One of the things fans love about baseball is that consistency…consistency in a lineup that you can cheer for…consistency in Milwaukee, where you can play ons-ons knowing how the players perform day-in-and-day-out. It is where the love of the game is imbedded.
For the 2016 edition of the Cream City Nine, consistency doesn’t exist. There are only three players who were in the starting lineup in April of 2015 still on the team. Jonathan Lucroy, the catcher, along with Khris Davis in left and Ryan Braun in right. As of Saturday, there is a new second baseman in Pigsville as Aaron Hill and pitcher, Chase Anderson, who will wear the ball and glove logo traded for the starting shortstop, Jean Segura, to Arizona. That means that it is bye-bye time for Scooter. Gone too is the first baseman, Lind to Seattle; the third baseman went to Pittsburgh; the popular center fielder on Opening Day last year is in Houston. One of the game’s top relievers flew to Detroit. This year’s team will truly be the a ‘can’t tell the players without a program’.
Along with the deal for Segura came starting pitcher, Chase Anderson, who has a penchant for tossing gopher balls. With a hitter friendly stadium like Miller Park, he seems like a strange fit for Cream City.
So what does the starting lineup on Opening day look like at this point?
Lucroy behind the plate.
who’s on first.
Hill at second.
Arcia is a short.
I don’t know at third.
Davis in left.
Somebody’s in center.
Braun is in right.
And starting, who knows.
It’s going to be an interest spring training where hope is all that the Brew Crew has in 2016.
But by the time a team gets to Miller Park in April, one thing is for sure: the brats will be ready with the secret stadium sauce and raw chopped onions and mustard. Along with a cold Miller Light, and a bag of fresh popcorn, there will be a winning lineup in the Cream City this coming season. As for on the field, who cares.
After all, the Milwaukee Brewers have never won a World Series in their history of forty-six seasons. And the current ownership has never won a league pennant.
This year there are players who are named Barnes, Barrios, Blazek, Cravy, Goforth, Guerra, Houser, Z. Jones, Knebel, Pena, C. Carter, Cecchini, Villar, Walsh, Wilkins, K. Broxton, Flores, Liriano, Reed, Santana and Nieuwenhuis. Now, quick…what are their numbers.
There are 25 players on the active roster of each Major League Baseball team. There is a manager and several coaches. Each play an important part in a winning team. Without a strong manager who understands his team, there is no success. Without a good hitting coach, who takes time with each of his players to build routine and confidence, there probably is no success. Without a good pitching coach, who can feel when a player has reached his breaking point without pulling the string too quickly, there probably is no success. Without a good bullpen coach, you can’t have success if he does not have a complete understanding about that pitcher he is sending in on that given day. The bench coach has to be the encyclopedic mind who allows the manager to make the decisions with all of the knowledge at hand, both in player performance and possible circumstances which may or may not affect a decision.
Coaches are more than teachers. Some get ahead and are glued to a franchise because they are ‘good guy’s’, always quick with a quip. That get the voices in the broadcast booth to proclaim how funny he is and what a great guy he is. After all, the third base coach of the Milwaukee Brewers said ‘I’ve been teaching the hot dog vendors some signals. Well, just the one where they throw me sausages’.(Twitter 03.10.12)
Yes. Coaches are more than teachers. They are more than just funny guys or pals or good to be around. They should not be promoted because of propinquity. Just being with an organization a long time should not insure one of promotion and continued position. Coaches are important because they have to make sure they put the players in a position to succeed and not fail.
Managers can lose games because of a wrong hunch or a blundered tactic. But the most important coach on a team is probably the third base coach. The ‘Windmill Man’. Why? He is the most exposed. His duties include holding or sending runners rounding second and third bases, as well as having to make critical, split-second decisions about whether to try to score a runner on a hit, a wild pitch, passed ball or mental mistake while accounting for the arm strength of the opposing team’s fielder and the speed and position of his baserunner. His is, in short, critical to a team’s success.
The Milwaukee Brewers have a third base coach and this is a condensed view of some of the decision he had to make this season.
On Tuesday, 3.24.15 vs D’Backs, the third base coach had Jean Segura attempt to stretch a double into a triple with one out. Segura was out. It wasn’t even close. But then again, this was Spring Training and it is a time to try things out. Perhaps in the future of the season, this lesson will have been learned.
On Wednesday, 3.25.15 vs Rangers, the third base coach had Carlos Gomez attempt to stretch a double into a triple with two outs. Gomez was out even though it was clear that GoGo was not performing up to his standards in the outfield as it appeared that he had slowed up a step from the previous campaign. But it was still Spring Training. Perhaps by the time the season began, this lesson would have been learned.
On Thursday, 3/26.15 vs Mariners, the third base coach of the Brewers had Scooter Gennett attempt to stretch a double into a triple with two outs in 2nd inning. For the third straight day, this runner was out. OK. It was still Spring Training and perhaps in the regular season this lesson will have been put into the memory box and it would not happen when it counted in the regular season.
On Saturday, 3/28, with a runner on second, stood the Brewers starting pitcher Wily Peralta. A hit to right field and third base coach does not give a signal to the runner who lumbers around third. Strangely, the runner scores as the ball, thrown in by the right fielder, hits the rubber and slows it down long enough to allow Peralta to score. Why no signal? Well, it is only Spring Training and perhaps he was thinking about something else as there are a number of pretty girls in the stands and he loves to wave to all.
On that same Saturday, 3/28, the game was tied 2-2. Runners were on second and third one out. Aramis Ramirez was on third. A fly ball was hit to right field. Third base coach and Ramirez go down the third base line toward home before the coach motions for Ramirez to go back to third and tag up because the right fielder catches the ball. The right fielder throws Ramirez out at third to end the threat for a double play. Well, it is only Spring Training and after all, they don’t count in the standings. Lessons learned. Spring Training is done. Lessons learned.
The season has begun. On Tuesday, April 7, 2015, in the second game of the regular season, in bottom of the 4th at Miller Park, with the Brewers trailing the Colorado Rockies 3-0, Adam Lind, leading off, hits a ball off the wall in deep right center field. He is waived to third by the third base coach and is easily called out with a relay from the center fielder. Rule #1 in baseball: never commit the first out of an inning at third. OK. this is the real season. Every decision counts. A coach must always put his players in a position to succeed. Well, it’s only one mistake. And after all, coaches are human too.
On Friday, April 10, 2015, with Kris Davis at third, the pitch got away from the catcher, going nearly to the first base box seats and the third base coach did not advance him, even though the Brewers were down in the game. Your mother could have scored. OK. that’s two. It’s early. Only April of a very long season.
On Friday, May 22, 2015, the third base coach held Willy Peralta at third with the game tying run. He could have scored. You could have scored. That’s three.
On Saturday, May 23, 2015, the third base coach sends Sanchez home and is out at the plate. On that same day, May 23, 2015, he questionably sends Ryan Braun home who is out at the plate. Brewers loose in extra innings. That’s four and five.
On Wednesday, May 27, 2015, he sends Khris Davis, who had hit a triple, to go on contact with one out. Ball is hit to the first baseman, Brandon Belt of the Giants, who easily threw home to Buster Posey to tag the sliding Davis. The world could see that nobody would be able to score with Belt facing home plate. Belt, Posey and the Giants’ announcers were a bit stunned to see anyone running on a ground ball to first with one out and the game tied 0-0. With Aramis Ramirez the next batter, who hit a single to right, the run would have scored. Problem was, it would have been the game tying run as the Brewers scored one in the inning and lost 2-1. Now do you understand the value of a good 3rd base coach? That’s six.
In St. Louis on June 3, 2015, the third base coach sent Jonathon Lucroy, who is probably slower than your mother, from 1st to second and was thrown out for the third out in an inning that could have produced some runs as they were trailing 7-3 at the time. While you may question that this was the first base coach’s responsibility, the player looked toward the third base coach as he had rounded the bag on his way to second for a signal. He could have signaled a ‘no go’ and the player would have returned to first. But he didn’t. That’s seven.
Credit where credit is due. the third base coach waves Segura in the bottom of 2nd on June 13, 2015, from 1st on a double by Scooter Gennett to take 2-1 lead against Nationals at Miller Park in game #3 of series on Saturday.
Back to reality, on July 23, 2015, with runner at 1st & 3rd (Perez), down by a run and nobody out, the third base coach lets Perez try to score on a hit back to the pitcher who turned two by throwing to second to get that runner from first (for the first out) in the inning as shortstop then threw to home to easily get Perez attempting to score from third. This single mistake took the Brewers completely out of the inning and the game. Honestly, people are still scratching their heads on this. That’s eight.
On August 12, 2015, with nobody out, with Brewers leading 1-0 against the Cubs, Gennett hits a double with Segura coming up. Segura lays down a perfect bunt to move the runner to third. But wait! The third base coach does not stop Gennett as he over runs 3rd and continues toward home. After the pitcher fired the ball to the first baseman to get Segura, Anthony Rizzo sees Gennett way off third and fires the ball to third to double up Gennett. Brewers loose a perfect chance to score with a runner on 3rd and one out. Eventually loose in 10 innings with a walk off, their 11th of the season. That’s nine.
Players are gauged on both their hitting and fielding. This season so far, only one player has more errors than the third base coach on the Milwaukee Brewers and this is the #1 error prone team in Major League Baseball.
Without fully analyzing all of the teams in the AL and NL, we cannot say the third base coach of the Milwaukee Brewers has cost more games than any other third base coach in the game. But just in this brief examination, he has, in the eyes of this writer, made nine mental errors that costs the team games. With 70 losses so far this season, only three other teams have more, all in the National League. Imagine if those nine errors were not committed and the team actually won those games. They would be a .500 club.
Granted that is wishful thinking and certainly this team, this year, has failed miserably. But the coaches must be held responsible for not winning just as the man who hired them, namely the fired manager of the Brewers who started the season and is now the third base coach of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The third base coach of the Milwaukee Brewers should put his players in a position to succeed and not fail. That is his sole responsibility. For years this coach has proven he is not up for that challenge. It is time for a change.
The dwindling days of the trade deadline brought Aramis Ramirez back to the Pirates where he began his career. And to be honest, during his last season before he retired, he looked ever bit the player over the hill who stay one season too long to satisfy an itch that historically has driven ballplayers beyond their useful years. His movement around the hot corner had slowed while his deadly accurate throws to first lost a bit of the zip it once had. And to add injury, he actually did not make a pick up of a ball with his bare hand and throw it to first which had been his trademark of a great third baseman in his past. To get anything for him is a plus, in this case a minor league player. Thus, the Brewers have removed a major salary off of their payroll and replaced it with a waiver list pickup replacement. This position is wide open for a young player to take in 2016.
Carlos Gomez, as was stated here in the beginning of Spring Training has lost a step. He has also become increasingly inaccurate with his arm. During Thursday’s game in Arizona, he made two terrible throws to third, one of which allowed a run to score. On Saturday, on a routine play he threw a ball back to the second baseman which was remarkable in that Gannett was about to make the stop on a ball that was thrown out of frustration rather than accuracy. He kept the man at first, but it showed something is not right with GoGo. The man simply is not the same. Yes. He is exciting. Yes. He creates an active clubhouse. Yes. He was last year at the top of his game. This is the time to trade him for a really good player.
The tension of being on the rumor trading block is affecting Gerardo Parra’s play in the field. On Thursday he misplayed a ball, which at best would have been a double but was graciously not given an error by his local hometown official scorer after doffing his cap during a tribute to him a few minutes prior. He is hitting very well, better than he ever has in his career. He would be a terrific bargaining tool for a trade but, if you can trade Gomez for a good player, Parra should stay and move to center and stay there for a long, long time. No. He is not a fast as GoGo. No. He is not as flashy as GoGo. But, he is so much better than Khris Davis that there is no one who can replace him. Besides, in an interview with Bob Bremley over the weekend, Craig Counsell admitted Parra is his favorite ballplayer, or at least that is what Bremley said as he was pushing Taco Bell.
Jean Segura is the perfect pawn in the maddening Brewers ‘two in the bush is better than one in the hand’ philosophy of baseball deal making. Historically, it has always been the allure of the potential of someone else rather than the stability of what you have that has haunted the Cream City Nine. Thus, Segura is doomed to leave, and hopefully he will bring a very good player in trade.
Jonathan Lucroy is being bandied about like an unwelcome domino. For some reason, he is out of favor with current management. Last season, arguably his very best, provided his downfall. Somewhere along the line, he was convinced or convinced his agent to ask for an extension of his contract. But the Brewers didn’t bite. Then his injury this season and a horrible season at the plate so far. His value in the front office is sliding yet he still remains the third best backstop in the National League. This is the time to move him. Why? He is no longer the doubles machine of the past. He is at his peak. He is a valuable player for trading to get another valuable player.
Mike Fiers is an interesting piece in the middle of the power trio (Peralta, Nelson and Jungmann) as he is also well under contract and makes only $513,000. But he is 30 years old. And there is a feeling that he can bring two additional pieces in play. With a covey of arms ready and able to plug the Fiers hole, it might be time to send him to that Canadian team north of Buffalo.
So as the end of the trading deadline appears ever closer, it is time to build for the next championship season. This has been one season to never remember again.
They are New York’s second team. And there are plenty of reasons for that position. They are the Diamondbacks-of-the-East as far as ineptitude in making trades. While the D’Backs trade players away who have been, and for some become future All-Stars, the Mets are reluctant to trade to improve without including the Yankee-type head fakes and faints to get the majority of fans in their mind-set before they make a trade. It is the ‘trade dance’.
Then there are the Brewers. A lovely team formerly in pinstripes, the team from the Cream City dances the Polka. No Metropolitanism here, these are the beer and brat team of the Midwest. They have heart. They cry a lot. They leak out the possibility of something new in the bush when rarely does that exist. They never believed that ‘one in the hand’ is better stuff. Go for the unknown hope of the future…never for the reality of today. That just isn’t parochial. And if there is one trait the citizens of Pigsville are known for, they are and forever will be parochial. ‘Hail Mary full of grace…’.
These two teams were made for each other in trades. After all, Frankie Rodriguez came to the Crew via the Mets. But this is another year. And we have a few examples of this amazing dance as the Loveables attempt to fill the holes at third, at short, in the outfield and at first at the bane of the Brewers. They have good noses. They can smell these things. After all, they are the Mets. They have extensively scouted Jean Segura, the young shortstop of the Milwaukee Brewers who will be moved because of a bright young star in the bush leagues. Remember, ‘One in the hand’ philosophy? But the Mets have sent out signals, via the press, that they don’t like his ‘free swinging’. Using the press to push the price down? What would you expect from the home of ‘The Donald’. Segura has shown some upside and is young. Plus, he has three more seasons under club control. That makes him affordable. If there is one thing those lovable Mets like is ‘affordability’. It solves every question in a press conference. All of this for a guy who stole first base.
Moving to the waltz, there is the Aramis Ramirez dance, as the veteran Brewer third baseman is on the Mets radar. He is the one sitting against the wall of the ballroom. A notorious late season hitter, he is at the end of his playing career. But he still has some pop in his bat, as evidenced on Saturday night. But those lovable Mets have again floated a lovely head fake of ‘who would play where’ if Ramirez were acquired. It’s all so wonderful to see a fully orchestrated Metropolitan talk-fest prior to decision making. ‘Run it up the flagpole and see which way the wind blows’ seems to be a favorite tack out at a sea called ‘Citi’. After all, they would only be obligated to pay the last couple of months of his $14 million contract. (Let’s see, $14 million divided by 6 times 2…) He is the ultimate rent-a-player. They, through the press, let it be known that they don’t like his play on both sides of the ball (per Joel Sherman of the New York Post via Twitter). That means they really must like him.
While all this is going on, the Brewers have the Twins and Rangers looking at Neal Cotts; The Padres looking at Gerardo Parra, along with the Giants who have ‘loved Parra forever’ according to Andrew Beggarly of the San Jose Mercury News (via Twitter). They wanted to get him from the D’Backs but then Arizona didn’t want to trade him to a division rival. Note to D’Backs: you have no rivals until you field a winning team. The 2001 Championship is just a memory. The Angels are also looking at Parra. And of course, those crazy Mets have leaked out that they would like a left-handed hitting outfielder who plays in Milwaukee. Head fake!
Surprisingly, The Mets haven’t said anything about their bullpen. The Blue Jays are looking at Francisco Rodriguez. Everybody in need of a first baseman are looking at Adam Lind of the Crew including those Loveables.
Why all of this interest in a team in last place in the National League Central? Last year at this time this same team was in First place. The only addition since their collapse was Jonathan Broxton who has disappeared in a fog of ineffectiveness. Along with the acquisition of Will Smith who became a Brewer in one of the most despised trades in Milwaukee history (OK…Stormin’ Gorman to Cleveland was a doosey) when traded to KC for Nori Aoki, they also got rid of the numb Roenicke as a manager.
Point is, the teams who are chasing this year’s dream of winning a pennant and a World Series championship, see weakness in the Brewers executive ranks. The non-effective General Manger is in limbo as he is in the process of being offered the face-saving transition to upstairs where he will be in charge of Zoo Nights in August with the title of ‘Head of Whatever’, a title passed down by Harry Dalton in his quiet dual with Buddy Selig, the ex-used car ex commish. Craig Counsell is in line to become the next GM. The San Diego Padres interim manager, could succeed Counsell in the dugout. The third base coach would be replaced; Garza would be sent to limbo on permanent DL and all the world would be better in Cream City. Weak GM? Lower costs for players needed. The Mets love this type of upheaval.
That’s how the Mets play ball..err dance. Floating rumors and letting the pot boil with ‘what ifs’ and ‘why nots’. That’s the way those dizzy Metropolitans like to play the game. And their record shows exactly what a success that has led to. Of course, Milwaukee is not much better. Looks like a marriage made in baseball heaven. #watchingattanasio
In the world of symphonic music, the orchestras of the world are led by a conductor, who is regarded as the task master. He is the one who whips the orchestra members into place by relentlessly practicing over and over again until everyone understands his or her part and intones correctly every single phrase of every single measure. The entire group is led by a concertmaster, usually the number one chair violinist who is the second highest person in the orchestra. Then comes the first chair oboe, who is the one that begins the orchestra by first, carrying a tuning fork and plays a perfect ‘A’ to bring everyone into tune.
Orchestras are measured by their excellence. There is a group which contains the ‘Major’ orchestras. In America, according to various sources including Gramophone, one of the leading music publishers in the world, the Majors are Philadelphia, New York (#12 in the world), Cleveland (#7 in the world), Chicago (#5 in the world and the top in America), Los Angeles (#8 in the world), San Francisco (#13 in the world), Boston (#11 in the world) and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (#18 in the world). Then there are minors, divided like baseball into various levels. While there may be good musicians in Milwaukee, as a group, they cannot hold a candle, or in this refrain, a violin bow, to Chicago.
Baseball is very much like this. The manager is the task master. The coaches are the one who train, over and over again the disciplines of a major league player, in every situation, in every condition. Then there are the star players who set the tone for the team. The General Manager is the one who makes the chemistry work, mixing the whims of this player with the wants of another player, and so forth and so on. The Milwaukee Brewers today are a step away from relegation. They have earned an ‘F’.
Here is a team which is playing with, on Friday, a minor league catcher, a minor league second baseman and a below average coaching staff. The shortstop just got off of the DL. The Center fielder is a step behind what he was last season due to injury. The left fielder is the fourth outfielder on the team. And the manager is new. Since taking over three weeks ago, things are not going so well.
This is not a good team. Nor, with all realism, was it ever a good team even though they led the league last season for the first five months. The swan song they went into in September is legendary and that carried over in Spring Training and in the first two months of this season. The sad losing song is the same.
This team needs new professionals in many positions, most importantly in pitching, in coaching and in the general management of the organization.
They will have to trade away some of their better players to bring in top young talent from the minor leagues. They will have to free up their salary structure to lure free agents pros to come play in their world-class ball park. They need to reach the very top where it is most important, and that means pitching. They need pitchers like Zach Greinke who as a Brewers never lost a game he started in Miller Park. How impressive is that? Considering that Miller is a hitter’s paradise and a home run haven, ZG’s performance was legendary. There are pitchers who will become free agents who can come close to matching that record. Milwaukee needs them.
Now for the hard part. San Francisco needs a third baseman. As difficult as it may seem and this being his last year, Aarmis Ramirez should be dealt to the Giants if for nothing else, to free up some cash. Then there is Gerardo Parra. A gold glove outfielder, he should be dealt while he is hot. A middle relief pitcher could be pulled off. There of course is Ryan Braun. With $100,000,000 due him in the next five years, he is the key to a top ranked pitcher or two top prospect picks. Washington needs a top quality outfielder and they have pitching. He would be perfect for the Yankees who need a star attraction like Ryan for a couple of their top minor league pitchers. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim need an outfield of his caliber. Milwaukee needs a top-level pitcher. Texas, Seattle, Detroit, and Cleveland could use a player of Braun’s caliber. Milwaukee needs a top-level pitcher. Even the dreaded St. Louis Cardinals will need an outfielder. Milwaukee needs a top-level starting pitcher or a couple of their top prospects. The rest including Khris Davis, Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse and Martin Maldonado could all bring Cream City something of value. Davis simply was a bad replacement for Aoki. Garza was washed up. Lohse just seems extremely uncomfortable on the mound. No pace. No rhythm. No confidence.
What they should not do is mess with the middle. No trades for Lucroy, Segura or Carlos Gomez.
All of this hinges on a new general manager with vision for the future. That is why it is important that the first step that should be taken is to bring in an architect to put a new team together who understands the game as it is today. Pitching is paramount. Starting pitching is a necessity. And a coaching staff that are proven winners is a must. At present, including the new manager, there are only three other coaches who have won a League Championship or a World Series (Coles won a WS with Toronto in ’93; Tunnell won a NL title with St. Louis in ’87; and Shelby won two WS with Baltimore ’83 & Dodgers ’88.). And it is important to understand this: the current general manager has never won a League or World Series title.
The new General Manager has to be able to see into the future and blend all of his or her skills in bringing a winner to Cream City.
And that is the job of the owner. He not only has to have vision but has to be knowledgeable enough to find that perfect baseball person to take up the challenge Milwaukee presents.
The music they are playing in Milwaukee is off-key. Fans at Miller never boo. But on Saturday the dissidents drew the nation’s ear with the sound of displeasure. Some of the players are below average. Some of the coaches are below average. The new manager has been a winner in the game. Now, let’s surround him with other winners and make music together.
Tap the violin bow on the music stand and allow the oboist to play an ‘A’. We are #watchingattanasio. So far, all we have here is a Concerto in F Flat. Now is time to get in tune and make some music on the field of play.
The fun has stopped. The crowds have left the sunny climes of Florida and Arizona one more time as all the practice games are over. The fields are vacant, once filled with the laughter of the guys who bring the summer dreams alive, even the grounds keepers have left as hot dog wrappers tossing ever so softly in the air on the field around the keystone sack. The aisles are empty. No more hawkers loosening their pipes for the trip back up north. The Brewers and the Indians have left Maryvale to allow the real season to begin.
So, now they are all in their places. The rosters have been set. Schafer has made the team again hoping this time he gets his chance to prove he can hit in The Show and stick this time. Scooter will try to hit left handers to see if he can become the permanent second baseman in the shadow of Gaintner’s ghostly past. Lind is a mystery at first but appears to be a good hitter. Surely he will not be able to live up to the expectations of the legend of Prince. Segura seems set to prove the horrible 2014 events are far behind him after batting .305 in the spring. The trusted veteran, Ramirez is ready for his final season at third. He is the epitome of the word ‘veteran’.
Lucroy is ready for another season to see if he can be discovered as the real #1 catcher in the game. Gomez appears to be THE center fielder of the National League as he has groomed his game flawlessly this spring hitting .316. Davis has the breath of Parra on the back of his neck as he battles to prove he deserves the left field spot. And then there is Braun. Once the face of baseball, now he only gains respect in the corners of Cream City. The boys in Pigsville are taking bets on the thumb as they toss down another boilermaker which passes for breakfast. What he did…he did. That will live in his past and be kept in our minds by the writers who will always bring it up like a permanent footnote to his name. But this spring, he has looked like he did before all this happened batting .395 and an OPS of 1.252. Lohse will do what Lohse does…win 14 games. And that won’t do. Of course it is all about pitching. #watchingattanasio
Which brings us to the inevitable…who will win the divisions this season.
In the American League West it will be a fight between the team with the longest name in the history of sports, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Orange County So Cal and the Oakland A’s. And this year, with the best player in the game residing in center field, the Angels will take the crown. He is that good. If you haven’t seen Mike Trout play, he is worth the price of admission. In the Central Division, the Chicago White Sox will be the only winner in Chicago. In the Eastern Division, the Boston Red Sox will again top the standing.
In the National League West, the Los Angeles Dodgers will finally prove that money can buy everything, including a divisional crown. In the Central Division, the St. Louis Cardinals will again be the team to beat. And in the East, the Washington Nationals will demolish the division. Hail to the Nationals.
That is all on paper. Now they take it to the field.
Tonight at Wrigley Field, the game begins for real.
The air is filled with the perfume of jasmine in Arizona during this time of the year. Flowers blooming everywhere give new hope to life for the coming year. The sound of the bat hitting the ball and the scattered talk of the players indicates that this is spring and hope really is in the air. That cannot be said for the Milwaukee Brewers. This is a time of expected expectations. This is due to the leader of the Cream City Nine, one Ron Roenicke.
Since taking over for the disaster that was led by Ken Macha, in his four years in the Brewer dugout, Roenicke has been noted for being a nice guy and a very honest man. It does not speak to his ability to manage a baseball team except for Aarmis Ramirez who says Roenicke is the best manager he has ever had. But remember, the great veteran third baseman played for the Cubs before coming to Milwaukee.
What has Roenicke done? He has won 22 more games than he has lost. He had his team blow a huge lead last year after leading the Central Division for over 4 months last year and dropping completely out of the playoff picture beginning on Labor Day. It may have been the biggest disappointment in Brewer history. And, oh yes….he was not fired by the owner. Nor was his third base coach released. But that’s another story. And during the entire first week of Spring Training, his team continued the slide until this week.
The Brewers did little to improve his chances of improving because, according to the owner, ‘it is a good team’ and he expects them to win. Let’s look at this team that is so good few changes were made.
At catching, no need to improve here as Martin Maldonado is one of the best back-ups in the game. Jonathan Lucroy is a terrific hitter but much has been said of his hamstring problem. He finally played in his first single Spring Training game on Saturday.
First base is always a problem. Adam Lind was brought in and he has been virtually a no-show as he has only played in two games. Nobody backs him up because both of the players that rotated in this position have left.
Second base has Scooter Gannett who is now full-time at the keystone sack. But he has not proven that he can hit left handers.
Shortstop has a gem. Jean Segura is the real deal. He went through a lot of problems last season but he has looked terrific in Spring Training both on the field and at bat.
Third base is Aarmis Ramirez who is as good as any in the league in the Hot Corner. But it is his last season. There is no replacement sight.
Left field is a mystery. Kris Davis has never looked good since being named Braun’s heir apparent two seasons ago. Gerardo Parra is terrific but he may be needed to fill the hole at first. And there is always Logan Schafer who has looked brilliant in the field during Spring Training. He has made a personal highlight reel this spring with his fielding. But can he hit?
Center is home to one of the most underrated outfielders in baseball. Carlos Gomez IS the face of the Brewers. There is none better.
Right belongs to the former face of the team. Ryan Braun looks strong but still has no home runs in the spring. In fact, he has no hits so far this spring. With all the talk that his thumb is OK, don’t forget that is not all one has to worry about with this form All-Star. There is still the head problem that no one is talking about. Can he play under the cloud he created as the face of baseball to the shadow of a ballplayer he is today?
Pitching is the key to making it into the playoffs and winning the World Series. The Brewers traded their #1 pitcher to Houston for nobody. They do have a solid performer in Kyle Lohse and the real-deal, Wily Peralta. But after that is a wing and a prayer. Can Jimmy Nelson become the major league performer everyone thinks he will become? Can Fiers paint more corners than Gallardo and actually not bore all of us to death? And, can we unload the weight around this team’s neck, Matt Garza, and get someone in return?
As for relief pitching, we have what could be a pretty good bullpen. A-Rod, Henderson and the Hulk from Cincinnati. It could be a potent 7th, 8th and 9th inning trio. But can they perform in 162 games?
The team continues to play poorly in the field. Mental mistakes in handling the ball, which are fundamental for most clubs, is a lost art in Maryvale. This is what extends losing streaks. There was a feeling among fans at the ballpark this spring that Roenicke could be fired before the season began. Then the team went on a three game winning streak before being clobbered by Seattle on Friday and totally outplayed by a split-squad Cub team on Saturday. In an interview watching Jimmy Nelson pitch, Roenicke argued that while Nelson had worked on a curve ball in the off-season for a third pitch in his arsenal, the skipper felt that he should be reverting back to the good slider he had last season. What? Who monitors these guys? Is there no communication between the pitching staff and their players during the off-season? Why do we have to wait until his second outing to discover that the manager and pitcher are not on the same wave length? Lets see…the pitcher thinks he needs a curve ball. The manager thinks he should have a slider. Yikes!
We are all #watchingattanasio and hope that someone, namely the General Manger, gives up on this Macha re-do and bring us someone who can finally turn this franchise around. But the problem with that thinking is that since the GM came aboard, the Brewers have continued their losing streak with 956 wins and 987 losses under Doug Melvin’s leadership. In their history, the Milwaukee Brewers have won 3,419 games and lost 3,739 games. Nearly 26.4% of all losses have come under his leadership. That is not a legacy to be proud of. #watchingattanasio
So it is another spring when the air of hope is eternal. There is no bright hopeful in the wings…no Prince…no Braun…no Hart who can give us all the lift our spirit needs. The farm system is bare. The proud days of 1982 are still visions in every Brewer fan’s head. Pauly is now that old-looking manager of the Minnesota Twins and Robin is that old-looking guy in the Crew’s dugout who is getting bigger ovations at the ballpark than most of the players for just for showing up. Rollie, Simba, Gantner, Coop and Oglivie don’t bother to show up any more. Harvey is watching from above.
Will we ever see the hope…the dream of being the World Champion realized?
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.
One of the songs waffling in the air during a September in the Midwest is the sound of the crowd at the baseball stadiums. For those who expect to win, the sound is full of excitement. For those who are on the brink of collapse, the sound of pending failure is deafeningly muted in its outburst of last air escaping from a dying effort.
Down by two in the bottom of the night, with two outs and a runner on third, while two rookies tried in vain to deliver a key hit to extend the comeback, there was a crescendo from the crowd lifted by the hope that what might be could happen. But most in the park understood that this is where so few of these epic victories have taken place as the inevitable surly would happen.
Baseball in most cities in the Major Leagues have rarely seen the delight of a championship season. It is the hallowed ground of the Yankees and the Cardinals, the Dodgers and the Giants. Oh, there have been bursts of greatness in Oakland and once in Phoenix, Atlanta has had one and ironically, Miami and Baltimore have seen their share as have Minneapolis and Detroit, Cleveland and Cincinnati. Boston and Chicago, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and once years ago by a team no longer in Milwaukee. Even Washington saw it before most people who are alive today were born. But never has the World Championship flag flown in Houston or Dallas, Tampa or San Diego. Seattle has never seen it fly except in other team’s stadiums.
But now in the present era of the game, the team that now occupies a place in the major leagues in Milwaukee has never seen it fly at home. They came close one time when they had won the American League pennant, but never since…some thirty two years ago. And perhaps, after a gallant season where they were in first place in the Central Division for so long, since early in April until Labor Day, another season sounded a possible death knell last night as the crowd silently filed out of Miller Park into the gloom of another failed season’s night. And who else would have silenced the crowd but their brewery town rival from the western edge of the Mississippi River down on the Eastern edge of Missouri.
One has to understand that it will be another long season where the Hot Stove league always brings hope for the next season, where the Cubs could win this next year because they have all of these great young players. But settling back on a cold winter’s night with every next day is pewter gray, the thought will haunt how close the Brewers were to finally raising the crown this year.
But the assembled veterans who made first base their home really couldn’t pull off the power first base as Prince used to do for so many years. Scooter just turned out to be a rookie who couldn’t come through in the clutch while Rickey did an amazing job raising his average with so few attempts at Second. Jean was hit in the face with a bat by a team-mate in the dugout, lost his son in a season to be forgotten by him and all of us who hopes he never has to go through anything like this again. Davis performed OK in his rookie season, hitting with power sometimes when it really didn’t count and in need of an arm to control left. Go Go was just a shade off of amazing before he hurt himself again, and now the team misses his power of excitement and energy. Braun just looked hurt all year, unable to regain the powerful stroke that made him a superstar before his fall from grace. Now, sadly, he is just another ball player. Vonnie continued to pick at the corners into mediocrity where he could no longer blow the ball past the pesky hitters who continued to run the count to full. Lohse just could not eliminate the one bad inning. Peralta, after an amazingly strong first five months, simply ran out of steam. Garza was a complete waste of a three-year, $50 million contract, no longer capable of being a stopper. Yet maybe there will be hope as Lucroy had a career season along with Maldonado who should be the catcher as Lucroy could solve the first base situation. Fiers was tremendous for the past month and the amazing Aramis was the real pro at third base who delivered with the bat and played a remarkable third, fielding superbly. No one plays the slow rolling grounder to third better.
When the great slump of 9 losses finally ended, the inexperience of the manager was exposed and his coaching staff, praised by the team announcers on television as hard-working, were overwhelmingly inadequate.
And on Saturday as the crowd quietly slipped out of the Miller gates, the field left behind was again witness to another close-but-no-cigar season of fading dreams.
Now the pewter gray days and cold winter nights are surely ahead as we head in the direction of Pigsville. But for the Cream City Nine, this year was better than most and with that as a memory, it is a blessing for those of us who have rarely seen the big flag fly above the place called home.
The Marquette will taste the same at Real Chili. The pepperoni and extra onion pizza will still be sensational at Balistrai’s in Tosa. And the Belvedere extra dry will be blessed at Elsa’s on Cathedral Square. Nothing will change. And the Brewers will miss the World Series Championship again.
The stands were full as the anticipation of ‘him’ coming to the plate was a long-awaited event, second only to the unveiling of the Bud Selig statue the previous year. But this anticipation was for someone who could actually do something ON a baseball field, not conspire against the players by collusion with the owner down on the South Side of Chicago.
Many had their first brat of the season, fully dressed with kraut and Secret Stadium Sauce from the middle stand on the third base side of the main entry. That’s where you get the good ones. It is dipped and smothered with the magic sauce. It went down smoothly with that cold Miller Lite as all eyes were on the first base dugout.
As he appeared to go onto the on-deck circle, picking up the rosin bag and tapping it on the handle of his black bat, there was a heightened murmur rolling throughout the stands as he was grasping it with both hands and pulling it over his head, waggling it back and forth over the back of his head to loosen up the kinks of a long winter wondering if he could play without assistance. The fans watched in near quiet as Gomez, last year’s Gold Glove winner in centerfield, led off the game for the home team against the team that left the Cream City so many years ago, breaking hearts of a generation of fans in the hinterland where beer and sausages go together like peanut butter and jelly, not chicken and grits.
The practice swings he made took on new meaning as last year’s All-Star, Jean Segura, batted second. Then, taking the bat upside down, grabbing the barrel of the stick, popped the bat to the ground, releasing the bat ring which weighted the bat for practice swings, he stepped out of the on-deck circle and riding a wave of applause and fans standing in ovation of their fallen star, Braunschweiger stepped across the batters box, across home plate and took his practice swing facing third base before he stepped into the box where right-handed hitters stood, politely acknowledging the crowd’s moving welcome with a slight upward motion by his right hand, bat resting and tapping home plate, before he took his stance.
Why this acknowledgment of by those who are, all that is, right and good, to a fallen hero who not only took PEDs but lied about it to everyone he had ever met…family, friends, workers, fellow players from his team and opposing teams, partners in business…everyone?
The understanding here, Milwaukee is an extremely parochial town. It is, from the very beginning, built upon hard-working, blue-collar folks who went to school to be educated and to church on Sundays and were taught the Golden Rules of life. The town is Catholic, not unlike Boston or Chicago or Baltimore. Yet this is a community filled with deep conviction that you do have a second chance to redeem yourself and people are entitled to redemption.
That won’t happen in Philly or Cincinnati, Pittsburgh or Los Angeles. It’s not that they are bad. It is simply that they are not this parochial. It absolutely will not happen in Phoenix where they still believe that it is better to shoot someone than allow them to explain what they did and why they did it. After all, the Zona is only a bit over 100 years old. It is also the home of the Sherriff who puts his prisoners in pink and has them stay outside all year-long in Tent City.
What will be interesting is to see how he is greeted in one of the most respected baseball towns in the country, St. Louis. The bitter rival of the Milwaukee nines throughout most of the later half of the Twentieth Century, St. Louis has a reputation not unlike Milwaukee. It has seen some of its own disgraced and ashamed. How will they welcome the latest Black Sheep from the other beer city up North?
On Monday, April 28th, we will find out. That will be the fourth game of the year between the Brewers and the Cardinals and the first visit of the Cerveceros to the Land of Busch to play the Cardenales.
Then we will see. Then we will learn the depth of the disgrace. Let’s hope his thumb gets better before then.