All of the fresh bats are in the racks. The new gloves have been broken in with weeks of catching in Spring Training. Now the marathon known as a Major League Baseball season is upon us.
Six teams begin today. The New York Yankees visit Tampa Bay Rays; the San Francisco Giants meet the Arizona Diamondbacks and the World Champion Chicago Cubs begin their season visiting their biggest rival, the Saint Louis Cardinals.
This is probably one of the most exciting days of the year. All of the hopes of fans everywhere is at its highest.
There is only one thing to say….
The Milwaukee Brewers won’t win the pennant.
A fan favorite, Scooter Gennett has been let go to division rival Cincinnati. The National League home run leader in 2016, was let go. An All-Star catcher and his defensively skilled back-up were traded. While all of this happened, the Cream City Nine brought in two new first basemen; a new third baseman and a partridge in a pear tree.
But, they got younger.
Yet they still have, through no fault of their own, one of the finest baseball players to ever play the game, Ryan Braun.
He is an absolute gem.
While rival fans love to trash him for his past problems with PEDs and of course his lying about taking performance enhancing drugs, fans of Pigsville, love this guy. He has a regime like few in the game. He is the consummate professional. At the plate, he is rarely off-balance. And he can hit the ball out of the ballpark nearly everywhere in the strike zone. His fielding and arm are exemplary. He is the last of the players from the great teams of the early ‘00s. He is their only All-Star left.
After ten years, here is what he has done on the field:
He’s played in 1,354 games with 1,597 hits.
He has banged 317 doubles, 43 triples and 285 home runs.
He has driven in 937 RBI, stolen 181 bases, walked 473 times while striking out 1,070 times while compiling a .304 batting average with an OBP of .367; a slugging percentage of .544 and an OPS of .910. On defense, he has 225 assists and only 47 errors (26 of which were in his first season at 3B) in 10 years with a fielding percentage of .981.
He is a six (6) time All-Star and did you know that he actually was #23 in the MVP last season?
In the history of the game, he compares with Hack Wilson.
At the age of 32, he compares with Lance Berkman and Larry Walker in hitting.
Is he the greatest player in Milwaukee Brewer history?
There is Robin Yount. And Paul Molitor. Cecil Cooper. Prince Fielder.
All he has to do is play another ten years and perhaps he will have number 8 up on the ring at Miller Park.
Tomorrow he will hit the field. In the meantime, as we said, baseball is a marathon.
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.
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?
Texas Rangers trade for Prince Fielder, one of the great hitters in the game. Ken Sanders once said, ‘He has the fastest hands with the bat I have ever seen. It doesn’t matter how big he gets.”
Seattle Mariners sign Robinson Cano for $240 million, a ten year contract, lifetime subscription to the Nintendo News and a good chunk of Jim C’s ad budget. Sorry, Big Mariner.
Curtis Granderson signs with the cross town rival, New York Mets. He gets $60 million.
Boston Red Sox sign A.J. Pierzynski, an aging catcher but fans feel he looks like Carlton Fisk.
Yankees, in anticipation of losing probable PED offender, Alex Rodriguez, signed Jacoby Ellsbury for $153 million to play centerfield from the hated Red Sox. Yankees hope to save approximately $14 million this year, but not on under the counter drugs. They also signed Brian McCann from Atlanta for $85 million. Yet, they still have no third baseman.
St. Louis signs Jhonny Peraltta, a former suspended PED offender. Unusual move by this squeaky clean franchise with a holier-than-thou image. Of course, this is the home of the ‘Gashouse Gang’.
Detroit signed Joe Nathan, pitcher for the Texas Ranger, for $20 million over 2 years. Now they have the best reliever in baseball to go along with the major’s best starting pitching staff.
Baltimore is thinking about signing John Axford.
Miami signed catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia for $21 million over three years from the World Champion Boston Red Sox. The team also signed Rafael Furcal, shortstop from the National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals for $3 million.
Houston signs Scot Feldman, a right handed pitcher for 3 years and $30 million.
Washington got a new manager, Matt Williams, perhaps the best third base coach in the game.
The Angels got Don Baylor as their batting coach, perhaps the best batting coach in the game.
The D’Backs lost both Williams and Baylor. They are stuck with one of the best managers in the game, the overwhelming talented first baseman and a solid starting pitcher and a gold glove right fielder.
The Rockies got Justin Morneau for 2 years for a total of $13 million.
Kansas City got the best left handed hitter of left handed pitching in baseball in Nori Aoki. Gives them a tremendous leadoff man who wears opposing pitchers out, often taking them 8-12 pitches into the count and rarely striking out, only 40 times in 2013 out of some 600+ at bats.
Milwaukee got a … pitching reject. Oh, they also are thinking about re-signing Cory Hart who has not played in a year and one-half.
Yet they still have the worst third base coach in the major leagues, a so-so starting rotation, a non-improved bullpen, an aging third baseman, poor throwing catcher, a hopeful prospect in left field, a center fielder who probably had the best season of his career, a GM who inherited a waffle full of young talent when he came into his job (Fielder, Weeks, Hardy, Braun, Hart and Vonnie) but has seen the team fade into another dream sequence of Brewer seasons past, and an owner who allows all of this to happen.
The fans in Milwaukee and Wisconsin are resilient and beyond loyal. They bleed Green & Gold, Cardinal Red & White, Green & Growing and True Blue Brew Crew. They drink beer, eat bratwursts and cheese, send their kids to school and provide plenty of milk, work hard at their jobs, go to Church on Sunday and root for the home teams like no one else. They hate the Bears, White Sox, Cardinals, the carpetbagging Braves, Ohio State and dislike those lovable Cubs. They also dislike Thanksgiving in Detroit. That’s why St. Vincent Lombardi stopped playing the Lions on that day decades ago.
These fans have heroes like few others. Johnny Blood, Don Hutson, Curly Lambeau, Bart Starr, Paul Horning, Jim Taylor, Jerry Kramer, Willie Davis, St. Vincent Lombardi, Reggie White, Bret Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Alan Ameche, Elroy Crazylegs Hirsch, Pat Richter, Barry Alveraz and Ron Dayne in football; Jon McGlocklin, Oscar Robinson, Karem Adbul Jabbar, Larry Costello, Al McGuire, Dean the Dream, Doc Rivers and Bo Ryan in basketball; Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews, Joe Adcock, Billy Bruton, Johnny Logan,Del Crandall, Henry Aaron, Ken Sanders, Augie Doggie, Bernie Brewer, Jim Gaintner, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Rollie Fingers, Vuch, Stormin Gorman, Sixto, Benji, Coop, Ben Sheets, Prince, Nori, Rickie, Vonnie, Braunschweiger, Jean and Go-Go in baseball.
Just 50 guys who the burgers of Cream City adored in sports, 20 of whom are part of yesterday and today’s Brew Crew. Yet only the last four mentioned are hopefully at the top of their game out of a line-up of 25. Another, Nori Aoki, who only played two years in Milwaukee after years in Japan, became a fan favorite, not because he hit home runs, but because he could hit and stay in the lineup with gripping plays and excitement that reminded more than a few that he was like the ‘Igniter’ of days gone by. He was the best left handed hitter of left handed pitching in baseball. And, he wore opposing pitchers out at the plate. He was just let go for some guy who the GM has had his eye on for a couple of years.
“People think that a liar gains a victory over his victim. What I’ve learned is that a lie is an act of self-abdication, because one surrenders one’s reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one’s master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person’s view requires to be faked. The man who lies to the world, is the world’s slave from then on. There are no white lies, there are only blackest of destruction, and a white lie is the blackest of them all.” Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
Ryan Braun will never be admitted to the Hall Of Fame. The reason is simple: he is stained forever by the lie. As Buster Olney of ESPN The Magazine stated, “He is the Lance Armstrong of baseball”.
In a town that adores their local sport heroes, Milwaukee is tied to those who perform in an honest, workman like manner. Bart Starr, Jerry Kramer, Reggie White, Johnny Mac, Johnny Logan, Del Crandall, Andy Pafko, Henry Aaron, Robin Yount…need we say more?
It is a town that does not take kindly to those who misrepresent themselves. See how long Braun’s restaurant stays in business with him as the face of the business.
Looking back, the guy who reminds many of Joe DiMaggio on the field is now nothing more than Oscar ‘Happy’ Felsch.
When asked if he would be back next season as a Brewer, Milwaukee General Manager, Doug Melvin, said, “That’s a long time away”. Now don’t most Brewer fans wish the team should have signed Prince Fielder to a long-term contract rather than Braun?
Many have brought up ideas on how he can turn positive favor back his way. One of my best friends suggested that he go to Miller Park, go to the middle of the field and take questions from every fan who has a question and answer every one of them in all honesty. No press allowed.
Another thought would be to have him go, during his separation from the game over the next six months, to Haiti and work with those who need a helping hand. His agents at CAA must have Sean Penn’s number. While he works with the poor, with no press, he will give an exclusive to Bryant Gumble in February 2014 where he answers every question. Then he should shock the baseball world by telling Gumble that he will ask the Brewers for a one year sabbatical as he has found his real calling in helping others and wishes to become a monk, doing good work for those who need help the most. Brother Braun will become, once again, the center of discussion but this time it will be all about how he can come back to baseball after missing the better part of a year and one-half. You can hear talk radio now.
But reality must set in. If there is an Oakland Raiders of baseball, he should be traded there. He would be a perfect fit in the Yankees lineup. Or better yet, the Dodgers. It’s his hometown and they relish celeb garbage better than most. After all, it is LaLa land. They believe Kim Kardashian…no matter what she says.
On October 2, 1919, The Philadelphia Bulletin published a poem which would quickly prove to be ironic: “Still it really doesn’t matter, After all, who wins the flag. Good clean sport is what we’re after, And we aim to make our brag. To each near or distant nation Wherein shines the sporting sun That of all our games gymnastic Baseball is the cleanest one!”
The Cream City has experienced this all before.On the day the announcement was made by the carpetbagger Bartholomay to remove the beloved Braves, a devastated population of loyal fans had jaws agape. It simply could not be true. How could someone remove a team from a city that supported it from day one with Major League record attendance, year after year? Was there no one in town who could offer greed more than the hope of Dixie?
The pain was real. It was deep. It cut through the boyhood memories, dragging them ruthlessly away, well ahead of its time. We had felt disappointment before. There were the continual battles with the Cardinals for the pennant where the sound of fingers on rosary beads were louder than the silent scream of hope that this would be our year. There was the release of Spahn, Buhl, Burdette, Bruton and others. But the hope of the future was there with Aaron, Carty and Torre. And Eddie was still there, the real deal, the heart of the team beloved by so many. Surely Henry and Mathews would refuse to move to the South and force the owners to reconsider.
The ballpark was vacant. ‘No Game Today’ signs hung on the box office windows as if penance from confession was not enough. No one was coming to ‘Will Call’. George Webb made no predictions. They had left town never to return.
No more battles with the Cubs and our next door neighbor who was a religious Cubbie fan. No more “Take Me Out” during the 7th inning stretch. No more excitement about the anticipation of who would see the stadium first when driving in from out-of-town. Hot dogs never tasted the same after that in our winter of complete and total discontent.
The citizens, with hidden tears being wisped away with a rub of a shoulder to the eyes when no one was looking, were the same but now with a pall over the City. Joy had been ripped out of our hearts.
Then as if the skies opened up, with a huge check from Robert A. Uihlein, Jr., the owner of Schlitz Brewing Company after being persuaded by Ben Barkin, his and the world’s best PR man, the car leasing dealer’s son was bringing the game back to the City. There was hope. There was joy.
Baseball, throughout all of its years, after all is a game of hope. Players change. Manager’s change. Venues sometimes change. From County Stadium to Miller Park, the spirit of the Braves of old whistled through the stadium on opening day of the transplanted Seattle Pilots who went bankrupt in Seattle.
From that point, a new alliance was born between desperate fans yearning to erase the pain of old and replace it with new hope. A bond was created between fans who loved the game and a team that was saved from extinction. Yes. We were now in a new league but that league had the Yankees. We would now be able to see the greatest team in baseball a number of times a year play in the stadium where our home team once won and lost to them in a World Series.
No more Cubs, but we got the White Sox. Close enough.
We also got that new team up in the Twin Cities as a new rival. Life was getting better and now hope was rampant as a new surge of energy spread throughout the land of cheese and butter, beer and ‘B-O-L-O-G-N-A’. The bubblers and goulashes were back in fashion. Baseball was back in the City, the county, the State.
Through the years we latched onto heroes of the game our home team spawned. ‘Boomer’, ‘Vuch’, ‘The Kid’, ‘Molly’, ‘Bambi’s Bombers’, ‘Harvey’s Wallbangers’, Cecil, Sixto, Money, ‘Augie Doggie’, ‘Kenny The Sandman’, Prince, Rickie, Cory, Aoki, Lucroy, ‘Vonnie’, the new kid at short, ‘St. Jean’ and the guy in left.
Most of the pain that we experienced before came flooding back in a flash flood of sorrow. Sure some of the Crew had taken drugs before but none were ever banished with such suddenness, such deliberate heart wrenching disgust and suspension. And in a time when there was no more Prince to defend us, no more Cory to hit us out of our deep depression, the guy in left had us hanging by a thread…without much hope.
Hope drives the game. Hope instills a loyalty that suspends belief. Hope is the lifeblood of youth in all of us no matter what the age. Without hope we are adrift on an endless, joyless whim of no direction.
The pall is over the City once again.
We need a prince to bring life back to the fans of the True Blue Brew Crew.
Perhaps we should just abide and softly in typical Milwaukee fashion, quietly close with …
Jean Carlos Enrique Segura is a rising star. He began shinning in 1990 in San Juan, Dominican Republic. But this year, he has become a full-blown star of major proportion. In his first full season as the starting shortstop of the Milwaukee Brewers, he has played in nearly every game and leads the National League in hits (124) with an All-Star batting average of .326. In the last ten games, he is hitting .378.
There are plenty of players who have put up great ‘can’t miss’ minor league stats and never made it big in The Show. Segura is not one of them. Since he hit organized ball, he has proven to be one of the most valuable players. Drafted by the Angels, he was selected an All-Star in 2010 at Cedar Rapids of the Midwest League. The following year he was named Arizona Fall League Rising Star for the Scottsdale nine. Last year, he was a Texas League All-Star in AA at Arkansas. Also last year he was a Futures Game Selection. This year he was an All-Star at Citi Field for the National League.
This is his first full season.
In batting, he reminds one of a young Henry Aaron at the plate. Lightening quick hands with unexpected power. Segura has hit 11 home runs in his first full season so far. In Henry’s first 1954 season, he hit 13 while batting .280. His All-Star streak began the following year when he batted .314 with 27 home runs. In fielding, Segura has committed 10 errors at shortstop while Henry had 7 errors playing left field (6) and right field (1).
But is it too early to judge a rookie? Not necessarily so. Honus Wagner in his rookie season, and probably ranked as the greatest shortstop of all time, in his first full season in 1898 for St. Louis had 10 home runs and batted .299. Strangely, he never played shortstop in his first year as most of the time he was at first base (75 games), at third base (65) and second base (10). Then there is Alex Rodriguez. During his first full season in 1996 for Seattle he set the standard with a league leading batting average of .358 while smacking 36 home runs. He committed 15 errors. He too became an All-Star in his inaugural full season. He comes back into the Yankee lineup this week in Texas. Then there is Derek Jeter, today’s Captain of the Yankees. His first full season was also in 1996 when he hit 10 home runs while batting .314. He committed 22 errors in his first full season.
Cal Ripken Jr. hammered 28 home runs in his first full season in 1982 for Baltimore while hitting .264. He had only 13 errors all that season playing shortstop. Luke Appling of the Chicago White Sox in his first full season in 1932 (judging a season with over 100 games played) he batted .274 and hit 3 home runs in cavernous Comiskey Park located at 35th and Shields. He had 49 errors, with 37 coming at shortstop, 6 at second base and 6 at third base.
Yet in Milwaukee, every player who ever plays the shortstop position is judged from a point of reference called Robin Yount. In his first full season (1974) he hit .250 with 3 home runs. He matched his uniform number in the field, committing 19 errors.
The beauty of baseball is that comparison are inevitable. It is part of the game.
This season, all are experiencing the excitement of a rising star. Look for him at shortstop at Miller Park. He is a remarkable young ballplayer.
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.
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.
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.
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.