‘The Moment’

'The Moment'

‘The Moment’


Many people in life have ‘a moment’. And, in the annuals of life, one time…..just one time, a person has ‘the moment’. It is defining.

On Friday with most of the crowd headed for the parking lot, the 31 year old rookie sensation, Junior Guerra, was pitching a gem for the Cream City Nine. He had stepped into the top of the ninth against the mighty Pirates, having giving up only two hits the entire evening and now was leading 3-0. He appeared to be in complete control.

His journey in Pigsville had begun, not against the Pittsburgh nine, but when rookie General Manager, David Stearns’ made his first official move after being hired in that position. He claimed, last Fall, one Junior Guerra off waivers from the Chicago White Sox. As Manager, Craig Counsell said, ‘I don’t think anybody accurately forecasted this. But he was claimed for a reason. He was claimed because we thought there were possibilities there and there was talent there. We thought he was a guy that had gone about it in a really different way and got to this place in a really different way, but that he was a really good pitcher at this point. This level of success, maybe not. But yeah, I think we thought he’d have success.’

And he showed his confidence that really wasn’t at all about the Bob ‘Hurricane’ Hazel of this generation, but rather the rookie manager’s grasp of the psychology of the game. In the 9th inning, Junior had begun with only 87 pitches and Counsell was attempting to have his starting pitcher finish a complete game, the first complete game for the Brewers since last July. The first batter, Matt Joyce, got a single. Then John Jaso was walked. Two on, nobody out, Gregory Polanco was coming to the plate as the tying run.

It is one thing to face Jaso, but it was quite another to face this guy before the big guy in the Buc’s lineup.

The eyes of the 29,000+ were all on the manager in the dugout. Would he come out and bring in, what has been, a very iffy bullpen to try to wrap up the game? Or would he let his rookie pitcher try to complete the game in style? It was the beginning of ‘The Moment’ that will live with Brewer fans forever. Out came Counsell, looking quickly right down the first base line, then eyes down and walked up toward the mound as he approached the pitcher and the gathering infielders, Carter, Gennett, Villar and Jonathan Lucroy (in his last inning and game as a Brewer?).

Collectively the crowd at Miller Park was disappointed expecting the manager to accept the ball from his pitcher. But now he became a fan-legend in the land of beer, brats and cheese. With Guerra offering the ball to the manager, Counsell refused to accept his pitcher’s decision and slapped him on the back and it was now his game to try to finish. With stunning and overwhelming approval and cheers from everyone in the crowd and those watching on television, Counsell left the mound, with an astonished pitcher receiving slaps with the gloves of the other players on the mound. This was ‘The Moment’ when the guy from Whitefish Bay proved to be the next great Brewer manager, in the shadows of George Bamberger and Harvey Kuenn. Right then and there, Craig Counsell would be marked in history as doing something that most in the stands had never seen. But to be truthful, all were very happy to see. What a confidence booster. This was one giant step for the kid from Whitefish Bay.

The rest of the story, although a bit bizarre, finished with a win. Polanco hit into a fielder’s choice as Carter forced the runner at second. Andrew McCutcheon hit into another fielders choice to drive in Pittsburgh’s only run when Marte singled off the head of the second base umpire before Jeffers relieved Guerra and retired Kang to end the game with another (sic) Brewers victory. While the details of the game were unusual, THE story was about the decision that Counsell made on this historic night. ‘I really wanted him to get through the inning’, Counsell said of Guerra. ‘I thought he pitched like he deserved to, and I don’t think he was tiring or anything like that. I thought he was still making pitches.’

Guerra had won his seventh game of the year. He had lowered his ERA to a most respectable 2.70, ranking him #8 among Major League starters, just behind Stephen Strasburg and ahead of Jake Arrieta. And for all the stat rats, in 16 starts over 103.1 innings this season, the ‘Velvet Venezuelan’ has posted a 3.67 FIP, and an 85/34 K/BB rate while generating ground balls (46.3%) and infield pop ups (11%) along with a 20.8% K rate and an 11% swinging strike rate.

But the real story that will live well beyond the wins and losses of the pitcher will be…’Do you remember the time when Counsell walked out to the mound and kept the pitcher in the game?’ That will be ‘The Moment’. And that is when Whitefish Bay’s favorite son became THE manager of the Milwaukee Brewers in the minds of the Crew’s faithful forever.

Play Ball!

#win63
#watchingattanasio

Watching Attanasio

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?

It is time to …

Play Ball!

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Melvinitis

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.

Play Ball!

Sixto Fingers

Baseball can bring on an argument quicker than you can spell “Aspromonte”. Not that Bob or Ken’s name was that difficult to spell, the point is that baseball is a game filled with opinions, decisions and statistics that can bring about the Third World War.

Recently ‘trades’, more specifically, ‘great trades’ was the topic of debate. Nearly every fan and every team have their favorite or infamous trade stories. Which begs the question: Who was the greatest General Manager of all-time? After all, GM’s are the architects of ball clubs and much of that structure is built through trades.

For me there is one distinct gentleman who because of his savvy on one cold December day pulled off the greatest trade in the history of the game. And because of it, he is the greatest GM of all-time.

On Dec. 12, 1980, the Milwaukee Brewers acquired catcher Ted Simmons, pitcher Pete Vuckovich and closer Rollie Fingers in exchange for outfielders Sixto Lezcano and David Green and pitchers Lary Sorensen and Dave LaPoint. Brewers needed a closer. Cardinals needed an outfielder.

This deal paved the way for the Brewers to make the playoffs in 1981 and ’82. Fingers, a future Hall of Famer, won the Cy Young Award in 1981, Vuckovich won it the following year. Simmons provided offense from behind the plate and leadership in the clubhouse.

It is unheard of to pick up two Cy Young winners in a single trade. This deal however wasn’t as top heavy as some would think. The Cardinals had a surplus of relievers and catchers and needed Sorensen and LaPoint to solidify their starting rotation and got Green, who was regarded as one of the top prospects in baseball at the time. They also got one of the rising young stars of the Brewers, Sixto Lezcano, a fan favorite.

Which brings about the question once again: who was the greatest general manager of all-time? What about Whitey Herzog, who was on the other end of this trade. After all, the Cardinals beat the Brewers in the ’82 World Series.

But the Cards had and continue to have a grand tradition. The Brew Crew had none, not until Harry Dalton moved from the California Angels in 1977 to take over the Milwaukee franchise. Harry was whip smart. He understood the game like few men. He had hired Earl Weaver in Baltimore. We all know how that turned out. In Milwaukee, he hired George Bamberger, Weaver’s pitching coach. ‘Bambi’s Bombers’ began what would become “Harvey’s Wallbangers” when Harvey Kuenn won the only American League pennant in the history of the franchise. The players who came over from St. Louis in that December trade joined the likes of Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Jimmy Gaintner, Cecil Cooper, Ben Oglivie, Gorman Thomas, Don Money, Jerry Augustine, Mike Caldwell, Moose Haas, Pete Ladd, Bob McClure, Jim Slaton and Don Sutton. Check out that lineup and see how many Hall of Famers you can count.

The trade made the Brewers contenders. In baseball, that is all you can ask. The rest is up to the players themselves.

Harry Dalton is the greatest general manager of all-time because he gave those players a chance from mediocrity of what could be and could have been to American League Champions.

Not bad for a guy from West Springfield, Mass, via Amherst College.

I had the unique pleasure of knowing Harry after he had retired. He wasn’t one who patted himself on the back for what he had done. In fact, just the opposite. He once told me that the toughest thing he had done, and one of the poorest decisions he had made, was when he traded Gorman Thomas to Cleveland in 1983 for Rick Manning. “I had to have police protection to walk from my office in County Stadium to the car and back. I didn’t understand the emotional tie Gorman had with the fans and the chemistry he created in the clubhouse.” He brought Stormin’ Gorman back in 1986 to complete his career in Milwaukee.

That’s what made Harry Dalton a great person to me. He understood finally that non-statistical tie to the game. Here’s to Harry. The greatest GM of all-time.

Play Ball!

We lost a good friend of this effort on baseball this week. This is dedicated to mmbupkus. See you on the first base side behind the dugout.