It was a team that drew a solid attendance of 2,797,384 or 34,535 per game, 82.4% of capacity. It was the 8th highest in baseball and the fourth best in the National League. And, they were the seventh best draw in baseball on the road. In baseball you make money both home and away. And the Cream City 9 were big draws.
2013 record was 74-88. 2014 record was 82-80.
So, what went wrong? Who is to blame?
2013 Brewers .252..2014 Brewers .251
RF Aoki .286…………Braun .266 – .020
CF Gomez .284…….Gomez .284 even .020
LF Braun .298……….Davis .244 – .054 .074
3B Ramirez .283……Ramirez.285 + .002 .072
SS Segura .294…….Segura .246 – .048 .120
2B Weeks .209……..Gennett .289 + .080 .040
1B Francisco .221….Overbay .233 + .012 .028
C Lucroy .280………..Lucroy .300 + .020 .008
So, what is the difference between a Pennant Winner and an average team?
a) Better General Manager
b) Better Manager
c) Better Players
Of not, it is on the owner? Who has won a World Series?
With current ownership of their teams in the 21st Century:
New York Yankees (2x) 2000; 2009
Philadelphia Phillies 2008
St. Louis Cardinals (2x) 2006; 2011
Boston Red Sox (3X) 2004; 2007; 2013
San Francisco Giants (2X) 2010; 2012
Chicago White Sox 2005
Miami Marlins (Florida Marlins) 2003
Remember, the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks were owned by a partnership headed up by Jerry Colangelo. And the 2002 Anaheim Angels were owned by the Walt Disney Company.
The general manager has to take some of the heat. One can only look at the Kansas City Royals and their top hitters…the center fielder; the right fielder and the short stop. Even their manager and hitting coach were integral to the success of rebuilding the Crew. Look in the other dugout. It all began with the trade of the rising star shortstop, JJ Hardy to the Twins for Carlos Gomez. Gomez potential success led to the trading of Escobar AND Cain to the Royals for Greinke who was traded to the Angels for Segura. Question: who is a better center fielder, Gomez or Cain? Who is a better shortstop, Hardy, Escobar or Segura? And, who is a better manager, Yost or Roenicke? Who is a better hitting coach, Sveum or Narron?
The manager is judged by winning championships. The Milwaukee Brewers has had only one manager in their history who won a championship.
The players have to be placed in a position to succeed. And if, as the above stats are any indication, they have not been placed in that position. The manager is not doing what he is expected to do. If he doesn’t have the players to accomplish winning a championship, he has to press the GM to acquire them. The GM has to press the owner to acquire them.
Now it is up to the owner to prove he is a champion. He has made his course. He kept the general manager. The general manager has kept the manager.
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.
The mark of a good leader is one who never fails to place his people outside of Harm’s Way. A leader places his people in a position to succeed and not fail. Not since Bob Bremley has any manager in major league baseball been so stubborn and restrictive to the old looney rules of baseball as happened this week. In this case, the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers has again failed miserably.
On Thursday, behind a brilliant performance by Kyle Lohse, pitching as though he wanted to show-up his former team for not re-signing him and allowing him to become a free agent after a great season for the Cardinals, was removed after 7 1/3rd innings of great clutch baseball. At this time of the year, you want to see your horses prove themselves, not only to the team but also to themselves. That’s why they are paid the big dollars. Pitching wins. Hitters are for show. Managers lose.
The Cardinal manager let his pitcher remain in the game even though he was down 2 runs. He knew he had his horse on the mound and no one in the bullpen was going to do any better. But the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers simply does not understand that. He needs to manipulate the game as the modern-day dictates, the starter goes 6 or 7, the set-up man comes in for the 8th and the closer in the 9th comes in. So he put in a set-up reject from Cincinnati. Which begs an entirely different question: Why would a team trade their set up guy to a team within their division? The only answer probable is that he can not stand the pressure of season play off drives. And so the die was cast when the general manager made the deal to bring him over. Quickly, he gave up not one, but three runs ending the Brewers series loss and the pennant race as well. Why bring him in when your starter was as strong as a rock? You didn’t see the Central Division leading team manager play that arrogant mental game!
And don’t give the excuse that the set up guy fell victim to a bone headed play by Mark Reynolds at first when he was thinking of daffodils in the spring rather than understanding that there was only one out as he was keeping the runner at first close to the bag. He could have simply flipped the ball to second and the shortstop would have thrown it back to him for an inning-ending double play. But series are filled with bonehead plays.
Nope. This one goes down to lossy pitching…really lossy pitching.
So what does the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers do on Friday, after a flight to Pittsburgh to face the team that is between them and the playoffs? With the lead again in the eighth, he pulls Yovani Gallardo, THE veteran horse of the Brewer staff who was pitching one of his best games of the year, for … guess who? Yup. Same Cincinnati reject. Same result. He could have brought in anybody but the Reds Reject, even Wei-Chung Wang who is like a Bonus Baby, of 2014 no less. At least he would have had the desire to perform against the team that waived him. But in came the lumbering giant from Cincinnati. Out went the last possible chance of reaching the post season.
Now I ask you…why?
Bob Bremley revisited is the apparent answer. Why did Bremley put Byung-Hyun Kim in back-to-back relief appearances in the 2001 World Series and create Mr. November? Why? In one 24-hour period he nearly crashed everything Buck Showalter created. What possesses a manager to go back to the bad-smelling, stinky well after he has just been poisoned the night before?
Bremley eventually got fired because everyone finally understood that the team that won the championship was the creation of Showalter and not Bremley’s genius.
In 2008, the Brewers had one of their best teams. They were loaded with great young talent, the heyday of Prince and Braun, Weeks the giant left-hander from Cleveland, not Cincinnati, CC Sabathia. The owner knew that this was their time. He fired Ned Yost who did a lot of the same things that the present Brewer manager does continuously. They brought in bench coach Dale Sveum. The Brewers were assured of a post-season playoff berth.
Perhaps the manager of the Brewers said it best on Saturday evening as he was kicked out of the game in the 5th inning. When asked by a reporter about certain decision making as the game progressed during the manager’s post game news conference from Pittsburgh, he said, ‘You can see the game much better here (watching television) than in the dugout. The decisions are clearer here. You can make them instantaneously. No problem.’
It was the most disturbing statement ever made by the head of a team, including Dennis Green’s post game tirade years ago. Nope. The current manager of the Brewers said it all. He can see the game better and make sure decision while watching television. Isn’t that exactly what Bremley is doing today?
The first memory of the game, like many before and after, was with my Grandfather. A fervent baseball fan, he would be in the living room, sitting in his favorite corner chair (the ‘easy’ chair) where the game would be on the radio with Bert Wilson calling the action. He would always say, “I don’t care who wins, as long as it’s the Cubs!”. They were the first major league club I ever saw in an exhibition game against the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association.
What happened this past week was a milestone of sorts. Those loveable Cubs were not in the basement of the Central Division of the National League. What in Clark & Addison is happening?
For as long as one can remember, the one word you could use with the Chicago Cubs was ‘hope’. When Jack Brickhouse (‘Hey-hey!”) was calling the play-by-play, ‘hope’ was in the form of Dee Fondy or Ernie Banks (reminded me of legendary Crusader shortstop, Lenny); Phil Cavaretta or Stan Hack on WGN. Hack was my Grandfather’s favorite player. No wonder. He was a .301 career hitter. When it was Vince Lloyd calling the play-by-play (Holy mackerel!”) or ‘Harry’ in the booth, (“It might be…it could be…it is!”), ‘hope’ was Santo or Gracie; Ferguson or Sarge. Problem was…all of these teams rarely finished above level…above .500 for the season.
There were a few Cub teams that finished above .500, but in the 21st Century, the beloved Cubbies have only been above .500 for a season 6 times, including the heartbreaking 2003 season (we simply will not mention the guy’s name and you know who we are talking about). In the 1990s, there were only two seasons when they finished above level. Same with he ’80s; three times in the ’70s; four times in the 60; none in the ’50s and only twice in the ’40s in which they were in their last World Series. Since 1937, when Bill Veeck planted the ivy that grace the outfield walls of the ‘Friendly Confines’, the Chicago Cubs finished above .500 only 21 times in 76 YEARS. That brings a whole new meaning for the word ‘hope’.
This is a team that is celebrating their 137th year in the National League this season. The National League of Professional Baseball was formed with an eight-team circuit consisting of the Boston Red Stockings (now Atlanta Braves), Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs and starring A. G. Spalding, the sporting goods king), Cincinnati Red Legs (expelled after the 1880 season for marketing beer at their games and for playing on Sundays were reformed in 1881 and are today the Reds), Hartford Dark Blues (disbanded in 1878 due to one of the first gambling scandals in the game), Louisville Grays (disbanded in 1878), Philadelphia Athletics (expelled after 1876), Mutual of New York (expelled after 1776 season) and St. Louis Brown Stockings (folded after 1877).
There were great teams along the way. After the 1902 season, a group of young kids named Tinker, Evers and Chance gave the Chicago Daily News the distinction of renaming the team The Orphans. This band of superb players were legendary. In 1906 they won 116 games and lost to the rival White Sox in the World Series but won the World Series in 1907 (110 wins); in 1908 and 1910 (104 wins). They were no longer orphans but baby bruins and renamed the Cubs.
These beloved Cubs were last in a World Series in 1945. Who can forget ‘Curse of Bill “The Goat” Sianis’, with aging pitching star Lon Warneke; Hank Wyse who had a 22-10 record that season; Phil Cavarretta at 1st with a .355 BA; Stan Hack at 3rd with a .323 BA; Peanuts Lowrey with a .283 BA; Andy Pafko with a .298 BA, all of whom where managed by the legendary Charlie Grimm.
That was then.
Today it is up to a group of New Orphans named Rizzo, Castro, Wood, Samardzija, Valbuena, Feldman and Castillo. Led by Dale Sveum on the field and Theo Epstein in the front office, for a brief moment this past week the New Orphans were born. They were not in the basement of the Central Division.
Never being sure of what a season will bring, ‘hope’ this year may be more than a reminder of the past. Three wins in a row will do that. As of this Sunday morning, they are NOT in the basement.
The San Francisco Giants are champions of baseball, once again. Their sold out season at home was a testament to their power in the West and throughout all of the game. The center of attention come spring will be Scottsdale. That is where they will begin to defend their title this past season and second in the past three years. For other teams it was a season to forget.
In Miami, what should have been a season to remember, became a nightmare quicker than you can say Fidel Castro. Of course when Ozzie said those two words, the beginning of the end began. Ozzie is no longer the manager of the Miami Marlins. He’s out of the fish tank. Now he can spout off about the aged dictator in Cuba all he wants with his profanity laced vocabulary. Así que lo siento. Me encanta el béisbol.
In Boston there was a tea party like only Beantown can deliver. They had fired the most successful manager in their history, who won not one but two World Series supposedly because he had lost control of his team. Guys were actually drinking beer in the clubhouse. Imagine that. Baseball players drinking beer in the clubhouse. After that horrible discovery was blabbed throughout New England on every fish wrap and sports talk mediums, there was a long debate between the candidates they would select as the next great Red Sox manager. Suffice to say the guy they should have taken grabbed the job with the Cubs before the Red Sox decided on Bobby Valentine. Yikes!
In Philadelphia and Milwaukee, great pre-season pitching staffs do not materialize to automatically put them into the playoffs. In Minneapolis, they found out that you can’t have a team built around one high-priced catcher. On the North side of Chicago, Dale Sveum is facing, like others who have taken over that franchise before him, another losing season which must be followed with a winning season or Sveum will have swum. On the South side of Chicago, they let a season of great leadership by one of their own disintegrate in September. St. Louis, Atlanta and Cincinnati had hopes crushed by the tidal wave known as the Giants. Arizona’s owner showed how he knows more about baseball than anybody because he has all the baseball cards Topps has ever printed. That makes him an authority. Unfortunately, Gibson can’t manage cardboard players. Houston was seen rushing over to the American League. They forgot to play ball in 2012.
Seattle had a season to remember. They gave up the greatest player in the game to the Yankees but had more great pitching performances at their stadium than anywhere on the planet ever. They are smiling in Seattle. Same with the fans in Washington, DC, where they were rewarded with a team that brought the city their first divisional championship. Quite an accomplishment for a City that had not seen a title winner since 1933.
Pittsburgh did it again. After a hot start, they faded badly. What do you expect from a team that is managed by Clint Hurdle. Cleveland was never in the papers the entire season. Nor were the Padres. The New York Mets were non-factors this past season. Colorado disappeared in their own thin air plus their manager left after the season. Kansas City’s only claim to fame this season was hosting the All-Star game. The two ‘T-Towns’, Toronto and Tampa Bay had flashes of brilliance but not enough to put them in the big dance. On top of that, the Blue Jays lost their manager who became the head dude of the Boston Valentines.
Then there were the New York Yankees. The rapid loss of skills of A-Rod and the physical loss of The Captain, doomed the pinstripers this past season. In Dallas, the almost unexplainable coldness of Hamilton’s bat late in the season doomed the Rangers third attempt to win it all in three straight seasons. This franchise still hasn’t realized it needs pitching to win. Did you hear that Nolan Ryan? Remember what you did better than most? It wasn’t hitting. And what can you say about Detroit that hasn’t already been said?
That brings us to Baltimore. What a magical season Buck Showalter brought to baseball. 93 wins. Finally, Buck got his due. After rebuilding the Yankees and then getting fired; after building the Diamondback from scratch and setting all of the pieces together to win the World Series and got fired; after rebuilding the Rangers before he got fired; he took over a team that had won only 66 games the year before he got there and in two short years took them to the door of greatness.
Then there is Oakland and Billyball. The Athletics won the American League West title. And they played for the Championship of the American League. Go ahead. Name three players on the A’s besides Coco Crisp. They won an exciting 94 games. This was one of the most amazing stories in baseball. Billy Bean for President. He is the star of this franchise. Nobody understands the game better…on how to get the most out of talent like Mr. Bean.
On the other side of the equation is the Battle for LA. On one hand there is a billionaire who bought a pig in a poke and thought he could win the American League pennant and finished third. On the other hand there are billionaires who not only have to improve a team on the field but a stadium they play in and make it once again safe to go and see games. The Pujols Angels were only exciting because of one rookie. Their manager finally showed what he is made of. Arte has to take a look at his manager if he hopes to capture a title soon. As for the former LaLa Dodgers, they have gotten rid of all that has been bad over the past couple of years by taking out of the game the battling McCourts.
Which leads us to the Giants of San Francisco. Jack Elliot once said “Baseball is grown men getting paid to play a game.” In the City by the Bay, men enjoyed playing baseball this season like few before them. The had food fights before the games. One of their biggest boosters was an injured pitcher who played Ernie Kovacs routine of The Nairobi Trio in the dugout during the game. There were more than smiles. There was laughter and joy of being in a game they love to play. Pandemonium ruled. They put new gas into the gashouse gang. Think of them as the laughing gasers. They have all winter to smile the smile of victory.