Tag Archives: Norichika Aoki
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.
For many Major League baseball teams during this time of the year, it is a year of ‘what ifs’. What if this didn’t happen. What if that key guy didn’t get hurt. What ifs are part of the game. Now, however, these teams are watching the excitement of the playoffs on the outside looking in. This is also a time when arbitration is on the docket and the budget for next year is put in place. While many teams simply look around to see what is out there with a clear budget in mind, others like the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and New York Yankees, all of whom are on the outside right now, along with the astute management of the Boston Red Sox, are willing to pay the price for the next guy who will take them to the top. These owners understand ‘star’ power better than most. And they have the money to pull it off.
But for the others, like the Milwaukee Brewers with limited outside revenue, compared to the ballooning cable fees offered other teams, a budget means a real budget, usually south of $90 million. If this team caught on fire at the beginning of the season, which historically they have rarely done, they could push the 3 million mark in attendance. To a small market team, that is gold. It not only means the generation of $60 million+ dollars in ticket sales, but the added $60 million+ in concessions and merchandise revenue. With their smallish radio and television rights revenue and the team’s share of MLB television revenue, Milwaukee can make a profit, albet a small one. There are a lot of expenses besides those of player’s payroll.
Thus the player budget is critical. This coming year, there are some givens. The key players including Aramis Ramirez will make $10 million. Although no longer considered a key, Rickie Weeks, in what many consider his last big league payday, will earn $11 million, as will Kyle Lohse and the center of all that is Braunschweiger, upon his return from the depths of deceit. Yovani Gallardo will earn the top salary on the team with $11.5 million. All Star centerfielder, Carlos Gomez, unquestionably the MVP for 2013 will earn $7 million. All Star second baseman, Jean Segura will make $505,000 in only his first full season in The Show. One of the top lead off hitters in the major leagues, the solid right fielder, Norichika Aoki, will earn $1.5 million. Tom Gorzelanny who has both started and turned into an excellent long reliever, will earn $2.95 million. These ten players will account for $68,600,000 of the budget next season if no further deferments are negotiated. The remaining 15 players will need to be assembled within a $20 million window. That’s chump change for some of the teams, but not for the club who holds sausage races each home game.
Let’s examine how that might be accomplished. Some of the players, like the closer, Big Jim Henderson, will earn $505,000 as will Brandon Kintzler who also looked good in relief. Martin Maldonado will back up Lucroy and earn $505,000. The jack-of-all-trades, someone the Milwaukee club always is in need of, Jeff Bianchi, will earn $500,000 as will rising star starting pitcher, Wily Peralta. The dueling reserve outfielders Logan Shafer (left handed hitter) and Khris Davis (right handed hitter) are $500,000 apiece. Then there is the next starting second baseman, Scooter Gennet, who will also make $500,000 in 2014. This adds up to an additional $4,150,000 for a total of $72,750,000.
Thus, one has a little less than $15,250,000, give or take a million, to fill in the seven remaining positions on the opening day roster.
The fourth starter on this year’s team that showed promise toward the end of the season was Marco Estrada. He made $1,955,000 last season but is in arbitration. If the team can sign him for under $2,500,000, it will have $12,750,000 for the remaining six players. But is he worth it? If you could pull in a top line starter like David Price, you could let other teams suffer the ups and downs of Estrada. Let’s assume that there is no Estrada in Milwaukee’s future.
Tyler Thornburg and 6’9″ Johnny Hellweg (Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year) can both be paid $500,000 apiece to come out of the pen and be spot starters. Now you would have $14,250,000 available for four players.
Juan Francisco is a player who probably cannot be changed from the “I’ll swing at anything, anytime to show everyone how far I can hit a baseball” school. So many players of Francisco’s mindset have failed to play in the majors for long. It is probably not worth the time nor the cost to keep him around. Rather, the beloved former All-Star Cory Hart, if he is able to get on his two feet and swing a bat and play first base, should be convinced to take a $2,500,000 plus incentives to see if he can play. Milwaukeeans love him. He IS a true Brew Crew member. The balance of the budget, some $11.75 million, could then be used to offer better pitching to come to the land of brats and beer. You could increase this a little bit more if you decided to have Shafer or Davis recharge in Nashville, to up the ante to $12.25 million on four pitchers. As a replacement for Francisco or Hart, should he fail, Lucroy is the logical candidate.
Doug Melvin is a master at finding a diamond in the ruff. He can find someone or a couple of someone’s who can fill the bullpen bill out of a scrape heep that others have gone through and discarded. But as everyone should know after reading overtheshouldermlb, pitching is everything. If only the Brewers could dump Rickie’s huge $11 million contract and convince the left fielder to donate his $11 million contract for the good of the game and the Brewers (think about it. What a PR coup that would be. Talk about taking liver and making it real Usinger Braunschweiger?), they could go after someone like David Price. Now 3 million fans in attendance could very well be a sure thing AND playoffs could once again be a subject of conversation in the land that Schlitz once made famous.
Rickie: do yourself a favor and ask to defer a healthy chunk of that salary to 2015 and/or 2016. Left fielder: think about what a positive affect you would create by working for $1 this season, without strings attached. Allow the team and the city you emotionally destroyed for a season, recover and once again fall in love with you all over again. Result? Brewers would have an extra $18,499,999+ to be able to use to land a stalwart on the mound.
A star brings fans into the park. Rarely do ‘diamonds in the ruff’ provide such a boost.
Hitting is for show. But pitching is for all the dough.
Come on, Milwaukee. Get back into the game.
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Sound Of Suddenness
It begins like this.
He rolls the ball in his right hand, with his thumb pushing along the red seams, making the ball rotate over the callus of his massive paw, until the seams are exactly in the right position…that familiar comfortable position to grab onto and hurl the sphere 96 mpg at the plate 60’ 6” away.
Wap! The sound of the cowhide sphere smacking into the leather catching mitt behind the plate.
It is the sound of unforgettable presence. You know exactly where you are when you hear that sound. It is pleasure.
There are few sounds that compare. Sure, the crack of a bat is a unique sound. But it is different from the really great player and the good player. Ted Simmons hit a heavy ball. The sound of his bat striking the ball was very different. It was ‘Thud’. Ryan Braun’s sound is magic. It is an explosive ‘Crack!’ and you know the ball is gone. ‘Bang’.
But it is that simple sound of the ball banging into that perfect pocket of the mitt that is unique.
On July 28, 1997, sitting at a nearly empty Milwaukee County Stadium, in an afternoon game which was a rescheduled game that became part of a day-night double header, Roger Clemens was on the mound for the Toronto Blue Jays. In this nearly empty stadium, the sound of his fastball hitting the catchers glove was astounding, resounding in the hollow stadium. It was so loud that the echo of emptiness must have been heard by all who were to oppose him that day. It is to this day, the loudest sound I have ever heard a baseball hitting a catcher’s glove make.
Advance to this spring.
Wily Peralta is a highly acclaimed 23 year old rookie with the Milwaukee Brewers. The sound of his 96 mpg fastball hitting the glove is nearly like that. This past Tuesday, he was on the mound in Wrigley Field for his second start of the season, a season where the Brew Crew relievers picked up where they left off early last year by giving up leads continuously. Axford is Axe-less. Michael Gonzalez, who the Brewers got from the Nationals in he off season is usually off. Tom Gorzelanny, another Nationals transfer has not been sharp. Tampa Bay acquisition Burke Badenhop is bad enough. Mark Rodgers is on the DL. Chris Narveson is on the DL. Jim Henderson appears o be the only relief pitcher that has his stuff his year. Yet on this frigid Tuesday evening, where a number of his team mates (Rickie Weeks, Jean Seguari, Ryan Braun, Norichika Aoki, Carlos Gomez, Yuniesky Betancourt and Jonathan Lucroy) were wearing ski masks to temper the cold, donning short sleeves, Peralta was mowing the Cubs down, with 5 strikeouts in 6 2/3rds innings. It was like watching Mitch Seavey, the 53 year old Iditarod winner, wear a tee shirt on the first leg of the Alaskan nightmare. His fastball on this night had that sound.
However, during the Alaskan race, there are tried and true dogs to team through to victory. Not all can make it on the long journey, but the reserves come through for the winners. With the Milwaukee Brewers, there has been a history of great relief pitching. Legendary Ken Sanders, in 1971, appeared in 83 games (a Brewer record to this day), winning 7 and saving 31 games. He also holds the Brewer record for most games finished in a season (77 in 1971).
Rollie Fingers was at the head of the class. In 1981, he won the coveted MVP, the firs relief pitch to do so. He also won the Relief Man of the Year award, The Sporting News Fireman of the Year award and the Joe Cronin Award for distinguished service. The Brewers all time relief leader, Dan Plesac held court. In 1989 (with 33 saves) he is chosen to the All-Star team, making him the first Brewers pitcher ever to be chosen three straight times. In seven years, Plesac holds the Brewers record for all time saves with the team (158).
In 1995, Mike Fetters converted his first 15 save opportunities to increase his consecutive save streak to a then club record 20. There was Doug Jones with 36 saves in 1997 and then little remembered Bob Wickman (37 saves in 1999). He earned an All-Star roster spot in 2000.
Dan Kolb in 2004 had 39 saves, a new franchise record and was named to the All-Star team. The next season, Derrick Turnbow earned 39 saves out of the bullpen. In 2007, Francisco Cordero had 44 saves (a new Brewer record at the time) and earned an All-Star position. In 2009, Trevor Hoffman had 37 saves.
In 2010, Hoffman earned his 600th career save in the very twilight of his career. Then in 2011, the “Beast Mode” Brewers had a great group of relievers, Takashi Saito, LaTroy Hawkins, Francisco Rodriguez and John Berton Axford (46 saves, tops in the National League).
Truth be told, the Milwaukee Brewers have had good relief pitching and closers in the past. But right now, even the explosive exploits of the Dominican Republic’s, 6’1”, 245 lb, flame thrower, cannot get the job done by himself.
The Brewers need, as it was almost all of last year, needs a savior.
They need it right now.
Peralta’s sound of suddenness should not go without victory.
The magic that is spring training has been held up a bit due to the playing of the World Baseball Classic, an event which brings mayhem to the major league training sites every four years. During this time it is called Spring Draining.
The other day in Maryvale, the Arizona Diamondbacks took on the Milwaukee Brewers. While the crowd was in a good mood before the game started, the murmur of ‘who’s that’ was fully in the air. For the Milwaukee nine, the only familiar starter from last year in the lineup was Carlos ‘Go Go’ Gomez in center field. The rest of the team was unrecognizable from last season. For the D’Backs, there was very little familiarity with last season’s team.
In both cases, it was not because there was a roster turnover but it was the return of the WBC. Most of the starters for both teams were now playing for one national team or another. For the Brewers, 8 players were with various national teams. John Axford, Jim Henderson and Taylor Green were playing with the Canadian team. Ryan Braun and Jonathon Lucroy were playing for USA. Yovani Gallardo was the leading pitcher and Marco Estrada played for Mexico, while Martin Maldonado was with the Puerto Rican national team.
Add to this unusual circumstance that Aramis Ramirez was out with an injury and Jean Segura along with Ricky Weeks were nowhere to be found, the infield was filled with complete strangers, one had no name on his back. He was merely number 94.
In the outfield, ‘Go Go’ was paired with some that were unfamiliar. Norichika Aoki was missing with a rare day off.
So, for the price of admission you saw the lineup filled with players like Josh Prince (always good to have a Prince back in the Brew Crew’s line up), Caleb Grindl and Khristopher Davis. In the infield there was Scooter Gennett and #94 along with Alex Gonzalez at first and back with the Brewers after a year away. Behind the plate was Blake Lalli. That’s right. Blake Lalli.
Oh well. Everyone needs a Lalli in the spring.
After the 19th of March, after the last ball has been thrown in San Francisco in the WBC final, order will be restored. Spring will once again be sprung. And the normality of the game will be restored. The rhythm of the season will come back again. Braun will be in left. Lucroy will be behind the plate. Axford and Henderson will be in the bullpen. And the days of Lalli will become a faint memory. You can see the smiles from here.
The Green Of Spring
When you first glance at it in the spring, the field is like a carpet where only those heroes of the game are privileged to walk upon. It is perfectly cut and trimmed, green as green can be. In this time of chasing the statistical universe, one can only marvel at the setting where the basics of the game are played.
Legends bring the game into perspective. Joe walked toward that position. You should have seen him play. Did you see him? Was he as good as they say? He was certainly one of the greatest Yankees of them all. Henry played right there. ‘Slough Foot’ they called him when he first came up. He seemed to glide when catching a fly in left field of old County Stadium. Unbelievable bat speed. “Stan The Man” played there. Every kid in the nation copied his unique batting style regardless if you were a left hander or not. He was one of the few, at least in the games I saw him play, who was never booed at an opposing ballpark. So many stepped on that platform of green on their way to Cooperstown. Willie, Mickey and The Duke. Robin, Reggie and Teddy Ballgame. Who will be next to take this trip from outfield to The Hall?
Spring allows all to show us their wares. Trout, Harper, Cespedes and Aoki all showed exceptional talent in their first year patrolling the outfield, last year. Their rookie seasons presented great promise. Mike Trout had quite a year. At age 20, he hit .326, scored 129 runs, had 182 hits which included 8 triples, walked 67 times and had 315 total bases. He also had 49 steals. Oh yes. He had 30 home runs. In the field he had 4 errors for a .988 fielding percentage. Norichika Aoki, a 29-year-old rookie, batted .288 with 150 hits of which 37 were doubles. As a lead off hitter, he drew 43 base on balls, had 30 stolen bases and had an amazing 10 home runs. With 81 runs scored, he had 255 total bases. In the field, he had only 3 errors for a .988 fielding percentage.
Bryce Harper hit .270 on 144 hits with 26 doubles, 22 home runs and 18 stolen bases. He scored 98 runs. In the field, he had 7 errors for a .979 fielding percentage. At 19 years of age, he unquestionably has a future of brightness in front of him. Yoenis Cespedes, at 26, had 142 hits with 25 doubles, 23 home runs and 82 runs batted in while producing a .292 batting average. He had 70 runs scored and 246 total bases. In the field he had 3 errors for a .987 fielding percentage.
Who will step out and make those giant strides to Cooperstown? Any of them? None of them? That’s why the game is so much fun in the spring. The green of spring brings hope for all, including those of us who cannot seem to get enough of it. Lucky for us, we have a full month left during this amazing time of the year.
Declining Offer Unselfish Act
With little fanfare, Norichika Aoki decided not to participate as a member of Japan’s team for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. It was no minor decision as he had been instrumental in bringing Japan the championship in 2009 and was named to the WBC All-Tournament Team along with the likes of Ivan Rodriguez, Jimmy Rollins, Yoenis Cespedes and Daisuke Matsuzaka. He was THE All-WBC center fielder.
He opted to skip this year’s tournament so that he could prepare for the upcoming season with the Milwaukee Brewers. In his first season last year, Aoki hit .288 (20th in the NL) with 10 home runs and 30 stolen bases (9th in the NL). He also finished 11th in doubles and 20th in OBP with .355. Those stats placed him 5th for the National League’s Rookie of the Year voting this past season.
Last November, few if any had heard of Aoki. He was a star in Japan but to most baseball fans his exploits in the Central League of Japanese baseball for the Yakult Swallows went unnoticed. Then fate stepped in and brought a new kaze suzushi, fresh wind, in Milwaukee’s direction.
With Ryan Braun’s immediate future wrapped up in the silence of major league baseball’s deliberation process, the possible need for an outfielder became apparent to the Cream City brass. They took a look toward Japan to find a probable answer. Without a solid offer, Aoki came over to Maryvale, AZ, spring training facilities in early Winter to ‘work out’ for the Brewers management. His signing may have been one of the most fortuitous of the year for the team. When Braun’s suspense was lifted and the Brewers found their outfield crowded with the likes of Braun, Hart, Morgan and Gomez, a 5th outfielder could be considered a luxury. As fate would have it, a series of injuries that hit Milwaukee in May placed Aoki in right field and the rest was history.
Before leaving Milwaukee after the season, he gave tribute to his teammates and coaches for welcoming him as the only Japanese player on the team. His turning down the invitation to play for his native team in the WBC, gives us all a clue to this man’s dedication to his present team located in the heart of the Midwest where beer and brats are as plentiful as Sake and rice cakes in Tokyo.
When he came up to the ichigun level (Japanese equivalent of ‘major leagues’) in his rookie season in 2004, he saw little action. But he did win the MVP in the Fresh All-Star Game (the Japanese version of the All-Star Futures Game). That gave him momentum for the next season and when injury hit his team’s center fielder, he stepped in hitting .344 and was voted the league’s Most Valuable rookie. From that point on, he was a force.
If his decision to dedicate himself to training for the Brewers 2013 campaign by turning down that WBC invitation, the indication is clear that this coming season could be a breakout year for Milwaukee’s favorite Japanese import.
If It’s Milwaukee, It Must Be Kielbasa
Doctors may say that the quickest way to solve a psychological condition is to eat. It’s comfort food time. It’s ‘get better’ time. It’s like ‘when the child is sick, give them some chicken soup’ kinda thing. The baseball team from the Cream City needs some chicken soup. Or….a Kielbasa.
This year the Brewers have had three major issues: 1. The psychological hurdle of AP; 2. The calamity of the Bullpen and #3. The problem of having an inexperienced manager at the helm.
The Psychological hurdle of AP
The Milwaukee Brewers this season are a team in transition, from the dynamic youthful bunch who came up through the farm system to AP, an era known as After Prince. For years, the Brewers have had great First Basemen. It all began with the popular Mike Hegan, a member of the original Seattle Pilots from whence the Brewers came. He carried on the Milwaukee tradition of big banging first sackers that was set in the days of the Braves with Joe Adcock/Frank Torre/Nippy Jones fame. George “Boomer” Scott followed up and set a new standard of banging the ball around the park, with his 36 home runs with 109 RBI in 1975 being the hallmark. Then St. Cecil of Cooper (32 home runs with 121 RBI and .313 batting average in 1982), the man who brought the Brewers into the 1982 World Series with one of the greatest clutch hits of all time to win the American League pennant over the California (nee Los Angeles, Anaheim, of Anaheim) Angels.
But the great first sackers didn’t stop there. John Jaha hit .300 with 34 home runs and 118 RBI in ’96. Richie Sexton is still legendary for hitting some of the longest home runs in the game hit 45 home runs in 2001 and 2003. Then came Lyle Overbay, who hit the cover off of the ball with more doubles (53 in 2004 while hitting .301) than any other Milwaukee first baseman before him or after. But he was just keeping the sack warm for the kid who everyone knew was the center of the first base universe storming up from the minors.
Prince Fielder was born to be a Milwaukee Brewer. He was everything a Milwaukee first baseman was all about. But Prince brought a new dimension to the game. He was an enthusiastic crusher with youth going for him. Here was the pillar of the young Brewers (50 home runs in 2007, 141 RBI and .299 batting average in 2009) and were everything the Milwaukee club was looking for ever since the great Robin Yount came up and spent the next 20 years making the Brewers a serious contender each and every year. He, along with Weeks and Hart came up through the ranks pounding the opposition with their youthful style and power (230 home runs as a Brewer). Prince was fun. Prince was the leader. Prince was the soul. Prince was the Man.
If 2012 is remembered, it was for the silence of the void that was created when Prince left.
They wore Brewers on the front of their jerseys, but they simply were not the Milwaukee Brewers. Their Prince had left. Long live the Prince.
Then something very strange happened. Like the Autumn Spring, false hope gave way to a new and wonderous happening. The next ‘coming’ came and quickly went on the DL for the season. This created a nightmare of a lineup. But someone in the very mold of Adcock and Cooper moved into the outfield from his All-Star position in Right and after 2/3rds of the season, the Brewers began to look once again like the Milwaukee Brewers. Prince, for many diehards, was merely taking a vacation. And now Cory Hart took his position, not his place, but his position at first. Cory, long a favorite of the Keilbasa Krowd, began to hit the long ball once again, and did that crazy little shake of his hips to his teammates in the dugout when he banged a double time and time again.
With the help of the other corners, Aramis Ramirez at third, Norichika Aoki in right and of course Ryan Braun in left, along with the brilliant rookie catcher, Martin Maldonado, solid clutch hitting along with a couple of young rookie arms, brought back the excitement of the past few years where Milwaukee was averaging over 3 million fans at the gate. From way back, 14 1/2 to be exact, they began their move with an impressive sweep over the league leading Cincinnati Reds. Then came Houston.
The Calamity of the Bullpen
A microcosm of a season was in evidence in one single game this past Friday evening. Good fielding, good timely hitting. 24th blown save. K-Rod (Francisco Rodriguez) is finished. His $8.5 million isn’t worth the paper it is written on. John Axford is useless. If you cannot get a breaking ball over the plate, you are finished in The Show. After a tremendous seven innings pitched by rookie Mark Rogers, K-Rod came in and promptly served up a home run in the 8th inning to the lowly Astros. Then Axford’s walked the lead-off batter and flummoxed his was to the minors to lose the game in the 9th. The Houston Astros this season have NEVER had a walk-off hit before Axford showed up on a humid, air-conditioned evening before the big train on the wall of a ballpark. Axford became the Enron of Minute Maid.
The Problem of Having An Inexperienced Manager At The Helm
After the game, Ron Roenicke the Brewers manager, was downright lost for words. He visibly had lost all confidence in the team. He had visibly lost confidence in himself. Most important, it appeared that he didn’t have any answers. He appeared to be on the verge of tears. He knew he had not learned a thing from the past failures that the Brewers earned throughout this Season AP. Here was a guy who seemingly prides himself on following baseball’s crazy tradition of backing the veterans until their wheels fall off. Wake up, Scioscia’s puppet. The wheels have fallen off. They fell off when your silly decision to keep Cesar Izturis as a backup shortstop ended the progress Edwin Maysonet was making earlier in the season. The wheels fell off when you insisted K-Rod had something left in the tank. He doesn’t. It’s empty. (NOTE: He took arbitration because he couldn’t get anything close to what he was making with the Brewers.) They fell off when you continued to use Axford. Tell Milwaukee’s President of Baseball Operations and General Manager, Doug Melvin, John Axford needs to go back to the minors and work on getting his curve and screwball working again. It’s called ‘getting it over the plate’. He can get work on it down there and it won’t affect the big club’s record. Then take whatever you can get for K-Rod and save the last month’s salary for new hot water bottles for you to sit on or something. Anything but K-Rod.
You cannot fire this bullpen coach. You already did that as a miserable excuse for your inexperience in evaluating what was going on around you, Mr. Roenicke. When the fans in the stands begin to moan and get up to leave the ballpark when you walk out of the dugout and pull your ‘baseball veteran’ scam by taking out the starting pitcher and bring in the dynamic Blown Savers, you have to know, that we all know, you are going to a dry well. There is no more water in that well. It’s dry. That well dried up when the season began. You just didn’t believe it was dry because these two could still walk in from the bullpen. They are the ‘Walking Dead Arms’.
It is time you faced the facts of the game in Milwaukee. When in doubt, eat a kielbasa. You need to understand the ‘Power of the K’. Do the honorable thing, Mr. Roenicke. Do what Max Surkont did. He ate himself out of The Show by dinning at those South side Milwaukee fans homes in the ’50s every night. That, plus a few of Milwaukee’s favorite brew, became his ticket out of baseball. But, let it be said that Big Max was more than just an expert on Polish sausages. He also was a bit of a linguist, a man of, one might say, unusual phrases. He once said, “Baseball was never meant to be taken seriously. If it were, we would play it with a javelin instead of a ball.”
So sayeth Max.
Eat, Mr. Roenicke. Don’t mess with the javelin. As they say on the South Side, ‘Eat them kielbasa and wash it down at the bubbler.’. It is the honorable thing to do.
Then, when the urge comes to give that vet one more shot, forget it. Call in anyone except K-Rod or Axford. It is his time. And as you do that, just say, “Long Live Axford. He was the proverbial flash in the pan.”
Mr. Roenicke? Eat a Kielbasa! We will all be better for it.