Milwaukee Brewers: All-Time Greatest Team

Milwaukee Brewers (1970-Present)

Seattle Pilots (1969)

National League (1998-Present)

American League (1969-1997)

American League Champion: 1982

National League Champion: Never

World Series Champion: Never

The original plan for the second American League expansion was for 1971. Kansas City was to be awarded one of the new franchises and Seattle the other. The Seattle ownership made financial decisions based on this premise. When the Kansas City contingent made it  known that they wouldn’t accept a three year delay, that put the Seattle people in a very precarious situation. The people of Seattle had passed a bond issue that would build a brand new stadium, but it couldn’t be ready until 1971 at the earliest. This forced the Pilots to use the Minor League Seattle Raniers home park of Sicks’ Stadium. The park was built in 1938 and was in need of extensive repair. Worse of all, it only accommodated 19,000 fans. 

Financial problems plagued the club from the outset, beginning with the requirement that they pay the Pacific Coast League $1 million for the loss of their Seattle franchise. The teams attendance was also an issue. Not that it was a disaster, because it wasn’t. They drew almost 678,000 people to their home games. That was better than four other Major League teams, including one of the expansion teams in the National League, the San Diego Padres. Their problem was, with the ballpark situation, they couldn’t find any new financial backers to get them through this tough time. The team faced bankruptcy. 

The owners put the team on the market, Bud Selig led a group out of Milwaukee, and made a $10.8 million offer, with the intention of moving them to Milwaukee. The Pilot ownership turned down the offer due to pressure from Washington state political leaders. Several local groups attempted to buy the team, but the other American League owners nixed those deals. Bud Selig came back with another bid. This time Pilot ownership accepted the offer, wherein the Washington politicians started legal action to block the sale. In desperation, Pilot management filed for bankruptcy. When Pilot players reported for spring training they had no idea where their home was going to be. 

The solution materialized six days before Opening Day, when the courts ruled that the Pilots could move to Milwaukee  The Seattle people were placated by the promise from Major League baseball that they would get a team in the next expansion (the Seattle Mariners in 1977).

Bud Selig would eventually become the Commissioner of Baseball and be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

This was not the first time Milwaukee was presented with an opportunity to host a Major League Baseball team. In 1878 the Milwaukee Grays competed for one year in the National League. It was a disaster, as the club finished dead last at 15-45. A marginal Major League came into existence for one season in 1884, the Union Association. This was not a good league, and calling it a Major League is very generous. The Milwaukee Brewers are listed as one of the teams, but they played only 12 games, winning 8. 

The second version of the Milwaukee Brewers were an inaugural member of the American League in 1901. The Brewers joined the Minor League Western League in 1877, and were still competing when Ban Johnson took over the league in 1900 and raised it to Major League status in 1901. In their one year in the Junior Circuit they went 48-89. The ownership then transferred the franchise to St. Louis, where they would remain until 1953 and then move to Baltimore. They are now the Baltimore Orioles.

When the American League abandoned the city in 1902, another Milwaukee Brewers club was formed and joined the American Association. They would be one of the most successful franchises in that league for the next 50 years. That success led to a return of Major League baseball in 1953, when the Braves relocated there.

Milwaukee greeted the Braves with immediate love. They drew 1.8 million their first year, then over 2 million their next four. They were also dynamite on the field. For their first eight seasons in Milwaukee they only once didn’t finish first or second. They had two superstars (Henry Aaron & Eddie Mathews) in their everyday lineup and a third super star every fourth day when Warren Spahn was pitching. They captured the National League pennant and World Championship in 1957, then repeated as National League Champs, before falling in a 7-game Series to the Yankees the following year. Their attendance peaked in their World Championship year in 1957, but then fell below 2 million in 1958.

They would remain competitive for the rest of their stay in Milwaukee, in fact they never had a losing season while in town, but attendance continued to slide. They fell below 1 million in 1962, and never surpassed it again. The year before they moved to Atlanta attendance had fallen to 555,000. Bud Selig had become the largest stockholder in the club in their final years in Milwaukee. He was devastated when the club announced their move. This was pivotal in Selig’s desire to relocate the Pilots to Milwaukee.

Bud Selig moved his new team to Milwaukee where they played their home games in the same stadium previously used by the Milwaukee Braves, County Stadium. The Brewers struggled in their first eight years in Milwaukee, but they kept acquiring young talent. They exploded into contention in 1978, going from 67 wins to 93 in one year, a 26 game improvement. Led by future Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Paul Molitor their ascension culminated with a World Series appearance in 1982. Since then it has been a rather mediocre journey. They’ve only made the playoffs three times, once as a Wild Card and twice as a Division Champion. They were asked, and willingly moved to the National League in the expansion and realignment of 1998.

Bud Selig would become acting Commissioner of Baseball following the death of Bart Giamatti in 1998, but that didn’t affect the Brewer’s fanbase, that continues to be very loyal. The team won 96 games in 2018, the most in franchise history, and seem poised to remain a contender for the foreseeable future.

Catcher

Jonathan Lucroy (2010-2016) was a two time All Star who finished 4th in the MVP voting in 2014. He’s a clear choice over the versatile B.J. Surhoff (1987-1995).

First Base

The Brewers infield of the early 1980s is one of the finest units ever assembled. The left side had two Hall of Famers in their prime (Robin Yount & Paul Molitor), at second was the weakest member of the group, but a good player, Jim Gantner, and at first base, the five time All Star, who also led the League in RBI twice, Cecil Cooper (1977-1987). While not the quality performer of Yount and Molitor, Cooper finished in the top ten in the MVP vote four times, top five in three of those. This infield was better than the famous Dodger infield of Garvey, Lopes, Cey and Russell, and rivals the Red’s infield of Perez, Morgan, Rose, and Concepcion as the best of the era.  Cecil Cooper (1977-1987) was an integral part of that unit. 

Second Base

Where to play Paul Molitor (1978-1992) is the question. Molitor came up as a second baseman, he started 390 games there for the Brewers. He gradually moved over to third, where he played 791 games in Milwaukee. His last year as the regular third baseman was 1989. He then alternated his time between first base and designated hitter his last three years with the club. His defense was not great at either second base or third, but it was a string of injuries that forced him off those positions. Jim Gantner (1976-1992) would be the choice if Molitor is the selection at third base.

Third Base

As mentioned, Paul Molitor (1978-1992) played more than twice as many games at third than second for the “Brew Crew”. The question is whether the next best third baseman, Don Money (1973-1983), was more valuable than Jim Gantner. The metrics we use says yes, by a good margin. 

Shortstop

If we divided Robin Yount’s (1974-1993) career with the Brewers into two separate players, calling one, Robin Yount the shortstop (1974-1984) and the other Yount Robin the Center Fielder (1985-1993), we would rate Robin Yount (1974-1984) as the best shortstop and Yount Robin the best center fielder in franchise history. Elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in the same class as George Brett and Nolan Ryan. One of the five greatest shortstops of all time.

Left Field

According to the formula we use, Ryan Braun (2007-Present) is the third best player in Brewer history. Of course, we know the baggage that comes with selecting him. Not only did he use Performance Enhancing Drugs, but he lied about it when caught. While juiced he did win an MVP Award in 2011, and then finish second in the vote, the next year. After he returned from his suspension he’s never been the same player. Ben Oglivie (1978-1986) or Geoff Jenkins (1998-2007) would be the choice if we bypass Braun.

Center Field

Wish we could put Robin Yount (1974-1993) at both short and center. We can’t, so we have to pick somebody else. Not a lot to choose from, but Yount’s teammate Gorman Thomas (1973-1982) seems a reasonable pick. Thomas led the League in home runs twice, and had a five year stretch where he averaged 35 homers a season. Probably out of place in center field, but he did spend ⅔ of his career patrolling out there. He was the center fielder when the Brewers played in their only World Series in 1982.

Right Field

Before he got hurt, Christian Yelich (2018-Present) was the favorite to win his second straight National League MVP. Can somebody who only occupied the position for two years possibly be the best. There’s no other good candidates that were primarily right fielders. Geoff Jenkins (1998-2007) usually played left in Milwaukee, but was the Brewer’s regular right fielder for two of his ten seasons in town. Obviously he could handle the position. Right now it appears Yelich’s star will shine for many more years, but two years is not enough compared to the ten productive, if not sensational ones of Geoff Jenkins (1998-2007).

Pitchers

#1 is easy. Ted Higuera (1985-1994) was 27 when he made his Major League debut with the Brewers in 1985, and was basically through by age 33, but for those seven years he posted a record of 92-56  with an ERA of less than 3.4.

1989: Ted Higuera of the Milwaukee Brewers in action. Mandatory Credit: Allsport /Allsport

#2 Mike Caldwell (1977-1984) record in Milwaukee was 102-80. Not as dominating as Higuera, but he did win 22 games in 1978 when the Brewers improved from 67 wins in 1977 to 93 in 1978.

Ben Sheets (2001-2008) is next. His record with Milwaukee is not outstanding (94-96), but he pitched in years that the  Brewers were not very good. He was a four time All-Star in those seasons.

#4 Jim Slaton (1971-1983) had a losing record with the team in six of his first seven seasons, but then went 45-29 in his last five to finish with a 117-121 record in Milwaukee. He lost when the team was bad, and won when they were good.

MILWAUKEE, WI – OCTOBER 16: Jim Slaton #41 of the Milwaukee Brewers delivers a pitch during game four of the 1982 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Milwaukee County Stadium on October 16, 1982 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Brewers won 7-5. (Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Manager

No obvious choice. George Bamberger (1978-1980, 1985-1986) took over a team that had never had a winning season, and in his first two years led them to 90+ wins. Unfortunately he had a heart attack in March of 1980. After surgery in June, he was forced to resign in September. Bob Rodgers took over from Bamberger, but he was fired midway through the 1982 season and replaced by Harvey Kuene (1975, 1982-1983). Kuene guided the club, known as “Harvey’s Wallbangers”,  to their only World Series appearance in 1982. That year he was voted American League Manager of the Year. They lost a tight seven game World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals at the end of the year. The Brewers fell to 87-75 in 1983 and Kuene was let go at the end of the season. Ron Roenicke (2011-2013) and Craig Council (2015-Present) were in command when the Brewers won their two other Division Titles in 2011 and 2018. This is a real pick-em between the four, George Bamberger (1978-1980, 1985-1986),  Harvey Kuene (1975, 1982-1983), Ron Roenicke (2011-2013) and Craig Council (2015-Present). 

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

MVP

There is a good case to be made that Robin Yount (1974-1993) was the Most Valuable Player in the American League for the decade of the 1980s. He is one of the most underrated Baseball Players of the last 50 years. Rated against all other shortstop careers, he’s about even with Cal Ripken Jr. and Ernie Banks. Clearly ahead of more heralded recent occupants Ozzie Smith, Barry Larkin, and Derek Jeter. The only two shortstops we would definitely put ahead of him are Honus Wagner and Alex Rodriguez. If Robin Yount had quit after injuries forced him out of the shortstop position in 1984, he would still be the choice as the MVP of the Brewers. A great player.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s