teddy Higuera, Gorman Thomas, Ted Simmons, Rollie Fingers, Ken Sanders, Jerry Augustine, Sal Bando, Dante Bichette, Chris Bosio, Jeremy Burnitz, Mike Caldwell, Jeff Cirillo, Craig Counsell, Rob Deer, Billy Hall, Darryl Hamilton, JJ Hardy, Tommy Harper, Cory Hart, Mike Hegan, Larry Hisle, Trevor Hoffman, Geoff Jenkins, Sixto Lezcano, Mike Methany, Davey May, Bob McClure, Charlie Moore, Jaime Navarro, Juan Nieves, Lyle Overbay, Dan Plesac, Darrell Porter, Francisco Rodriguez, George Scott, Richie Sexson, Gary Sheffield, BJ Surhoff, Fernando Vina, Pete Vuckovich, Greg Vaughn, Ben Sheets, CC Sabathia, Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo, Aarmis Ramirez, Carlos Gomez, Zach Greinke, Ryan Braun, Jonathon Lucroy and a host of other fine players. Perhaps Fred Haney was the only real manager this City ever had. Most of the rest were losers. OK. Even if Bambi and Harvey didn’t bring us the World Championship, they did bring us near the pinnacle once. Once! That’s it. One League Pennant which was brought home when Coop did a Jeter.
There can only be one conclusion. And it is one that rips at the heart of everyone who cherishes Cream City.
It’s the water.
To many that is a sacrilege. ‘Go to the confessional immediately.’ they say. ‘Blastphemer’, they can be heard yelling. ‘Step on his face and twist’, they shouted. ‘Don’t say that. You’re making our city look bad’, others murmured under their breath honoring the guiding word of Sister Ramegia.
But consider this. When the Milwaukee Braves won the World Championship in 1957, Schlitz was the #1 beer. Enough said.
At one time the water in Milwaukee was great. Grandma would say, ‘Just drink from the tap. Its that good.’ City fathers would point with pride to their many beers brewed with the great water. There was Fox Head 400, Blatz, the city’s favorite (‘Blatz is Milwaukee’s finest beer.’), Pabst Blue Ribbon, Gettelman, Miller and many, many more.
But one should not forget what the native Potowatami’s called this special place, remembering that the Milwaukee area was originally inhabited by the Fox, Mascouten, Potawatomi, and Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) native American tribes. The name “Milwaukee” comes from an Algonquian word ‘Millioke’, meaning “Good”, “Beautiful” and “Pleasant Land”. That’s what many natives believe and they all follow the Chamber of Commerce pledge: ‘Never give St. Louis the opportunity to hold one over on us. They make rice beer…pretend beer.’
Yet there is a rumor, buried along side of Jacob Best in the Forest Home Cemetery that there is a piece of paper which says that when he talked to a native in Juneautown when he began to brew his first frothy drink, that the name ‘Millioke’ meant: land of stinking water.
Come on. Monks made beer because the water was bad. Boiled water with some wheat, barley and hops purified the drink. Have no idea what rice does to it. Never drank that stuff from the Mississippi River.
So kids, take heart. The former Brewers who make up a good number of the Kansas City Royals, escaped the plight of Cream City and are now in the playoffs. Congratulations to Nori Aoki, one of the best right fielders we ever had is tied for the second best hitter on the Royals. Congratulations to Alcides Escobar, one of the best young shortstops we ever had, is tied for the second best hitter on the Royals. Congratulations to Lorenzo Cain, one of the best outfield prospects we every had and is the best hitter on the Royals and the third best base stealer on the Royals. Congratulations to Dale Sveum, the Royals hitting coach, former Brewer and the best manager the Brewers ever had. Congratulations to Nedly Yost, a former player and manager of the Crew who almost did it, guiding the Crew to two winning seasons, their first in 11 years, before being relieved of his duties 16 games above .500. Sixteen games ABOVE .500. Oh, Mike Jirschele, the Royals third base coach, is from Clintonville. Doug Henry, the Royals bullpen coach, a former Brewer, lives in Hartland. They no longer have to drink the water. They are in the playoffs. The Brewers aren’t.
As a kid, the excitement of building something great with an Erector set was held with anticipation. Occasionally, one would build a crane which would carry products from one point to the next, just like the real things did. Then one morning, you came out to find out your brother had done something to which the dreams of building the perfect city would never come to be. The crane’s arm was hanging from a screw…limp and of no more use.
During the past month, K-Rod has come out of the bullpen, night after night, to save another win for the Brewers. The Cream City Nine has seen this before. A Canadian named Axford did it for some 40+ games before the ever present consistency was a thing of the past and all hope was lost. Now the pessimism of ‘when’ looms constantly as we see yet another tight game come down to the point where ‘K-arm’ is up in the bullpen, warming up hard to pinpoint his control on the outside corners before coming in again. It is not ‘how far can he go’. It is ‘when will it end’?
At 18-6 to begin with one of their better starts in their history, these malt and barley men are an interesting lot. A committee of veterans at first, a kid taking over for a vet at second, a miracle with a broken face at short, a heavy hitting veteran at third. A kid in left who is quietly performing within the excitement of the early season. A ball of energy and unpredictability in center…many consider the heart and soul of the ball club, with Braunschweiger in right with a bad thumb, a thing in his shoulder and the gas of millions of outraged fans in every opponents park yet still hitting and fielding like the best. Behind the plate there is the most underestimated catcher in the game with a backup who is now nicknamed ‘The Destroyer’ and a gaggle of starters who may or may not be reaching their peak all at the same time. Then K-Rod.
Francisco Rodriguez first poked his head into The Show in 2002 with the Angels, who were then proudly from Anaheim, for 5 innings and 13 strikeouts. He didn’t get his first save until the next season but on Saturday, in 14 innings so far this season in 24 games, he has 21 K’s and 11 saves. At this rate he will have 74 saves for the season and the Brewers will win 121 games.
His arm will fall off.
But if it doesn’t, with the help of rosary beads everywhere, this is going to be a nail-biting, internal hemorrhaging season of all seasons. But there is one more obstacle ahead. It is called May.
The Milwaukee Brewers in the month of May is like Clark Kent sleeping on a bed of kryptonite. The month begins in Cincinnati then moves home for the perplexing D’Backs and for the first visit in nine years, with the kings of baseball visiting Miller Park. Then on the road with the Cubs, the carpetbaggers and Miami. Then home again with a rare visit from the Orioles and the near weekly confrontation with the Northsiders.
So, the Erector Arm and the Month of May. Hope takes a strange shape this season.
Nestled in Nashville, Herschel Greer Stadium is the home of the appropriately named Triple A franchise called the ‘Sounds’. They have been to the top of the mountain as a Milwaukee Brewer affiliate. In 2005, a group of players including Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, Cory Hart and Nelson Cruz won the Pacific Coast League Championship. All four became All-Stars in the Major Leagues. Later, the Sounds had another interesting group of players, all capable of moving up to the major league club an hour airplane ride to Milwaukee. Scooter Gennett, Sean Halton, Caleb Gindl, Khris Davis and Logan Schafer all made their mark in the ‘Athens of the South’. Gennett was the young second baseman who many figured would be some years away from making it into the Show because Rickie Weeks, an All-Star filled that position in the Cream City. Sean Halton was the first baseman. A star position in Milwaukee, the legacy of first baggers from Mike Hegan, an original Brewer via the Pilots to George ‘Boomer’ Scott, onto St. Cecil of Cooper to Richie Sexton, from Lyle Overbay to Prince, was a position the Brewers rarely changed.
Sean Helton (26), from Fresno, CA, is a first baseman and outfielder. He attended Lewis-Clark State College and was drafted by Milwaukee. In limited action with the big club, he hit .238, with 4 home runs and had 17 RBIs.
Caleb Gindl (25) from Pace, FL, an outfielder by trade, has been a minor league All-Star in nearly every stop he has made. He was an All-Star with teammate, Jonathon Lucroy in the Rookie League. He was an Arizona Fall League Rising Star. He hit .307 in Nashville. Last year, for half a season, he batted .242 with 5 home runs and 14 RBIs in limited action with the Brewers.
Schafer (27) with one of the most graceful left-handed swings in baseball and graced with blinding speed, hit only .219 with 4 home runs and 38 RBIs in 2013 seeing limited duty behind Gomez and Aoki in the outfield.
Scooter Gennett from Sarasota, FL, the youngest of this group (23) was the surprise of the season as he took over for Weeks at second base and batted .324 with 6 home runs and 21 RBI during the last part of the 2013 season with Milwaukee.
Khris Davis (26), an Arizona high school All-State player at Deer Valley High School playing outfield, turned down offers to sign with the Washington Nationals and attended Cal State Fullerton. He has been a .280 hitter in Single A Appleton and a .280 hitter in Double A Huntsville. In Nashville he found he could hit at a .310 level. While moving up to the Brewers last season, he hit .279, 11 home runs with 27 RBIs in limited playing time.
Five young ballplayers who have been top performers in the minors within the Brewers farm system and are now at the gateway to their future. Davis is being given the chance to win the left field position as management has traded away Aoki and moved Braun from left to right. Will he be the star player in left everyone believes he can be? Gennett will beat out Rickie Weeks this season if not injured. A huge fan favorite, the undersized second baseman could become the fixture that began with Gaintner which was passed down to Weeks. Now is Scooter’s time.
But the other three face a daunting task. Are they ‘tweeners’ or are they the stars of the future many believed they could become. Helton will have a tough job at keeping his roster spot as he will have to compete and excel above the recently acquired Mark Reynolds who is on the downside of his career. He will have to hope that Juan Francisco doesn’t learn the art of being patient at the plate. And he has to bang the cover off the ball in Spring Training when given the chance to play. And that will be an issue. He has to excel in the split games and make the Brewers want to put him in the lineup come the last two weeks of Spring.
Schafer will have to fly around the outfield like the gazelle he is and make all of those Carlos-type catches he can also make. He has to hit like he has never hit before in Spring Training. This is the make or break season for Logan. Is he an Oglivie or a Travis Lee? Is he a legit Big Leaguer or a Tweener?
Gindl may be the odd man out. He is not as fast as Schafer but he has proven he can hit. In baseball, that is the defining factor. He can and must hit to make this team and become a factor everyone thought he would be.
Of these three, who will make the Show this season or return to the music madness in Nashville? In a few days we will find out.
For those who do not, they may have to be ready to call an end to their boyhood dream.
Baseball is never ending. There is a rhythm and flow that predates rock and roll. It is part of past, present and future. It is there for us, on demand, as regular as running water. We know it is there and when we want it, it comes out. It is, after all, our heritage. It is an American legacy.
The temples where the game is played of green grass has a look all its own. There, the gods of the sport, now and before, play the game. Their ghosts are everywhere. Aaron and Banks. Williams and Mantle. Spahn and Mathews, Musial and Koufax. Jackie and Robin. Through the turnstiles, past the concession stands, into the venue itself, the opening is there and passing through, there it is…it is the place where magic will happen today.
Hope for the season ahead is ever present. This is the season when the heavens will open up and victory in the form of a World Series pennant will be ours.
For many of us, it is a way of life, passed down to us from our grandparents, parents or relatives. It is our legacy. When remembering the past, it is the time we spent with our grandfather and grandmother, Mom and Dad at the ballpark. For those who grew up in Wisconsin, the home team, our home team is the Milwaukee Brewers. So much had been seen there; the great players like Roger … ‘The Rocket’, perhaps the greatest pitcher the game has ever seen, or Reggie and Yaz, Cal and Randy Johnson, as well as Griffey, Jr. and Ichiro, the greatest hitter the game has seen in our lifetime. ‘The Brewers Win The Pennant’ with Simba, Robin, Pauly, Gimby, Stormin, Rollie, Vuch, Coop, Benji and the Harvey were all witnessed with family and friends, Moms and Dads, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. CC and Sheets, Prince and Braun, Greinke, Weeks and Nyjer, K-Rod and AxMan, brought the feeling back but fell ever so short.
This was a team that was brought to Wisconsin after the first great heartbreak of our sporting life, on a loan from the Schlitz Brewing Co. family to a car dealer’s son who would become the Commissioner of Baseball (after he was involved and found guilty in the collusion between the owners to keep players from earning their fair share through free agency) to fill the void left by the carpetbagger who moved the beloved Braves to that city down south.
We live in a world of globalization. We live in a world where the game is played by athletes everywhere. Milwaukee is a community that has diversified over the past half century as well. Today 39% of Milwaukee County is made up of Black Americans, 13% Latinos, 5% Asian Americans. It became a majority minority dominated city in 2000.
Today’s baseball team in the Cream City no longer reflects that diversity. Of the 40 man roster, there are only two Black Americans, one an aging Weeks nearing the end of his career and Davis, a young man just beginning his career. The Latino contingent is well represented, with some sixteen team members. There is one Asian, a Taiwanese pitcher who is yet to make it to the Bigs.
We no longer live in a Jim Crow era. Yet the team that is in Milwaukee has just two Black Americans. When they made a run for the pennant, the starting first baseman, second baseman and center fielder were black. Prince was beloved since he came up through the minors and would, fans thought, forever be an All-Star Brewer. Rickie was the college educated, All-Star second baseman. Nyjer was the center of joy. And he did get THE HIT. Together with Braun, Hart, Lucroy, Grienke, Vonnie, K-Rod and Axford they made their run which would be only the first of many to come. Today there is no Prince, no Nyjer, no Grienke, no K-Rod nor Axford. And there is no Hart. Rickie is waning, Vonnie is struggling and Braun is coming back from the unknown.
The team has no minority manager or coaches with the single exception of John Shelby who begins his third season on the coaching staff after joining the organization as outfield coach/eye in the sky, whatever that is; no upper management who are minority. Yet this is the governing body of the team that represents a majority minority city in the great Midwest. ‘A team is a reflection of the community it represents.’
The owner is from Los Angeles. There is little that is the same on Wilshire Boulevard or Pacific Palisades as compared to Pigsville or Lincoln at Kinnikinnick. In the City of Angels, Brats (with Secret Stadium Sauce) and beer are as foreign as sushi and wine are in Bayview. Brookfield is not Beverly Hills and Racine has kringle. Try finding that at Gilsons. This is a town where there are bubblers and kids wear rubbers on their feet when it rains. There is a separation here. It is not just distance, but a cultural misunderstanding that Milwaukee is the same as it was or the same as everywhere else. It is not. The Packers and Brewers, Badgers, Bucks and Marquette belong to Wisconsinites, not Californians. Curley, Uecker, Crazylegs and Chones are our guys. Spencer Tracy, Fred MacMurray and Gene Wilder are our guys. They all, uncommon individuals and brilliant in their craft, who have all played at one time or another in California, are Wisconsinites through and through. The Brewers, every last one of them who ever played in the Cream City, belong to us.
If there is one thing a person from Los Angeles knows, it is star-power. They know that if you have a star for your program or movie or team, people will come and fans will pay in record numbers to see them. It is as eternal as Cary Grant, Bob Hope or Babe Ruth. They don’t call Yankee Stadium ‘The House That Ruth Built’ for nothing. Mark Attanasio lives and works in Los Angeles. He occasionally shows up in Milwaukee as the owner. He should know more than most what a star does to propel a team and make money. The present team looks like a fragment of their former self. Yes, the payroll is manageable and the team will make money…a lot of money. What is our VORP? Who gives a crap. Enough with Keith Wollner. We want a PENNANT. We want to be competitive. We want it NOW.
A former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers in the old American Association, Bill Veeck, said, “Baseball must be a great game because the owners haven’t been able to kill it.” The fans will fill the stands. And records will be broken. But we need a Prince or a Price, a Tanaka or, hell, a first baseman who can play first base. It is time for change. It is time for an owner to get in touch with the city his team represents and a management who represents a constant path to victory. We are watching Attanasio.
We will be heading to Maryvale in February and again the gates will open and warm, brilliant sunshine will illuminate the field. The lines will be chalked and fans will press for autographs. The smell of brats and beer will fill the air and the boys from the team representing Milwaukee will take the field. Will this team have a chance to win the pennant or will this owner be like so many before him, make money on a fan base who will support them regardless of the outcome. He will earn it on the millions who will go through Miller Park. He will earn it from broadcast and telecast, mobile and digital rights. He will earn it from the advertising in the stands and on merchandise that is sold. He will make it from those over the limit teams who will spend monies to try to win the pennant and pay the tax. He will earn it by paying for mediocrity on the field, in the dugout and in upper management. Can you spell Masahiro? David? Or, even Prince?
The Milwaukee Brewers have had eight general managers in their lifetime. Names like Marvin Milkes (his teams won 64 and 65 games) and trader Frank Lane (coming in 1971-72 winning 69 than 65 games) were the first two. One of the things Lane did was trade for George ‘Boomer’ Scott who became the cornerstone of great Milwaukee first basemen. Jim Wilson lasted for just two years, but brought the City the first 70+ winning seasons since the Braves historic run in Cream City. He had teams that won 74 games then 76. Of course, in typical Brewer ownership fashion, Wilson was replaced and was followed by Jim Baumer. In three seasons, Baumer regressed as his teams won 68, 68 and then 67 games.
Then the owner finally realized that he was not the smartest person and hired he greatest of all Brewer general managers with unquestioned credentials was the late, great Harry Dalton. For 15 years, he brought the Milwaukee nine to greatness with great managerial selections, incredible trades which rank near the top of all-time in the history of the game and an incredibly sad time toward the end of his reign as the owner barely spoke to him, rarely acknowledging him in public and in private treated him like an unwanted employee. Yet no one could match him in intelligence or humility. He was an incredibly well liked individual and understood the game better than most. He immediately hired George Bamberger, a tremendous pitching coach from Baltimore. The team immediately began to jell. They were the first to win 90+ games, with 93 and then 95, dropped back a bit to 86 after which he made the greatest trade in history by gaining Rollie Fingers, Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich and then fought for the American League East title in 198 strike shortened season. Finally, after 20+ years in existence, in 1982 with a record 95 wins, under rookie manager, Harvey Kuenn, the Milwaukee Brewers won their first and only pennant, an American League pennant, falling short to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games of the World Series. From 1978 to 1991, before being demoted to V.P, Special Projects, Dalton’s teams finished below .500 only four times.
In 1992 he was followed by one of the most ill-equipped general managers of all-time, one Sal Bando. One had the feeling that here was a guy who angled for the job, kissing up to an under funded owner who needed a miracle. The unfortunate aspect of Bando’s hiring was that he drove the once proud franchise into one of its lowest periods of in history. In his years with the team in this capacity, other than the 1992 team he had inherited from Dalton, none of his teams finished above .500. He was reassigned in August of 1999 making his tenure as a GM, sub par for 7 & 1/2 seasons.
Dean Taylor was brought in. In 2000 the Brewers won 73; ’01 his team won 68 and in ’02, they could only win 56, losing a record 106. Therefore, in twelve years following Dalton’s architecture, the Brewers were below .500 every year.
Doug Melvin, after leading the Texas Rangers to three post season playoffs as general manager, the first in that team’s 48 year history, he is replaced and spends a season as a special assistant to the Boston Red Sox before being hired by the Brewers, baseball’s answer to the tunnel without a light at the end of it. After two season, he brought the Brewer fans a .500 season. Then they fell below again, then two seasons above, then below, again above for two seasons and below.
In eleven seasons at the helm, he has had his team finish above .500 four times, even at .500 once and the remaining six season below. He is not Harry Dalton. He doesn’t work for an owner who is strapped for cash. He has brought in countless players who have been overpriced and under performed. He has let a treasure go twice. Prince Fielder was allowed to leave because they didn’t want to pay him. The Tigers stole him. Then just this past week, while in need of a first baseman for a team that has a history of terrific first basemen from George Scott to Cecil Cooper to Richie Sexton to Lyle Overbay to Prince… briefly Hart…he had an opportunity to get Prince back for a price less than what they offered him just two years ago. Fielder is of Brewer blood. He was drafted by Milwaukee. He came up through the ranks. He was a fan favorite. Can you imagine the enormous boost in fan morale to bring their Prince back? But no. He was messing around with destroying one of the better players the Brewers have ever had, Norichika Aoki, who was not even on the Brewer’s radar because Melvin had no Japanese scouts to witness a six-time Japanese batting champion, the best since Ichiro, to take the place of Braun in case that player was suspended. But Braun won that arbitration. Aoki is the best leadoff hitter, arguably in the entire game. He is consistent. And he is one of the few left-handed hitters in the game who kills left-handed pitching. But here is Melvin having lunch with the owner discussing whether to move Braun to right field, thus eliminating Aoki for someone who has not proven himself over the course of an entire season, a rookie to replace the former left fielder in left.
Melvin has had a history of dubious moves. Gagne, Suppan, Riske and Wolf, all over priced over-the-hill pitchers. The renting of C.C. Sabathia for a couple of months, whom he could not resign with the club. The renting of Greinke, who could not be resigned. The inclusion of Nelson Cruz, thrown into the Carlos Lee trade. The hiring of managers like Ken Macha and allowing assistant coaches like the horrible third base coach of the Brewers right now. Here is a coach who actually loses games for the team, consistently.
This is the year Melvin has to have this team perform, not like in the past, but be able to beat the Cardinals, Reds and Pirates in their division at home and on the road. This is the year the team has to reach the playoffs and win the National League pennant. This is the year to prove that he is capable of winning and setting the stage for plus .500 seasons to come.
It has been a long time since Harry Dalton set the plan of winning in Milwaukee. Now it is time for Melvinitis. Let’s hope it is a solution and not a disease. He has to begin winning.
The Cream City has experienced this all before.On the day the announcement was made by the carpetbagger Bartholomay to remove the beloved Braves, a devastated population of loyal fans had jaws agape. It simply could not be true. How could someone remove a team from a city that supported it from day one with Major League record attendance, year after year? Was there no one in town who could offer greed more than the hope of Dixie?
The pain was real. It was deep. It cut through the boyhood memories, dragging them ruthlessly away, well ahead of its time. We had felt disappointment before. There were the continual battles with the Cardinals for the pennant where the sound of fingers on rosary beads were louder than the silent scream of hope that this would be our year. There was the release of Spahn, Buhl, Burdette, Bruton and others. But the hope of the future was there with Aaron, Carty and Torre. And Eddie was still there, the real deal, the heart of the team beloved by so many. Surely Henry and Mathews would refuse to move to the South and force the owners to reconsider.
The ballpark was vacant. ‘No Game Today’ signs hung on the box office windows as if penance from confession was not enough. No one was coming to ‘Will Call’. George Webb made no predictions. They had left town never to return.
No more battles with the Cubs and our next door neighbor who was a religious Cubbie fan. No more “Take Me Out” during the 7th inning stretch. No more excitement about the anticipation of who would see the stadium first when driving in from out-of-town. Hot dogs never tasted the same after that in our winter of complete and total discontent.
The citizens, with hidden tears being wisped away with a rub of a shoulder to the eyes when no one was looking, were the same but now with a pall over the City. Joy had been ripped out of our hearts.
Then as if the skies opened up, with a huge check from Robert A. Uihlein, Jr., the owner of Schlitz Brewing Company after being persuaded by Ben Barkin, his and the world’s best PR man, the car leasing dealer’s son was bringing the game back to the City. There was hope. There was joy.
Baseball, throughout all of its years, after all is a game of hope. Players change. Manager’s change. Venues sometimes change. From County Stadium to Miller Park, the spirit of the Braves of old whistled through the stadium on opening day of the transplanted Seattle Pilots who went bankrupt in Seattle.
From that point, a new alliance was born between desperate fans yearning to erase the pain of old and replace it with new hope. A bond was created between fans who loved the game and a team that was saved from extinction. Yes. We were now in a new league but that league had the Yankees. We would now be able to see the greatest team in baseball a number of times a year play in the stadium where our home team once won and lost to them in a World Series.
No more Cubs, but we got the White Sox. Close enough.
We also got that new team up in the Twin Cities as a new rival. Life was getting better and now hope was rampant as a new surge of energy spread throughout the land of cheese and butter, beer and ‘B-O-L-O-G-N-A’. The bubblers and goulashes were back in fashion. Baseball was back in the City, the county, the State.
Through the years we latched onto heroes of the game our home team spawned. ‘Boomer’, ‘Vuch’, ‘The Kid’, ‘Molly’, ‘Bambi’s Bombers’, ‘Harvey’s Wallbangers’, Cecil, Sixto, Money, ‘Augie Doggie’, ‘Kenny The Sandman’, Prince, Rickie, Cory, Aoki, Lucroy, ‘Vonnie’, the new kid at short, ‘St. Jean’ and the guy in left.
Most of the pain that we experienced before came flooding back in a flash flood of sorrow. Sure some of the Crew had taken drugs before but none were ever banished with such suddenness, such deliberate heart wrenching disgust and suspension. And in a time when there was no more Prince to defend us, no more Cory to hit us out of our deep depression, the guy in left had us hanging by a thread…without much hope.
Hope drives the game. Hope instills a loyalty that suspends belief. Hope is the lifeblood of youth in all of us no matter what the age. Without hope we are adrift on an endless, joyless whim of no direction.
The pall is over the City once again.
We need a prince to bring life back to the fans of the True Blue Brew Crew.
Perhaps we should just abide and softly in typical Milwaukee fashion, quietly close with …
Doctors may say that the quickest way to solve a psychological condition is to eat. It’s comfort food time. It’s ‘get better’ time. It’s like ‘when the child is sick, give them some chicken soup’ kinda thing. The baseball team from the Cream City needs some chicken soup. Or….a Kielbasa.
This year the Brewers have had three major issues: 1. The psychological hurdle of AP; 2. The calamity of the Bullpen and #3. The problem of having an inexperienced manager at the helm.
The Psychological hurdle of AP
The Milwaukee Brewers this season are a team in transition, from the dynamic youthful bunch who came up through the farm system to AP, an era known as After Prince. For years, the Brewers have had great First Basemen. It all began with the popular Mike Hegan, a member of the original Seattle Pilots from whence the Brewers came. He carried on the Milwaukee tradition of big banging first sackers that was set in the days of the Braves with Joe Adcock/Frank Torre/Nippy Jones fame. George “Boomer” Scott followed up and set a new standard of banging the ball around the park, with his 36 home runs with 109 RBI in 1975 being the hallmark. Then St. Cecil of Cooper (32 home runs with 121 RBI and .313 batting average in 1982), the man who brought the Brewers into the 1982 World Series with one of the greatest clutch hits of all time to win the American League pennant over the California (nee Los Angeles, Anaheim, of Anaheim) Angels.
But the great first sackers didn’t stop there. John Jaha hit .300 with 34 home runs and 118 RBI in ’96. Richie Sexton is still legendary for hitting some of the longest home runs in the game hit 45 home runs in 2001 and 2003. Then came Lyle Overbay, who hit the cover off of the ball with more doubles (53 in 2004 while hitting .301) than any other Milwaukee first baseman before him or after. But he was just keeping the sack warm for the kid who everyone knew was the center of the first base universe storming up from the minors.
Prince Fielder was born to be a Milwaukee Brewer. He was everything a Milwaukee first baseman was all about. But Prince brought a new dimension to the game. He was an enthusiastic crusher with youth going for him. Here was the pillar of the young Brewers (50 home runs in 2007, 141 RBI and .299 batting average in 2009) and were everything the Milwaukee club was looking for ever since the great Robin Yount came up and spent the next 20 years making the Brewers a serious contender each and every year. He, along with Weeks and Hart came up through the ranks pounding the opposition with their youthful style and power (230 home runs as a Brewer). Prince was fun. Prince was the leader. Prince was the soul. Prince was the Man.
If 2012 is remembered, it was for the silence of the void that was created when Prince left.
They wore Brewers on the front of their jerseys, but they simply were not the Milwaukee Brewers. Their Prince had left. Long live the Prince.
Then something very strange happened. Like the Autumn Spring, false hope gave way to a new and wonderous happening. The next ‘coming’ came and quickly went on the DL for the season. This created a nightmare of a lineup. But someone in the very mold of Adcock and Cooper moved into the outfield from his All-Star position in Right and after 2/3rds of the season, the Brewers began to look once again like the Milwaukee Brewers. Prince, for many diehards, was merely taking a vacation. And now Cory Hart took his position, not his place, but his position at first. Cory, long a favorite of the Keilbasa Krowd, began to hit the long ball once again, and did that crazy little shake of his hips to his teammates in the dugout when he banged a double time and time again.
With the help of the other corners, Aramis Ramirez at third, Norichika Aoki in right and of course Ryan Braun in left, along with the brilliant rookie catcher, Martin Maldonado, solid clutch hitting along with a couple of young rookie arms, brought back the excitement of the past few years where Milwaukee was averaging over 3 million fans at the gate. From way back, 14 1/2 to be exact, they began their move with an impressive sweep over the league leading Cincinnati Reds. Then came Houston.
The Calamity of the Bullpen
A microcosm of a season was in evidence in one single game this past Friday evening. Good fielding, good timely hitting. 24th blown save. K-Rod (Francisco Rodriguez) is finished. His $8.5 million isn’t worth the paper it is written on. John Axford is useless. If you cannot get a breaking ball over the plate, you are finished in The Show. After a tremendous seven innings pitched by rookie Mark Rogers, K-Rod came in and promptly served up a home run in the 8th inning to the lowly Astros. Then Axford’s walked the lead-off batter and flummoxed his was to the minors to lose the game in the 9th. The Houston Astros this season have NEVER had a walk-off hit before Axford showed up on a humid, air-conditioned evening before the big train on the wall of a ballpark. Axford became the Enron of Minute Maid.
The Problem of Having An Inexperienced Manager At The Helm
After the game, Ron Roenicke the Brewers manager, was downright lost for words. He visibly had lost all confidence in the team. He had visibly lost confidence in himself. Most important, it appeared that he didn’t have any answers. He appeared to be on the verge of tears. He knew he had not learned a thing from the past failures that the Brewers earned throughout this Season AP. Here was a guy who seemingly prides himself on following baseball’s crazy tradition of backing the veterans until their wheels fall off. Wake up, Scioscia’s puppet. The wheels have fallen off. They fell off when your silly decision to keep Cesar Izturis as a backup shortstop ended the progress Edwin Maysonet was making earlier in the season. The wheels fell off when you insisted K-Rod had something left in the tank. He doesn’t. It’s empty. (NOTE: He took arbitration because he couldn’t get anything close to what he was making with the Brewers.) They fell off when you continued to use Axford. Tell Milwaukee’s President of Baseball Operations and General Manager, Doug Melvin, John Axford needs to go back to the minors and work on getting his curve and screwball working again. It’s called ‘getting it over the plate’. He can get work on it down there and it won’t affect the big club’s record. Then take whatever you can get for K-Rod and save the last month’s salary for new hot water bottles for you to sit on or something. Anything but K-Rod.
You cannot fire this bullpen coach. You already did that as a miserable excuse for your inexperience in evaluating what was going on around you, Mr. Roenicke. When the fans in the stands begin to moan and get up to leave the ballpark when you walk out of the dugout and pull your ‘baseball veteran’ scam by taking out the starting pitcher and bring in the dynamic Blown Savers, you have to know, that we all know, you are going to a dry well. There is no more water in that well. It’s dry. That well dried up when the season began. You just didn’t believe it was dry because these two could still walk in from the bullpen. They are the ‘Walking Dead Arms’.
It is time you faced the facts of the game in Milwaukee. When in doubt, eat a kielbasa. You need to understand the ‘Power of the K’. Do the honorable thing, Mr. Roenicke. Do what Max Surkont did. He ate himself out of The Show by dinning at those South side Milwaukee fans homes in the ’50s every night. That, plus a few of Milwaukee’s favorite brew, became his ticket out of baseball. But, let it be said that Big Max was more than just an expert on Polish sausages. He also was a bit of a linguist, a man of, one might say, unusual phrases. He once said, “Baseball was never meant to be taken seriously. If it were, we would play it with a javelin instead of a ball.”
So sayeth Max.
Eat, Mr. Roenicke. Don’t mess with the javelin. As they say on the South Side, ‘Eat them kielbasa and wash it down at the bubbler.’. It is the honorable thing to do.
Then, when the urge comes to give that vet one more shot, forget it. Call in anyone except K-Rod or Axford. It is his time. And as you do that, just say, “Long Live Axford. He was the proverbial flash in the pan.”
Mr. Roenicke? Eat a Kielbasa! We will all be better for it.