There Was Still A Chance.



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.

Play Ball.

But not in Milwaukee this post-season.

Bremley Revisited

The mark of a good leader is one who never fails to place his people outside of Harm’s Way. A leader places his people in a position to succeed and not fail. Not since Bob Bremley has any manager in major league baseball been so stubborn and restrictive to the old looney rules of baseball as happened this week. In this case, the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers has again failed miserably.

On Thursday, behind a brilliant performance by Kyle Lohse, pitching as though he wanted to show-up his former team for not re-signing him and allowing him to become a free agent after a great season for the Cardinals, was removed after 7 1/3rd innings of great clutch baseball. At this time of the year, you want to see your horses prove themselves, not only to the team but also to themselves. That’s why they are paid the big dollars. Pitching wins. Hitters are for show. Managers lose.

The Cardinal manager let his pitcher remain in the game even though he was down 2 runs. He knew he had his horse on the mound and no one in the bullpen was going to do any better. But the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers simply does not understand that. He needs to manipulate the game as the modern-day dictates, the starter goes 6 or 7, the set-up man comes in for the 8th and the closer in the 9th comes in. So he put in a set-up reject from Cincinnati. Which begs an entirely different question: Why would a team trade their set up guy to a team within their division? The only answer probable is that he can not stand the pressure of season play off drives. And so the die was cast when the general manager made the deal to bring him over. Quickly, he gave up not one, but three runs ending the Brewers series loss and the pennant race as well. Why bring him in when your starter was as strong as a rock? You didn’t see the Central Division leading team manager play that arrogant mental game!

And don’t give the excuse that the set up guy fell victim to a bone headed play by Mark Reynolds at first when he was thinking of daffodils in the spring rather than understanding that there was only one out as he was keeping the runner at first close to the bag. He could have simply flipped the ball to second and the shortstop would have thrown it back to him for an inning-ending double play. But series are filled with bonehead plays.

Nope. This one goes down to lossy pitching…really lossy pitching.

So what does the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers do on Friday, after a flight to Pittsburgh to face the team that is between them and the playoffs? With the lead again in the eighth, he pulls Yovani Gallardo, THE veteran horse of the Brewer staff who was pitching one of his best games of the year, for … guess who? Yup. Same Cincinnati reject. Same result. He could have brought in anybody but the Reds Reject, even Wei-Chung Wang who is like a Bonus Baby, of 2014 no less. At least he would have had the desire to perform against the team that waived him. But in came the lumbering giant from Cincinnati. Out went the last possible chance of reaching the post season.

Now I ask you…why?

Bob Bremley revisited is the apparent answer. Why did Bremley put Byung-Hyun Kim in back-to-back relief appearances in the 2001 World Series and create Mr. November? Why? In one 24-hour period he nearly crashed everything Buck Showalter created. What possesses a manager to go back to the bad-smelling, stinky well after he has just been poisoned the night before?

Bremley eventually got fired because everyone finally understood that the team that won the championship was the creation of Showalter and not Bremley’s genius.

In 2008, the Brewers had one of their best teams. They were loaded with great young talent, the heyday of Prince and Braun, Weeks the giant left-hander from Cleveland, not Cincinnati, CC Sabathia. The owner knew that this was their time. He fired Ned Yost who did a lot of the same things that the present Brewer manager does continuously. They brought in bench coach Dale Sveum. The Brewers were assured of a post-season playoff berth.

Perhaps the manager of the Brewers said it best on Saturday evening as he was kicked out of the game in the 5th inning. When asked by a reporter about certain decision making as the game progressed during the manager’s post game news conference from Pittsburgh, he said, ‘You can see the game much better here (watching television) than in the dugout. The decisions are clearer here. You can make them instantaneously. No problem.’

It was the most disturbing statement ever made by the head of a team, including Dennis Green’s post game tirade years ago. Nope. The current manager of the Brewers said it all. He can see the game better and make sure decision while watching television. Isn’t that exactly what Bremley is doing today?

There is a lesson to be learned somewhere here.

Play Ball!


Dollar Time

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.

Play Ball!

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Spring Draining

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.

Play Ball!