Milwaukee Brewers Tailgating
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Milwaukee Brewers Tailgating
Overview and legacy
Milwaukee was an early prospect for professional baseball, with several brief experiments at the major league level but mostly in the minor leagues.
The nicknames of these teams were initially assigned by the media rather than the teams themselves. Some were known as the “Creams” or “Cream Citys” after the distinctive brick which gave Milwaukee its nickname, others were known as the “Brewers”, in reference to one of the city’s chief industries.
This chart is a brief overview of the various Milwaukee professional baseball clubs:
- 1876-77 Milwaukee West Ends or West End Club independent (1876), League Alliance (1877), home games at West End Grounds on “Wells Avenue, near the city limits.” (Benson, p. 231).
- 1878 Milwaukee Grays a.k.a. Brewers of the National League, home games at Eclipse Park a.k.a. Milwaukee Base-Ball Grounds.
- 1879–1883 no team
- 1884 Milwaukee Brewers a.ka. Cream Citys a.k.a. Grays of the Northwestern League; joined Union Association as late-season entry, after NWL disbanded; played at Wright Street Grounds.
- 1885-87 Milwaukee Cream Citys Western League (1885), Northwestern League (1886–87), played at Wright Street Grounds and, according to some sources, also at Athletic Park in 1887.
- 1888–1891 Milwaukee Brewers (1888), Milwaukee Creams (1889-1891) of the Western Association; joined American Association for end of season, replacing Cincinnati Porkers; back to Western League (1892) which disbanded and re-formed in 1894. Played at Athletic Park, later named Borchert Field and, according to some sources, also at Wright Street Grounds in 1888.
- 1894–1901 Milwaukee Brewers (1894–95), Creams (1896–97), Brewers (1898-1901) of the Western League (1894-1899), renamed American League 1900, became major league 1901; transferred to St. Louis Browns in 1902. Played at Athletic Park in 1894, then Lloyd Street Grounds through 1901.
- 1902–1903 Milwaukee Creams of the revived Western League, played at Lloyd Street Grounds.
- 1913 Milwaukee Creams of the Wisconsin-Illinois League.
A Milwaukee tradition
The nickname “Brewers” has been used by Milwaukee baseball teams since at least the 1880s, although none of those clubs ever enjoyed a measure of success or stability. That would change with Milwaukee’s entry into the American Association, which would last fifty years and provide the city’s springboard into the major leagues.
The American Association
The American Association Milwaukee Brewers were founded in 1901, after the American League Brewers moved to St. Louis and became the St. Louis Browns. The modern Orioles franchise can trace its roots back to the original Milwaukee Brewers of the minor Western League, beginning in 1894 when the league reorganized. The Brewers were there when the WL renamed itself theAmerican League in 1900. At the end of the 1900 season, the American League removed itself from baseball’s National Agreement (the formal understanding between the NL and the minor leagues). Two months later, the AL declared itself a competing major league. As a result of several franchise shifts, the Brewers were one of only two Western League teams that didn’t either fold or move (the other being the Detroit Tigers). During the first American League season, they finished dead last with a record of 48-89. During its lone Major League season, the team played atLloyd Street Grounds, between 16th and 18th Streets in Milwaukee.
The Brewers did not win their first American Association championship until 1913, then repeated the next year. Over 20 years would pass before they claimed another with a 90-64 club in 1936 as a Detroit affiliate. In 1944, the team won again, placing the team in the top 100. Three years later, the Brewers became a farm team of the Boston Braves. Although this move eventually paved the way for the team’s demise, in the short run it led directly to Milwaukee’s final two league championships—one in 1951 when they also won the Junior World Series, followed by an even better team the next year.
Bill Veeck and Jolly Cholly
In 1941 the club was purchased by Bill Veeck (son of former Chicago Cubs president William Veeck, Sr.), in a partnership with former Cubs star Charlie Grimm. Under Veeck’s ownership, the Brewers would become one of the most colorful squads in baseball and Veeck would be become one of the game’s premiere showmen. Constantly creating new promotional gimmicks, Veeck gave away live animals, scheduled morning games for wartime night shift workers, staged weddings at home plate, and even sent Grimm a birthday cake containing a much-needed left-handed pitcher.
When Grimm was hired as the manager of the Cubs, he recommended that Casey Stengel be hired to replace him. Veeck was opposed to the idea – Stengel had little success in his previous managerial stints with the Dodgers and Braves – but as Veeck was stationed overseas in the Marine Corps, Grimm won out. The club went on to win the 1944 American Association pennant, and Stengel’s managerial career was resurrected.
In 1945, after winning three pennants in five years, Veeck sold his interest in the Brewers for a $275,000 profit.
The coming of the Braves
Milwaukee had long been coveted by major league teams looking for a new home. Bill Veeck himself tried to relocate the St. Louis Browns back to Milwaukee in the late 1940s, but his move was vetoed by the other American League owners.
The city of Milwaukee, hoping to attract a major league club, constructed Milwaukee County Stadium for the 1953 season. The Brewers were set to move in, until Spring Training of 1953, whenLou Perini moved his Boston Braves to Milwaukee. The Brewers moved to Toledo, where they became the next incarnation of the Toledo Mud Hens. The new Mud Hens continued their winning ways, claiming an American Association pennant in their first season in Ohio.
Legacy – return of the Brewers
After the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, local automobile dealer and Braves part-owner Bud Selig created a group to lobby for a new major league club in Milwaukee. As a name for his group, he chose “Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club, Inc.”, after the American Association club he grew up watching. As a logo, he chose the Beer Barrel Man in navy and red – traditional Brewers colors.
When Selig bought the one year-old Seattle Pilots franchise in the spring of 1970, he moved them to Milwaukee and they officially became the “new” major-league Milwaukee Brewers. The club continued to use the Beer Barrel Man as the team’s primary logo until 1978, although due to time constraints, the team continued to use the old Pilots’ colors of blue and gold. Recently, it has seen a resurgence on throwback merchandise, and been featured on several stadium promotions.
American Association championships
Junior World Series appearances
- 1936 – defeated Buffalo, 4 games to 1
- 1947 – defeated Syracuse, 4 games to 3
- 1951 – defeated Montreal, 4 games to 2
During its 51-year tenure in the American Association, Milwaukee played in the same ballpark. Originally constructed in 1888, it was located in the North side of Milwaukee on a rectangular city block with the main entrance on Chambers St. between Eighth and Ninth Streets. It had abnormally short foul lines, 268 feet to left and right. The fences then angled out sharply, making for deep “power alleys” and center field was 400 feet from home plate. It was known as Athletic Park until 1928 when it was renamed Borchert Field in honor of Brewers owner Otto Borchert, who had died the previous year. The Polo Grounds had a similar configuration. ‘Borchert Orchard’ was also the first Milwaukee home park for the Green Bay Packers, who played the New York Giants on Oct. 1, 1933. The following year, the Packers moved their Milwaukee games to the Wisconsin State Fair Grounds. Interstate 43 now runs through where Borchert Field once stood.
The modern Brewers
1966–69:”Home of the Braves?”
In an effort to prevent the relocation of the Milwaukee Braves to a larger television market, Braves minority owner Bud Selig, a Milwaukee-area car dealer, formed an organization named “Teams Inc.” devoted to local control of the club. He successfully prevented the majority owners of the Braves from moving the club in 1964 but was unable to do more than delay the inevitable. The Braves relocated to Atlanta after the 1965 season, and Teams Inc. turned its focus to returning Major League Baseball to Milwaukee.
Selig doggedly pursued this goal, attending owners meetings in the hopes of securing an expansion franchise. Selig changed the name of his group to“Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club Inc.”. The “Brewers” name, honoring Milwaukee’s beer-brewing tradition, also was traditional for Milwaukee baseball teams going back into the 19th century. The city had hosted a major league team by that name in 1901, which relocated at the end of that season to became the St. Louis Browns (now the Baltimore Orioles). From 1902 through 1952, a minor league Milwaukee Brewers club in the American Association had been so successful that it lured the Braves from Boston. Selig himself had grown up watching that minor league team at Borchert Field and intended his new franchise to follow in that tradition.
To demonstrate there still was support for big-league ball in Milwaukee, Selig’s group contracted with Chicago White Sox owner Arthur Allyn to host nine White Soxhome games at Milwaukee County Stadium in 1968. A 1967 exhibition game between the White Sox and Minnesota Twins had attracted more than 51,000 spectators, and Selig was convinced the strong Milwaukee fan base would demonstrate the city would provide a good home for a new club.
The experiment was staggeringly successful – those nine games drew 264,297 fans. In Chicago that season, the Sox drew 539,478 fans to their remaining 58 home games. In just a handful of games, the Milwaukee crowds accounted for nearly one-third of the total attendance at White Sox games. In light of this success, Selig and Allyn agreed County Stadium would host Sox home games again the next season.
In 1969, the Sox schedule in Milwaukee was expanded to include 11 home games (one against every other franchise in the American League at the time). Although those games were attended by slightly fewer fans (198,211 fans, for an average of 18,019) they represented a greater percentage of the total White Sox attendance than the previous year – over one-third of the fans who went to Sox home games in 1969 did so at County Stadium (in the remaining 59 home dates in Chicago, the Sox drew 391,335 for an average of 6,632 per game). Selig felt this fan support lent legitimacy to his quest for a Milwaukee franchise, and he went into the 1968 owners meetings with high hopes.
Those hopes were dashed when National League franchises were awarded to San Diego (the Padres) and Montreal (the Expos), and American League franchises were awarded to Kansas City(the Royals) and Seattle (the Pilots). That last franchise, however, would figure very prominently in Selig’s future.
Having failed to gain a major league franchise for Milwaukee through expansion, Selig turned his efforts to purchasing and relocating an existing club. His search began close to home, with the White Sox themselves. According to Selig, he had a handshake agreement with Allyn to purchase the Pale Hose and move them north. The American League, unwilling to surrender Chicago to the National League, vetoed the sale, and Allyn sold the franchise to his brother John.
Frustrated in these efforts, Selig shifted his focus to another American League team, the expansion Seattle Pilots.
1969–70: Roots in Seattle
Seattle initially had a lot going for it when it joined the American League in 1969. Seattle had long been a hotbed for minor league baseball and was home to the Seattle Rainiers, one of the pillars of the Pacific Coast League. The Cleveland Indians had almost moved to Seattle in the early 1960s. Many of the same things that attracted the Indians made Seattle a plum choice for an expansion team. Seattle was the third-biggest metropolitan area on the West Coast (behind Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area). The addition of a third team on the West Coast also would balance out the addition of Kansas City. Also, there was no real competition from other pro teams. While Seattle had just landed the NBA‘s SuperSonics, the NBA was not in the same class as baseball was in terms of popularity at the time.
The front man for the franchise was Dewey Soriano, a former Rainiers pitcher and general manager and former president of the PCL. In an ominous sign of things to come, Soriano had to ask William R. Daley, who had owned the Indians at the time they flirted with Seattle, to furnish much of the expansion fee. In return, Daley bought 47 percent of the stock—the largest stake in the club. He became chairman of the board while Soriano served as president.
However, a couple of factors were beyond the Pilots’ control. They were originally not set to start play until 1971. But the date was moved up to 1969 under pressure from Sen. Stuart Symington of Missouri. Professional baseball had been played in Kansas City for all but two years in the 20th century until the A’s left forOakland after the 1967 season, and the prospect of having Kansas City wait three years for its return was not acceptable to Symington. Also, the Pilots had to pay the PCL $1 million to compensate for the loss of one of its most successful franchises. After King County voters approved a bond for a domed stadium (what would become the Kingdome) in 1968, the Seattle Pilots were officially born. California Angels executive Marvin Milkes was hired as general manager, and St. Louis Cardinals coach Joe Schultz became manager.
To the surprise of no one outside Seattle (Schultz and Milkes actually thought they could finish third in the newly formed AL West), the Pilots were terrible. They won their very first game, and then their home opener three days later, but only won five more times in the first month and never recovered. They finished last in the West with a record of 64–98, 33 games out of first.
However, the team’s poor play was the least of its troubles. The most obvious problem was Sick’s Stadium. The longtime home of the Pacific Coast League Seattle Rainiers, it had been considered one of the best ballparks in minor league baseball. By the 1960s, however, it was considered far behind the times. While a condition of MLB awarding the Pilots to Seattle was that Sick’s had to be expanded to 30,000 seats by the start of the 1969 season, only 17,000 seats were ready due to numerous delays. The scoreboard wasn’t even ready until the eve of opening day. While it was expanded to 25,000 by June, the added seats had obstructed views. Water pressure was almost nonexistent after the seventh inning, especially with crowds above 10,000. Attendance was so poor (678,000) that the Pilots were almost out of money by the end of the season. The team’s new stadium was slated to be built at the Seattle Center, but a petition by stadium opponents ground the project to a halt. By the end of the season, it was obvious that the Pilots would not survive long enough to move to their new stadium without new ownership. It was also obvious that the move would have to happen quickly, as Sick’s Stadium was completely inadequate even for temporary use.
During the offseason, Soriano crossed paths with Selig. They met in secret for over a month after the end of the season, and during Game 1 of the World Series, Soriano agreed to sell the Pilots to Selig for $10 million to $13 million (depending on the source). Selig would then move the team to Milwaukee and rename it the Brewers. However, the owners turned it down in the face of pressure from Washington‘s two senators, Warren Magnuson and Henry (Scoop) Jackson, as well as state attorney general Slade Gorton. MLB asked Soriano and Daley to find a local buyer. Local theater chain owner Fred Danz came forward in October 1969 with a $10 million deal, but it fizzled when the Bank of California called in a $4 million loan it had made to Soriano and Daley for startup costs. In January 1970, Westin Hotels owner Eddie Carlson put together a nonprofit group to buy the team. However, the owners rejected the idea almost out of hand since it would have devalued the other clubs’ worth. A more traditional deal came one vote short of approval.
After a winter and spring full of court action, the Pilots reported for spring training under new manager Dave Bristol unsure of where they would play. The owners had given tentative approval to the Milwaukee group, but the state of Washington got an injunction on March 17 to stop the deal. Soriano immediately filed for bankruptcy – a move intended to forestall any post-sale legal action. At the bankruptcy hearing a week later, Milkes testified there wasn’t enough money to pay the coaches, players and office staff. Had Milkes been more than 10 days late in paying the players, they would have all become free agents and left Seattle without a team for the 1970 season. With this in mind, Federal Bankruptcy Referee Sidney Volinn declared the Pilots bankrupt on April 1 – six days before Opening Day – clearing the way for them to move to Milwaukee. The team’s equipment had been sitting in Provo, Utah with the drivers awaiting word on whether to drive toward Seattle or Milwaukee.
1970-77: Early years in Milwaukee
With the season’s opening day only six days away, there was not enough time to order completely new uniforms, so the club had to remove the Pilots logo from team uniforms and replace them with Brewers logos. In fact, the outline of the old Pilots logo could still be seen on the Brewers’ uniforms. Selig’s original intention had been to adopt navy and red as the team colors, hearkening back to the minor league club (souvenir buttons sold at White Sox games at County Stadium featured the major league club’s logo in that color combination), but with no time to order new uniforms, the Brewers adopted the blue and gold of the Pilots as their own. That color combination, in various shades, is still used by the club. The short notice (along with their geographical location) also forced the Brewers to assume the Pilots’ old place in the AL West. While this resulted in natural rivalries with the White Sox and Twins, it also meant the Brewers faced some very long road trips, traveling to the Angels and Athletics for three series each per season.
Under the circumstances, the Brewers’ 1970 season was over before it started, and they finished 65-97. They would not have a winning season until 1978.
Selig brought back former Milwaukee Braves catcher (and fan favorite) Del Crandall in 1972 to manage the club. In 1972, the Brewers were shifted to the AL East when the second edition of the Washington Senators moved to Arlington, Texas and became the Texas Rangers.
It was during this period that Milwaukee County Stadium gained its reputation for fun as well as baseball. Then-team vice president Dick Hackett hired Frank Charles to play the Wurlitzer organ during the games, and Hackett introduced team mascots Bernie and Bonnie Brewer.
On November 2, 1974, the Brewers orchestrated a trade that brought one of the most beloved Braves back to Milwaukee, sending outfielder Dave May and a player to be named later (minor league pitcher Roger Alexander) to Atlanta for Hank Aaron. Although not the player he was in his prime, Aaron brought prestige to the young club, and the opportunity to be a designated hitterallowed Aaron to extend his playing career two more seasons.
1978–83: The Glory Years of Bambi’s Bombers and Harvey’s Wallbangers
Following the 1977 season, the Brewers made two big hires that turned the previously underachieving Brewers into perennial contenders. Harry Dalton was hired as the club’s General Manager and he, in turn, hired Baltimore Orioles pitching coach George Bamberger as the Brewers’ third manager in their brief history. Bamberger immediately turned the Brewers into pennant contenders in 1978. The team won 93 games, an astonishing 26 game improvement from the previous season. The Brewers finished in 3rd place in the AL East, 6.5 games behind the first place New York Yankees. GM Harry Dalton was able to build a winning club with a combination of home-grown players like Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, and Gorman Thomas, as well as getting players that were cast-offs from other teams that became major contributors like Cecil Cooper, Ben Oglivie, and Mike Caldwell.
The next season, Milwaukee won 95 games and finished second in the East behind the Baltimore Orioles on the strength of their home run power, led by Oglivie (who led the league in homers in 1980 along with Reggie Jackson), Cooper, and Thomas (who hit a then club-record 45 home runs in 1979, since broken by Prince Fielder, who hit 50 homers in 2007). Because of the team’s slugging ability and the nickname of their manager Bamberger, the Brewers were nicknamed “Bambi’s Bombers.”
As 1980 began, the Brewers and their fans were optimistic about becoming pennant winners, but the team scuffled during the season, partially due to manager George Bamberger suffering a heart attack and having to be replaced by Buck Rodgers. The Brewers fell back to 3rd place in 1980, largely due to a lack of an effective bullpen. Determined to get a proven relief pitcher, general manager Harry Dalton made a huge offseason trade with the St. Louis Cardinals, trading outfielder Sixto Lescano and 3 minor league pitchers to the Cardinals in exchange for Rollie Fingers, Pete Vuckovich, and Ted Simmons, all of whom became key parts of the Brewers future success.
The Brewers won the second half of the 1981 season (divided because of a players’ strike) and played the Yankees in a playoff mini-series they ultimately lost. It was the first playoff appearance for the franchise. Rollie Fingers had one of the greatest seasons for a relief pitcher that season, saving 28 games in the shortened season and sporting an astonishing 1.04 ERA, earning him both the MVP and Cy Young awards in the American League.
In 1982, the Brewers were considered heavy favorites to win the AL East, but by June, the team had fallen to 23–24 and signs had shown that the players were having problems playing under manager Buck Rodgers. Taking a gamble, the Brewers fired Rodgers and replaced him with hitting coach Harvey Kuenn. The team immediately excelled under Kuenn’s low-key managerial style and gained a new nickname as Harvey’s Wallbangers, a play on the drink Harvey Wallbanger and the team’s manager’s name. The Brewers went 72–43 under Kuenn for the rest of the season and went wild offensively, clubbing a then club-record 216 home runs during the season. The Brewers alone had three players finish in the top five in the league in home runs with Gorman Thomas, who led the league with 39, Ben Oglivie, who hit 34, and Cecil Cooper, who hit 32. Late in the season, to try to ensure the Brewers’ pennant chase, the team made one last trade on August 30 for Don Sutton. That trade would become even more important on the final game of the regular season between the Brewers and the Baltimore Orioles, with both teams tied for first place in the AL East. Don Sutton started against Jim Palmer and the Brewers won 10–2, thanks to Robin Yount hitting two clutch home runs, clinching the AL East Division. The Brewers finished the season 95–67, the best record in baseball that year.
The Brewers faced the California Angels in the 1982 American League Championship Series and lost the first two games in California, but then rallied to win the next two games back in Milwaukee, setting up the pivotal Game 5, with the winner being the American League Champions. Down 3–2 in the 7th, Cecil Cooper hit a clutch 2-run single to put the Brewers on top and proved to be a game winner. The Brewers became the first team to win the American League Championship Series when down two games to none.
The Brewers then played the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, which was seen as a match-up of contrasting playing styles, as the Cardinals’ offensive style was speed and defense, whereas the Brewers’ offense was power hitting. The Brewers won Game One 10–0, thanks to Paul Molitor‘s World Series record 5 hits and a complete game shutout by Mike Caldwell. The Cardinals won the next two games and seemed to have Game 4 in complete control until the Brewers rallied for six runs in the 7th to win the game 7–5. The Brewers then won Game Five 6–4, giving them a 3–2 series lead, but the Cardinals trounced Don Sutton winning Game 6 13–1, and rallied for three runs late in Game 7 to win the Series, 4 games to 3. Many point to the lack of a bullpen for their downfall, as the Brewers had the lead in five of the seven games. Ace closer Rollie Fingers missed the playoffs due to a torn muscle in his throwing arm that not only kept him out for the entire playoffs but also would have him miss the entire 1983 season.
The Brewers had many individual accomplishments during their two playoff years, as both in 1981 and 1982, Brewer players won both the AL MVP and Cy Young awards, with Rollie Fingers winning both awards in 1981, and Robin Yount winning the MVP and Pete Vuckovich winning the Cy Young in 1982.
The Brewers were in contention to repeat in 1983, but the team fell on a rough September to finish in 4th place with an 87–75 record, their last winning season until 1987. Part of the reason for the Brewers’ fall in 1983 was the absence of three main parts of their pennant-winning club the year before. Rollie Fingers was lost for the whole season with a torn muscle in his throwing arm, beloved slugger Gorman Thomas struggled badly offensively and was traded to the Cleveland Indians, and their ace, Pete Vuckovich, was revealed to have had a torn rotator cuff that had been plaguing him since 1981 and only pitched in 5 games in 1983. Two milestones were reached by Brewers players in 1983, however, when Don Sutton got his 3,000th career strikeout and Ted Simmons got his 2,000th career hit. Harvey Kuenn resigned as manager after the season.
1984–93: Rollercoaster, riding the highs and lows
Following their two playoff years, the club quickly retreated to the bottom of the standings, never finishing higher than fifth (out of seven) in their division from 1983 to 1986. Hope was restored in 1987 when, guided by rookie manager Tom Trebelhorn, the team began the year with a 13-game winning streak. Unfortunately, they followed that hot start with a 12-game skid in May. But “Team Streak” eventually posted a strong third-place finish. Highlights of the year included Paul Molitor‘s 39-game hitting streak and what is still the only no-hitter in team history, pitched by Juan Nieveson April 15.
On that day, Nieves became the first (and so far, only) Brewer and first Puerto Rican-born Major Leaguer to pitch a no-hitter, defeating the Baltimore Orioles 7–0 at Memorial Stadium. The final out came on a climactic diving catch in right-center field by Robin Yount of a line drive hit by Eddie Murray. The game also was the first time the Orioles were no-hit at Memorial Stadium. Yount later recalled at a Brewers banquet that he did not have to dive to catch the line drive hit by Murray but figured ending the game with a diving catch would be the icing on the cake for Nieves’ no-hitter.
In 1988 the team had another strong season, finishing only two games out of first (albeit with a lesser record than the previous year) in a close playoff race with four other clubs. Following this year, the team slipped, posting mediocre records from 1989 through 1991, after which Trebelhorn was fired. In 1992, reminiscent of the resurgence which greeted Trebelhorn’s arrival in 1987, the Brewers rallied behind the leadership of rookie manager Phil Garner and posted their best record since their World Series year in 1982, finishing the season 92–70 and in second place, four games behind that year’s eventual World Champion Toronto Blue Jays. As a bit of a shocker for Brewers fans, who were used to the team sporting several power hitters, the Brewers in 1992 instead led the American League with 256 stolen bases, while hitting only 82 home runs, with only two players (Greg Vaughn and Paul Molitor) hitting more than 12 for the year. Despite not making the playoffs, the Brewers had some other memorable moments, as Pat Listach hit .290 and stole 54 bases while winning the AL Rookie of the Year award, while Robin Yount got his 3000th career hit. 1992 proved to be the end of an era for the Brewers, as teammates Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, and Jim Gantner, who had been together since 1978 would go their separate ways, as Molitor left the Brewers for the Toronto Blue Jays, Gantner retired, and Yount would only last one more season before retiring in 1993.
Hope of additional pennant races was quickly dashed, as the club plummeted to the bottom of the standings in 1993, finishing an abysmal 26 games out of first. Since 1992, highlights were few and far between as the franchise failed to produce a winning season, having not fielded a competitive team because of a combination of bad management and financial constraints that limit the team relative to the resources available to other, larger-market clubs.
As 1990s came to a close, the Brewers were on their way to becoming a perennial doormat. A lack of good management and an aging ballpark in old County Stadium, were both becoming stark problems for the Brewers and many fans began to wonder if the Brewers would ever become contenders again.
1994–98: Realignment / “We’re taking this thing National”
In 1994, Major League Baseball adopted a new, expanded playoff system. This change would necessitate a restructuring of each league from two divisions into three. The Brewers were transferred from the old AL East division to the newly created AL Central. (Due to the baseball strike, however, the new-look playoffs and World Series did not materialize that year.)
In March 1995, two new franchises—the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays—were awarded by Major League Baseball, to begin play in 1998. It was decided to add one new team to each league. At the time, however, MLB did not want to have an odd number of teams per league because they would either have to give teams many more off-days than in the past, orinterleague play would have to be extended year-round, or both (14 years later however, another realignment would cause there to be an odd number of teams in each league with year round interleague play). In order for MLB officials to continue the existing schedule, where teams play almost every day and where interleague play is limited to a few days per year, both leagues would need to carry an even number of teams. The decision was made to have one existing club switch leagues.
This realignment was widely considered to have great financial benefit to the club moving. However, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, Commissioner (then club owner) Bud Selig decided another team should have the first chance to switch leagues. The Kansas City Royals of the American League’s Central Division were asked first, but they decided not to move over to the National League’s Central Division. The choice then fell to the Brewers, who, on November 6, 1997, elected to move to the National League’s Central Division. At the same time, theDetroit Tigers agreed to move from the AL East to the AL Central (to replace Milwaukee). The Tampa Bay Devil Rays joined the AL East and the Arizona Diamondbacks joined the NL West. Had the Brewers elected not to move to the National League, the Minnesota Twins would have been offered the opportunity next.
Milwaukee had formerly been a National League town, having been the home of the Braves for 13 seasons (1953–65). With the Brewers having joined the National League, it was now necessary for their pitchers to take batting practice, because the NL has a no DH rule.
1999–2003: Building Miller Park
As early as 1993, Brewers owner Bud Selig had talked of a new ballpark for the Brewers to replace Milwaukee County Stadium, which had become heavily outdated and antiquated and didn’t even have luxury suites.
By 1996, the club was set to build a new ballpark near the site of County Stadium, which would have a retractable roof to counter the unpredictable Wisconsin weather in the spring and autumn. It also helped to bring more fans and their families from all around Wisconsin to come to games with a practical guarantee of no rain-outs, bring in more potential revenue for the club.
Miller Park was opened in 2001, built to replace Milwaukee County Stadium. The stadium was built with $310 million of public funds, drawing some controversy, and is the only sporting facility to have a fan-shaped retractable roof. Miller Park has a seating capacity of seating 41,900 and with standing room 43,000, which is 10,000 fewer seats than County Stadium.
The park was to have opened a year earlier, but an accident during its construction, which resulted in the deaths of three workers, forced a year’s delay and $50 million to $75 million in damage. On July 14, 1999, the three men lost their lives when the Lampson “Big Blue” crane, one of the largest in the world, collapsed while trying to lift a 400 ton right field roof panel. A statue commemorating the men now stands between the home plate entrance to Miller Park and Helfaer Field.
The Brewers made renovations to Miller Park before the 2006 campaign, adding both LED scoreboards from Daktronics, a company inBrookings, South Dakota, in left field and on the second-tier of the stadium, as well as a picnic area in right field, shortening the distance of the right-field fence. The picnic area was an immediate hit and sold out for the season before the year began.
Miller Park also features another fan favorite, Klement’s Racing Sausages, in a race of five costumed mascots, held before the bottom of the sixth inning.
While the Brewers’ new park was a hit, the club itself was not successful playing in it, as the Brewers finished the season even worse than their previous seasons, going 68–94 in their first season at Miller Park. The Brewers finished 2002 even worse, finishing with a dismal 56–106 record, 41 games out of first place, the worst record in franchise history.
In 2003, the Brewers hired Doug Melvin as General Manager, who in turn brought in Ned Yost, coach with the Atlanta Braves and a former member of the 1982 American League Champion Brewers, as manager. Though the Brewers only went 68–94 in 2003, the Brewers did raise hopes with a winning record in August during the season.
2004–present: Attanasio era
2004-2006: Building a winner
On January 16, 2004, Selig announced that his ownership group was putting the team up for sale, to the great relief of many fans who were unhappy with the team’s lackluster performance and poor management by his daughter, Wendy Selig-Prieb, over the previous decade. In September 2004, the Brewers announced they had reached a verbal agreement with Los Angeles investment banker Mark Attanasio to purchase the team for a reported US$223 million. The sale to Attanasio was completed on January 13, 2005, at Major League Baseball’s quarterly owners meeting. Other members of Attanasio’s ownership group include private equity investor John Canning, Jr.., David Uihlein, Harris Turer and Stephen Marcus, all of whom were involved with the previous ownership group led by Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig. Since taking over the franchise, Attanasio has worked hard to build bridges with Milwaukee baseball fans, including giving away every seat to the final home game of 2005 free of charge and bringing back the classic “ball and glove” logo of the club’s glory days on “Retro Friday” home games, during which they also wear versions of the team’s old pinstriped uniforms.
The Brewers caused a stir in the first half of the 2004 season, when the team had a winning record in the first half of the season, even briefly being in 1st place in the NL Central. However, lack of a productive offense doomed the Brewers and the club sunk back to last place, finishing the season 67–94. The Brewers did have some bright moments during the season with pitcher Ben Sheets striking out 18 Atlanta Braves in one game and the Brewers coming back from a 9-run deficit to beat the Cincinnati Reds.
After the 2004 season, with Mark Attanasio now in control of the franchise, the Brewers were finally able to spend some money on free agents. The Brewers first significant free-agent signing in many years was veteran catcher Damian Miller, a Wisconsin native, and to address a need for better run production, the Brewers traded speedy outfielder Scott Podsednik and relief pitcher Luis Vizcaíno to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for slugging outfielder Carlos Lee. The arrival of Lee gave Brewer fans even higher hopes that better seasons were on the way for the Brewers.
In 2005, under Attanasio’s ownership, the team finished 81–81 to secure its first non-losing record since 1992. True to form, Carlos Lee provided the Brewers with much needed run support, hitting 32 home runs and driving in 112. Starting pitcher Chris Capuano also had a stellar season, going 18–12 with a 3.99 ERA, the most wins by a Brewer pitcher since Pete Vuckovich won 18 games in 1982.
With a solid base of young talent assembled over the past five years, including Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, J. J. Hardy and Corey Hart, the Brewers showed renewed competitiveness. Further encouraging this sentiment, the Brewers had hired former stars Yount (bench coach; resigned in November 2006) and Dale Sveum (third base coach), both very popular players for the Brewers in the ’80s.
In 2006, the Brewers’ play disappointed fans, players, and management. They began the season 5–1 and had a 14–11 record at the end of April. On Mother’s Day Bill Hall hit a walk off home run with his mother in the stands, a play that was shown on ESPN throughout the summer. However, soon starters JJ Hardy, Rickie Weeks, and Corey Koskie were lost to injuries, and the Brewers were forced to trade for veteran infielders David Bell and Tony Graffanino. They also suffered setbacks when losing starting pitchers Ben Sheets and Tomo Ohka for a substantial amount of time, forcing Triple A starters Ben Hendrickson, Dana Eveland, Carlos Villanueva, and Zach Jackson into starting roles at different points in the year. Shortly before the All Star break the Brewers climbed to one game above .500, but then lost their next three to the Chicago Cubs and would never return to .500. After the All Star break closer Derrick Turnbow blew four straight save opportunities. This led to the Brewers being far enough down in the standings that management decided to trade free agent-to-be Carlos Lee to the Texas Rangers for closer Francisco Cordero, outfielder Kevin Mench, and two minor league prospects. Cordero replaced Turnbow as the Brewers closer and had immediate success, converting his first 13 save opportunities. On August 24 the Brewers completed a sweep of the Colorado Rockies to climb to less than five games out in both the NL Central Division and NL Wild Card races, but then Milwaukee went on a 10-game losing streak that ended any postseason hope. The Brewers did rebound and play well in September including a four-game sweep of San Francisco, but it was too little too late. The Brewers ended the season with a 75–87 record.
At the end of the season, Attanasio stated that he and General Manager Doug Melvin would have to make some decisions about returning players for the 2007 season. With young players waiting in the minor leagues, during the off-season the key additions were starting pitcher and 2006 NLCS MVP Jeff Suppan, starter Claudio Vargas, reliever Greg Aquino, catcher Johnny Estrada, and returning Brewer Craig Counsell. The Brewers parted ways with 2006 starters Doug Davis and Tomo Ohka, as well as fan favorite Jeff Cirillo, who wanted more playing time with another team.
2007: The return to respectability
Before the 2007 season, the buzz surrounding the Brewers greatly increased. They were dubbed a “sleeper team” and “contenders in the NL” by numerous sports analysts and magazines. ESPN’s Peter Gammons and Dan Patrick both picked The Brewers to beat out the defending champion Cardinals and re-vamped Chicago Cubs to win the NL Central. To celebrate the successful 1982 Milwaukee Brewers team, the franchise decided to have the 2007 season be named as the “25th Anniversary of ’82”, with more fan giveaways than any other Major League Baseball team except the Pittsburgh Pirates, and more discounts and deals than any other time in Brewers’ history.
ESPN.com’s lead story on August 29 stated: “…. Then there are the Brewers. The strange, impossible-to-figure-out Brewers. They once had the best record in the majors, were 14 games over .500 twice, and led the division by as many as 8½ games on June 23. Since then, and there’s no nice way of saying it; they’ve reeked.”. The Brewers cast this negativity to the side, and rebounded in September. Despite poor performances from the usually steady Chris Capuano and more nagging injuries toBen Sheets, the Brewers found themselves in a heated pennant race with Chicago’s North Siders. The team’s playoff drive took a hit late in the year, however, losing three of four games in a crucial series in Atlanta, dropping the Brewers to a season-high 3.5 games out of first. The Brewers won the first two games of their final homestand of the season to pull within two games of the Cubs, but faced a near impossible task with the club’s elimination number down to only three and the wild card leading Padres coming to town. The club played well, but the Cubs clinched on the final Friday of the season. On September 29 the Brewers beat Padres 4–3 in extra innings to secure a winning season. The game was tied in the ninth inning by a triple by Tony Gwynn, Jr. in a highlight reel play that was repeated often during the 2007 post season. That win, and the win the next day, by the Brewers kept the Padres from advancing to the playoffs. The irony, of course, being that Gwynn’s father was arguably the most popular Padre of all-time, and Tony Gwynn, Jr.. would later be traded to the Padres in 2009. Milwaukee finished at a respectable 83–79, only two games behind Chicago, the club’s best finish since 1992. First baseman Prince Fielder made history in 2007, becoming the first Brewer and the youngest player ever to reach the 50 home run mark in a single season. For his effort, he finished third in the 2007 National League Most Valuable Player voting, garnering 284 total points including 5 first place votes. Fielder was also awarded the Hank Aaron Award for reaching the amazing single year record. Third baseman Ryan Braun was also rewarded for his historic season by being named 2007 NL Rookie of the Year.
2008: The return to the postseason
The Brewers came into 2008 with hopes of ending the team’s 26-year playoff drought, adding several veterans to the team in outfielder Mike Cameron and catcher Jason Kendall, as well as relief pitchers Éric Gagné and Salomón Torres. The Brewers started April on a solid winning note, but suffered two big blows in their pitching rotation when Dave Bush was demoted to AAA Nashville, and Yovani Gallardo suffered a potential season ending knee injury. The team dropped below .500 by the middle of May, capped off by a sweep from the Boston Red Sox.
The Brewers rebounded in June as Salomón Torres took over as closer, becoming a big success, and soon climbed back into contention. As June came to a close, the Brewers made their biggest move for playoff contention as they traded 4 prospects, most notably Matt LaPorta, to the Cleveland Indians for CC Sabathia. General Manager Doug Melvin summed up the trade by saying, “We are going for it.” The Brewers came into the All-Star break with a 52–43 record, still third behind the Cubs and Cardinals. Ben Sheets was named starting pitcher for the National League in the All-Star game, and Ryan Braun also started at left field. Corey Hart was named to the team in the Final Vote.
The Brewers came out of the All-Star break with a bang as they won their first seven games back, all of them on the road, sweeping first the Giants and then the Cardinals, taking over first place in the Wild Card standings. The Brewers came into the end of July still in the hunt for the division, but the front running Cubs swept the Brewers in a four-game set at Miller Park. While the Brewers were still holding on to the Wild Card lead, the division was never seriously challenged for the remainder of the year.
The Brewers came off the sweep from the Cubs with an amazing August, winning 20 of 28 games in the month. Sabathia made history by becoming the first pitcher in over 90 years to win his first 9 games after being traded mid-season. With a steady five game lead for the Wild Card, the hope of a playoff spot seemed secured, but the Brewers struggled in September, first getting swept by the New York Mets, and then just over a week later, getting swept in four games by the Philadelphia Phillies, losing their lead in the Wild Card. Feeling a change was needed, the Brewers fired manager Ned Yost with just 12 games left in the season, replacing him with Brewers third base coach Dale Sveum. Sveum named Garth Iorg as his replacement as third base coach, and made Robin Yount the new bench coach, replacing Ted Simmons. With the final 6x games at home, the Brewers were still in the hunt for the Wild Card behind the New York Mets. They first swept the Pittsburgh Pirates, thanks to walk-off home runs by Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, tying the New York Mets for the Wild Card lead with 3 games to go against the NL Central division champion Chicago Cubs.
The Brewers took the first game thanks to a pinch-hit home run by Rickie Weeks and stellar relief pitching by Seth McClung. The Cubs took the second game, with the Wild Card race still in a dead tie. CC Sabathia was called to pitch his third game in a week, and was stellar, pitching a complete game, while Ryan Braun hit possibly the biggest home run in club history with a 2-run shot in the 8th inning to break a 1–1 tie. The Brewers won 3–1 while the New York Mets lost to the Florida Marlins 4–2, sealing the Brewers the Wild Card spot.
The Brewers finished the 2008 season one game ahead of the New York Mets in the wild card race with a final record of 90–72, and faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS. This was the first time the Brewers reached the playoffs since 1982.
The Brewers played their first postseason game in 26 years on October 1. Pitcher Yovani Gallardo made his first postseason start and only his second start since coming off the disabled list in late September. The Brewers lost the first game of the NLDS 3–1 on a dominant performance by Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels. Hamels allowed only two hits and struck out nine Brewers batters in eight shutout innings. The Brewers mounted a comeback in the 9th inning as closer Brad Lidge allowed two hits, a walk, and a run to score. However, Brewers right fielder Corey Hart struck out with runners on second and third to end the game.
The Brewers hosted Game 3, which was the first playoff game ever hosted at Miller Park and the first in Milwaukee since Game 5 of the 1982 World Series. The Brewers won, but were eliminated in Game 4, ending the Brewers season while the Phillies went on to win the World Series.
2009: Missing playoffs
During the off-season, the Brewers lost C.C. Sabathia when he filed for free agency and signed a lucrative deal with the New York Yankees. Despite the loss of a starting pitcher in Sabathia, the Brewers were able to sign all-time save leader Trevor Hoffman. The Brewers were not able to build on their success from the year prior falling below .500 but were witness to Prince Fielder setting the all-time franchise record for RBI.
The Brewers attempted to shore up their starting pitching with the signing of free agent Doug Davis, but the Brewers still struggled. After just one month, the Brewers released Jeff Suppan, Doug Davis got injured, and Trevor Hoffman struggled to get saves. The only bright spots of the season was the Brewers’ hitting. The Brewers were the only team in baseball to have three players with 100+ RBIs in Ryan Braun, Casey McGehee, and Corey Hart. The Brewers lost 9 games in a row in May and never fully recovered, finishing the season 77–85, which was good for 3rd place in the National League Central division, behind the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals. The only other bright spots of the season was Trevor Hoffman getting his 600th career save and the emergence of new closer John Axford. After the season, the Brewers chose not to renew the contract of manager Ken Macha. In October, just days after the World Series, the Brewers hired Ron Roenicke, bench coach of the Los Angeles Angels, to be the Brewers’ new manager.
2011 season: NL Central champs
With the trades for Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke, the Brewers were tabbed by many experts as favorites to not only win the NL Central Division, but also contenders for the National League pennant. The Brewers did suffer some early losses in spring training, as Zack Greinke was lost to a rib injury that would keep him out for a month, and Corey Hart was out for the first half of April with a hamstring injury, which caused the Brewers to make a last-minute trade at the end of spring training for Washington Nationals outfielder Nyjer Morgan.
The Brewers struggled during the first month of the season, losing their first 4 games of the season and fell as far down as to 5th place in the NL Central Division, but the Brewers rebounded starting at the end of May and throughout June and early July. By the All-Star Break, the Brewers were in 2nd place in the division, behind Pittsburgh and St. Louis. To address some needed bullpen depth, the Brewers made a shocking trade just hours after the All-Star Game, trading two Class-A prospects to the New York Mets for ace reliever Francisco Rodriguez, who immediately became the Brewers set-up reliever for closer John Axford.
The Brewers went on a hot winning stretch through the month of August and by the beginning of September were 10 1/2 games ahead of St. Louis for the NL Central lead. Though the Brewers scuffled some in September, the Brewers clinched the division on September 26, beating the Florida Marlins 4-1. The Brewers finished the season with a 96-66 record, the best record in franchise history.
Along with their team accomplishments, the Brewers had many individual achievements from their players. Ryan Braun finished the season with 33 homers and 33 steals while finishing second in the National League in batting average, hitting .332 while Prince Fielder finished second in the league in both home runs and RBIs, hitting 38 home runs while driving in 120.
The Brewers starting pitching was also drastically better than 2010. Each of the Brewers 5 regular starters had 10-plus wins during the regular season. Yovani Gallardo won 17 games, the most by a Brewer since 2005, Zack Greinke won 16 games despite missing one month, both Shawn Marcum and Randy Wolf won 13 games, and number five starter Chris Narveson won 11 games. It was the first time since 1982 that the Brewers had five pitchers with 10 or more wins in a season. The Brewers also used fewer starting pitchers than any team in baseball, using only six starting pitchers, with Marco Estrada filling in for 7 games when Greinke and later Narveson were out with injuries.
The Brewers faced the NL West Champion Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS and won the first two games at Miller Park, with Yovani Gallardo pitching 8 stellar innings in a 4-1 Game 1 win. The Diamondbacks won games 3 and 4 in Arizona, setting up a deciding Game 5 back in Miller Park. The Brewers had a 2-1 lead going into the 9th inning when closer John Axford blew his first save since April, giving up the lead. The Brewers went on to win the game and the series in the 10th inning on a base hit by Nyjer Morgan driving in Carlos Gomez for the winning run. With this win, they are currently the only team in modern times to win a divisional series in both the American and National Leagues. The Brewers faced their divisional foe and the NL Wild Card winner, the St. Louis Cardinals, who had upset the favored Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS. Many Brewer fans[who?] welcomed facing the Cardinals with the National League pennant at stake, with the Brewers and Cardinals having a growing rivalry, and also a chance for the Brewers to avenge their 1982 World Series defeat, which was at the hands of the Cardinals. The two teams split the first two games at Miller Park, then the Cardinals took two out of 3 games at Busch Stadium and won Game 6 to win the National League pennant and eventually the World Series against the Texas Rangers. Probably the biggest reason for the Brewers defeat[according to whom?] was the downfall of their starting pitching. In their 11 postseason games, the Brewers starting pitchers only had three quality starts, with Yovani Gallardo accounting for two of them, both of which were in the NLDS. The other quality start was Randy Wolf in Game 4 of the NLCS.
In the offseason, the Brewers would lose many of their spot players that had helped them during the season, such as Mark Kotsay, Jerry Hairston, Jr.., and Craig Counsell but their most notable loss was that of Prince Fielder, who would leave the team via free agency after having been a part of the Brewers organization for almost a decade. Fielder would end up signing with the Detroit Tigers. The Brewers would make two significant free agent signings during the off-season, signing shortstop Alex Gonzalez and third baseman Aramis Ramierez to improve the left side of the Brewers infield. The Brewers would also sign Japanese outfielder Norichika Aoki to bring some needed outfield depth.
The biggest news of all during the off-season, though, was the issue of the reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun apparently testing positive for PED’s and facing a possible 50-game suspension. Braun would appeal the suspension and won on the basis that the test was not processed properly, making him the first player to win an appeal against a suspension regarding illegal substances.
Despite the offseason losses and controversies, the Brewers fans still looked forward to the 2012 season with great optimism, as the Brewers, by the end of February, had sold over 1.5 million tickets, the most before the month of March. However, the Brewers started the season poorly, with a 40-45 record by the All-Star break. Poor bullpen play put the team even further out of contention by the end of July, which caused the Brewers to trade ace pitcher Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in exchange for top minor league shortstop Jean Segura and two minor league relief pitchers.
Suddenly, in mid-August, the Brewers went on a run to put themselves back in postseason contention. The bullpen started to turn itself around and the team was able to get production from several minor league call-ups, like Mike Fiers, Martin Maldonado, Jeff Bianchi, and Wily Peralta. Combined with stellar hitting of Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramírez, Corey Hart, and Jonathan Lucroy, the Brewers, from August 16 to September 23, won 26 of 35 games. However, the Brewers were eliminated from postseason contention on September 30, a 7-0 loss to the Houston Astros.
The Brewers still finished with a winning record in 2012, going 83-79, finishing in 3rd place in the NL Central behind Cincinnati and St. Louis.