Milwaukee has a long history with baseball, and so do the Brewers . . . but, not necessarily the franchise that is now the Milwaukee Brewers. The original Brewers franchise was established as a part of the Western League in 1894, which was a minor league. When the league changed its name to the American League, and declared itself a competing professional league, they remained in Milwaukee for one season, finishing last in the American League in 1901. After that season, the team was moved to St. Louis, and became the St. Louis Browns (who eventually moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles). In 1902, the Milwaukee Brewers were resurrected as a minor league team in the American Association. In 51 seasons, they won 8 American Association pennants. But, in 1953, Milwaukee finally got the professional team they had long been coveting, as the Braves moved in from Boston. The Brewers moved to Toledo, and became the Mud Hens. But, the Braves didn’t last long in Milwaukee, as they moved to Atlanta in 1966.
By 1967, expansion of both the National League and American League was eminent – each league making plans to add two more teams. Several cities made bids to receive a team, including Milwaukee. But, in the end, the National League awarded new franchises to San Diego and Montreal, while the American League awarded franchises to Kansas City and Seattle. The Seattle Pilots won the bid in spite of not having plans for a new stadium in place. Instead, they were planning on renovating Sick’s Stadium, which had been used for their minor league team. The agreement with MLB was that they would renovate the stadium to allow for 30,000 seats, instead of the current 8,000. Numerous delays occurred and by opening day in 1969, the stadium still only had 19,500 seats, and the scoreboard had just been finished the night before. By season’s end, the stadium still only had 25,000 seats, and the Pilots had managed to only draw 678,000 in attendance for the entire season. After a series of attempts to resolve the situation failed, the team was declared bankrupt on April 2, 1970 – 5 days before opening day. As a result, the team was then allowed to move to Milwaukee, where Bud Selig had made a bid to purchase and relocate the team. In fact, as the team awaited word on the bankruptcy hearing, their equipment was sitting in Provo, Utah, with drivers waiting to hear whether to drive toward Milwaukee or Seattle.
Selig named the team after the minor league Brewers that he had grown up watching, but because of the delay in getting the team to Milwaukee, there was no time to order new uniforms, or change the team’s colors (Selig had wanted to revert back to the original Brewers’ red and blue). So, to this day, the Brewers franchise still uses the blue and gold colors from the Seattle Pilots. In their 45-year existence, the team has made 4 playoff appearances (’81, ’82, ’08 & ’11). They won the AL pennant in 1982, but lost the World Series in seven games to the Cardinals. After moving to the National League in 1998, they appeared as the Wild Card team in 2008, losing in the NLDS to eventual world champion Philadelphia, and won their first NL division title in 2011, but lost the NLCS to eventual world champion St. Louis. The Brewers have retired 4 players’ jerseys – all of whom are HOFers. They’ve had 2 Rookie of the Year winners, 2 Cy Young winners, and 3 players have won 4 MVPs. Overall, the Brewers history isn’t exactly littered with much success. But, from 1978-1983, they were definitely a force to be reckoned with, as the team fielded 3 future HOFers at SS, 3B & closer, along with a Gold-Glove winning, power-hitting first baseman. Needless to say, all 4 of these made the top-5 list:
5. Prince Fielder (’05-’11) – in the end, Braun’s numbers will be better than Fielder’s. But, we don’t know just how inflated Braun’s numbers are due to PED’s. And, we do know that Braun benefited substantially by having Fielder bat behind him. So, I give Fielder the edge here. In 7 seasons with the Brewers, Fielder led the league in HR once, RBI once, and BB once. He appeared in 3 All-Star games (in a very crowded NL 1B field, which included Pujols, Lee, Berkman, Howard, etc.), and finished in the top 4 in MVP voting three times (’07, ’09 & ’11). On the Brewers’ all-time lists, he ranks 1st in OBP (.390), 2nd in SLG (.540), 2nd in OPS (.929), 8th in total bases (1904), 2nd in HR (230), 7th in RBI (656), 2nd in OPS+ (143), and 5th in runs created (763).
4. Rollie Fingers (’81-’82, ’84-’85) – Fingers’ prime years were definitely not played in Milwaukee. But, he was a vital part of a team that made two playoff appearances. In fact, in 1981, he won both the Cy Young award and the MVP in the AL, when he sported a measly 1.04 ERA and 0.87 WHIP, while leading the league with 28 saves in a strike-shortened season. And, even though he only pitched for 4 seasons in Milwaukee (a little more than 250 innings), he easily outranks every other pitcher they’ve had come through, in terms of success on the mound. In his first three seasons with the Brewers, his average ERA+ was 199! And, while baseball-reference.com only ranks players that have at least 500 IP on their career rate lists, compared to the guys on those lists, Fingers would rank 1st in ERA (2.54), 1st in WHIP (1.08), 8th in K/9 (6.8), 3rd in saves (97), 2nd in K/BB (3.02), and 1st in ERA+ (150 – which is well ahead of 2nd place). What’s especially impressive about these numbers is that it includes his last season in Milwaukee, which was an incredibly subpar season, with a 5.04 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, and just 17 saves – which led to his retirement.
3. Paul Molitor (’78-’92) – After being drafted in the first round of the ’77 draft by the Brewers, Molitor made an immediate impact, joining the team in ’78, and finishing 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting. In 15 seasons with the Brewers, he appeared in 5 All-Star games, and finished in the top-10 in MVP voting 3 times. While many remember Molitor as a hits machine (over 3300 in his career), he also was a threat on the bases. To this day, he still owns 4 of the top 10 stolen base seasons in Brewers history. He ranks 3rd all-time on the Brewers’ batting list (.303), 5th in OBP (.367), 10th in OPS (.811), 2nd in runs scored (1275), 2nd in hits (2281), 2nd in total bases (3338), 2nd in doubles (405), 10th in HR (160), 3rd in RBI (790), 1st in stolen bases (412), 6th in OPS+ (125), and 2nd in runs created (1287).
2. Cecil Cooper (’77-’87) – Cooper is one of the frequently overlooked stars of his era. In fact, when you compare his stats to the likes of Molitor, it’s eerily similar. The primary difference between the two is that Moliter simply played longer, and while Molitor was a hits and stolen base guy, Cooper possessed the greater power and drove runners in, while also accumulating hits at about the same pace. In 11 seasons in Milwaukee, he had five All-Star game appearances, two Gold Gloves, and four consecutive years appearing in the top-8 in MVP voting. His average season in Milwaukee was an OPS+ over 120, an OPS above .800, batting over .300, with 20+ HR and 100+ RBI. He holds the Brewers record for most hits in a season (219 in ’80), and owns 3 of the top 5 single-season hits totals in Brewers history. He also owns 3 of the top 8 RBI seasons in Brewers history, and held the record until 2009, when Fielder broke it. If there was ever a player in Brewers history who deserved to have his jersey retired, in spite of not making it to the HOF, it’s Cecil Cooper. He ranks 4th all-time on the Brewers’ batting list (.302), 7th in SLG (.470), 3rd in hits (1815), 3rd in total bases (2829 – behind just Molitor & Yount, but producing at a rate higher than either of them), 3rd in doubles (345), 6th in HR (201), 2nd in RBI (944), 9th in OPS+ (123), and 3rd in runs created (939).
1. Robin Yount (’74-’93) – a similar argument could be made against Yount’s HOF candidacy as Craig Biggio’s. Generally, a good hitter, though not a great one throughout his career (a .285 avg.). Lasted just long enough to eclipse the coveted 3,000 hits barrier, in spite of the fact that his last 4 seasons saw him bat just above .250 with a .712 OPS, and an OPS+ below 100. But, here’s the difference: in his prime, Yount won 2 MVP’s, including his best season, which was 1982, when he led the league in hits, doubles, SLG, OPS and total bases. He also won a Gold Glove that year at SS. When he won the MVP later in ’89, he was playing CF, becoming just the 3rd player in MLB history to win MVP’s at two positions. He is the all-time leader in Brewers history in runs (1632), hits (3142), total bases (4730), doubles (583), triples (126), HR (251), RBI (1406), and runs created (1655).
That’s my list. Any disagreement?