Category: Brewers

In the booth with Uke

Once the baseball postseason begins, Bob Uecker will be announcing the Brewers in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, but only the seventh time since he’s been a Brewers announcer.

Uecker started with the Brewers in 1971 with Merle Harmon. After Harmon left for NBC to announce the Moscow Olympics, Uecker became the Brewers’ number one announcer.

Will Sammon took time to interview a few of Uecker’s on-air partners, including his current partners:

Listening to Bob Uecker call Brewers games on the radio is like hearing the soundtrack of baseball — with unrehearsed and outlandish outtakes included. So just imagine the hilarity that takes place when the mic is off. As the Brewers celebrate the 50th anniversary of Uecker in the booth, The Athletic asked his former and current radio partners in Milwaukee to describe working alongside Mr. Baseball. They shared their behind-the-scenes moments, from the hilarious to the profound to the time they ate a brat covered with raspberry sherbet.

What’s it like having this 87-year-old Hall of Famer as a co-worker? Only this special club truly knows.

The Scottsdale Test

Those who were hired to work with Uecker first had to pass a nerve-wracking final hurdle of meeting Uecker himself, usually at Don & Charlie’s, which was once a popular Scottsdale restaurant and hangout. This was their first glimpse of what working alongside a legend would look like.

Jeff Levering (2015-present): The first time I ever met him was the day before Christmas Eve 2014. He was my last interview. The Brewers sent me down to Arizona. We had dinner at Don & Charlie’s.

Cory Provus (2009-11): You’re sitting in that booth. Bob’s there. And right above Bob, it’s his picture with his shirt off.

Joe Block (2012-15): He would dine there all the time. It was a cool place. It had sports memorabilia from the previous three decades on the wall. A lot of baseball people would go through there. Ueck kind of had his own seat because he’d go in there all the time, knew the owner, that kind of thing.

Provus: We had the same dinner. We had Miller Lites and we had shrimp scampi and I think we had salad.

Block: I’m at the bar because I’m there a little early. I’m nervous. And so, of course, what do I order? A Miller Lite. He had one with me and then we went over to the seat and we just started talking.

Provus: We were already probably two or three beers in before we even got food.

Levering: Within five minutes, he’s making me laugh.

Block: I’m nervous but things are going all right. He’s making me feel more at ease. Fergie Jenkins comes over, sends us each a round first and then comes on over to say hi to us. Ueck says, “Hey, Fergie, meet my new partner Joe Block.” I think to myself, I just got the job, this is great.

Levering: Within another five minutes of our conversation, Bud Selig walks around the corner and Ueck stands up and says, “Hey, Al, how are you?” He’s the only guy in the world who could get away with calling him Al. He said, “Al, I want to introduce you to Jeff Levering; he’s going to be working with us next year.” I didn’t have a job yet. Throughout the course of the rest of the dinner you’re sitting there and you’re going, “Oh my God, did he really just say that?”

Provus: In every story, someone incredible was there. Joe Torre was there that night.

Levering: Your mind is blown. He’s telling me stories about the Miller Lite ads and everything else about baseball and how he spent time with Mickey Mantle and when he was writing skits with Billy Crystal for “SNL.”

Block: I think the restaurant closed at 9. But it was pushing 10 o’clock by the time I realized the restaurant had closed. There was no one else in it. I started to hear “What’s My Name” by Snoop Dogg blasting out of the kitchen. They were cleaning up for the night, and that’s when we decided to call it. Three and a half hours passed. It felt like it was 10 minutes.

Favorite day at work

Anyone who has shared a booth with Uecker is armed with a favorite story. The problem for them is limiting themselves to just one. So we let a couple of them share more. It was worth it. 

Block: We were at Wrigley. Somehow in the first inning — sometimes he’s just observing things — he picked out the rooftop seats. And he mentioned, as an aside, it would be funny if there were some behind the ballpark, where you couldn’t see anything and then they sell it to you for all this money and you get up there and you’re all excited that you have this rooftop seat but you can’t see into the ballpark. So it just started with just a stray comment like that. Then it kind of went away and it kind of came back. In the early innings, it started to develop some legs and certainly by the later innings, it was full bore.

He said we could make this into a sitcom, you know, like the people, they get hoodwinked and they go up there and it’s like this landlord, who is trying to take advantage of people. … And then it just kept expanding and we got to one point where the residents of these buildings would rent out their place to just random fans, maybe even allow them to take a shower on a hot day at Wrigley or whatever. They’d knock on the door, “Hey, can I get into your shower?” And he’d say, “Honey, who’s in the shower right now?” Then another one would have people teaching the kids, do their kids’ homework for them. Just random fans coming into these people’s houses and stuff, because they don’t ever make it up to the top of the rooftop.

I mean, this is the stuff that’s coming off the top of his head. “We’re writing a sitcom, Joe,” he’d say. “We’re writing a sitcom.” And then Cubs pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa came in, and we decided he was going to be a restaurateur at the bottom floor of the building, and he was gonna sell pizza. But the pizza made everybody sick. He sold bad pizza to everybody. We just couldn’t stop laughing, and I’m looking at social media and people are just from all over the world chiming in with some ideas. I’d tell him, “Ueck, someone has another idea.” And then that would just spur his mind. There were probably 12 different storylines that got revealed throughout this game, in which Mike Fiers ended up striking out like 13 or 14 guys. He was just motivated to create this whole story arc of the first season of a sitcom based on the rooftop seats and those buildings around Wrigley Field.

Pat Hughes (1984-95): After each game, I would be doing the postgame show on radio. He would be packing up his suitcase and preparing to leave the booth. His big goal was to try to get me to laugh out loud, on the air, while I am doing out-of-town scores or recapping, playing highlights from the Brewers game we just did. And it was absolutely hysterical the things he would do. He would, for example, stand right behind me, and make a sound. Like a wounded seal or a wounded dog. He would bark. Ar roof. Ar roof. Ar roof. 

Sometimes he would use props. I’m live on the air broadcasting, and I’m trying to maintain my composure and be a professional. One time, he said, “Hey, Pat, look over here.” And I knew it was going to be something bizarre. I turned around and there’s pretzels sticking out of both of his ears.

That was his big goal, to try to get me to laugh out loud. Once I laughed, then he’d say, “OK, see you tomorrow.”

Provus: When I got the job, Pat Hughes told me, he said, “Hey, you’ll know when Bob likes you the moment that he makes you laugh on the air and you have to continue. So when that moment happens, pinch yourself and tell yourself you’re in.” And that happened midway through the 2009 season.

We were in Cincinnati. There was some kind of on-field event going on before the game. And there was music. There was dancing. It was a very festive environment. And there was this one woman. Imagine Marge Simpson. She had this towering tower of produce. I mean, every piece of produce you can imagine. It was like 2 feet in the air, and it was on her head, and it was quite the scene. So the way that the pregame format was done is that Bob would take it out of the anthem, and then throw it to me for the lineups. So we caught the last few bars and this woman that had the produce sang the anthem. So we’re coming out of the anthem, and Bob would normally say this person’s name and then throw it to me for the lineups. And at this particular moment, the last bars of the anthem are done and he goes, “The Chiquita banana, with our national anthem. The lineups, here’s Cory …”  And I just lost it. I just lost it. I had to read a bank-sponsored starting lineup card, and I had nowhere to go. Zero. And he said, “You OK?” And I’m like, “No, I am not.” And he says, “You sure? OK, we’ll just hang out. No problem.” And I am laughing. And I have to get through this because we’re getting close to game time. So when that happened, I thought about what Pat said, and I said, he’s right.

Lane Grindle (2016-present): It was this past spring training. We mentioned on the air that it had snowed back home. I mentioned something on the air about the piles on both sides of my driveway. He said, “Piles, you used to have to get a prescription for those.” Well, an alternative term for hemorrhoids is piles, which was kind of over my head, to be honest with you. So we have a chuckle about it. I say to him, “You’re kind of like an astronaut because you can go places the rest of us can’t go.” Without hesitation or taking a breath, he says, “I’m just glad you put the -tronaut at the end.”

Levering: On the air a couple of years ago, he was talking about an exhibition game that they played in El Paso where he dyed his hair, and they put eye black in his hair. He started sweating so bad that it started coming down his face, and then he got blown up at home plate by somebody. And that story somehow morphs into him singing the song, “El Paso,” and singing the lyrics about a gal named Felina in a cantina. You can’t make this stuff up.

Provus: It’s 2010. We’re playing Washington. It’s a day game. Adam Dunn was an active player but not playing that particular game. So Ueck started talking about Adam Dunn, how much he likes Adam Dunn. Phil Rozewicz was the visiting clubhouse guy. It’s during the game. He brings up Adam Dunn in full uniform, sneakers on, and he just kind of hunkers down. Massive dude. Right between Ueck and I during a game, in full uniform, just hanging out. Jim Riggleman was pissed. He was the manager and he thought about, you know, fining him because he left the dugout during the game. He just wanted to see him. This was after Bob had the two open-heart surgeries in 2010 so I think Adam just wanted to see him and see how he was feeling. But it was like, how many guys can get an active player to just come up to the booth during a game?

Grindle: Usinger’s Famous Sausage is a big sponsor on the radio and another sponsor is Cedar Crest Ice Cream. A lot of our messaging combines the two of them. They deliver a lot of their products to the booth. One night on the air, Ueck was talking about how we had some sherbet that we had had out, and we were trying it earlier in the day. And then he says, “You know, as a matter of fact, I think it’s so good you could put it on a sausage and it would be good.” It kind of devolved into, like, well, let’s all try this … Let’s actually put sherbet on a brat and eat it tonight, taste-test it and then report on air how it is. It was raspberry sherbet, and we used it like it was mustard or ketchup. Honestly, it wasn’t bad. We all kind of liked it.

Jim Powell (1996-2008): This would never happen with any other partner that I would ever have.

We would just get on the bus to go to the stadium, you know, 3:30 in the afternoon, for a 7 o’clock game. We were in Montreal to play the Expos. I don’t know why he saw that as like a clean palette on which he could go to town, but he did. So on the bus ride, he would start reading the billboards, you know as the bus was passing along, and he sort of developed a character, just goofing off on the bus rides. This happened over multiple years. After a while, it became pretty refined. Like, he was really funny with this character. So I had to do a pregame interview for every game. And I asked him, “Hey, what do you think about if I interview you on the pregame show, and you’re in that character?” And he’s like, “No, no, no, I’m not doing it for that.” I said, “That’s fine; it doesn’t have to go on the air. What if we just do an interview just for us to laugh at?” Under that circumstance, he was fine with it.

So we did this interview, and out of nowhere, I just plucked what I thought was a French Canadian type of name, Jean Jacques Smythe. So I do this interview with Jean Jacques Smythe, who was, as I labeled him in the interview, a renowned French Canadian journalist, highly esteemed, blah, blah, blah. When we start, he did something he had never done on the bus. He became completely hostile. He started ripping me. He was ripping the commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig. Anybody he could think of. He was anti-everything. For whatever reason, that’s the way he took the character in this interview. Of course, the best part was he began to rip himself. And it was absolutely hysterical.

This tells you just what a genius he is. He would be doing this interview in the radio booth inside the stadium. And Bob would be looking around, while he’s talking, and he would take a word off one of the billboards that he had no idea what it meant and then he would use the word in a sentence in his stuttering French Canadian accent, and then he would give a definition of what it was, which, of course, had no relation to what the word actually meant. But that was just part of his shtick. You would think that this guy had rehearsed the Jean Jacques Smythe character for 25 years.

So we finished the interview, and we all thought it was hilarious. And Bob, after some cajoling, Bob reluctantly allowed us to air it as the pregame interview. And what I had not anticipated was that he was so good in this character that nobody back in Milwaukee or on the Brewers Radio Network, recognized that that was actually Bob Uecker doing this interview. So, when he’s ripping Bud Selig, he’s ripping the Brewers and then he starts ripping Bob Uecker, I mean, the phones light up at WTMJ because it’s, like, who is this guy and why are they even talking? I mean, there was an uproar.

I’m not aware of us hearing from a single person who said that that was Bob doing a bad imitation of someone. It aired, and we made no comment. It was just up there. WTMJ heard from a ton of people.

Every time we went back to Montreal as long as they had baseball and we were going there, we would have Jean Jacques Smythe on our pregame show.

The idea that anybody else in baseball would actually attempt something like that is preposterous.

Uecker lessons

Uecker received no formal broadcasting education or training. Soon after his playing days — he was a catcher in the big leagues, and his career is the butt of his longest, self-deprecating joke — he began calling play-by-play for the Brewers’ radio broadcasts. Despite that, he has mentored every announcer who has come through Milwaukee’s booth. With his distinct, grandfatherly voice, unmistakable home run call — “Get up! Get up! Get outta here! Gone!” — and gift for painting a scene, it’s no wonder his former partners picked up so much through working with him. 

Provus: I learned this from him, because it’s the opposite of what you learn in school: You don’t have to fill every moment with air … you can stop and let the game and broadcast breathe because the sounds of baseball help tell the story. So that’s what I’ve done here. There’s a lot of time where I just will stay silent. And it’s a few seconds. It’s not for a minute, but I’ll stay silent for a few seconds because on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, that’s the part of the story to me that’s part of the game that people can hear. And when you have the technology, the equipment that we have, let the audience hear that. So that’s something that I learned from Bob. You don’t have to talk every minute, and he’s right.

Hughes: I really noticed the way he would listen to people say anything or do anything, and immediately have his own fresh take on what he just heard or what he just saw, and it’s just a gift that he has that I’ve never seen anyone else really possess the way he has it.

Grindle: I learned how to keep your energy at a good level throughout the broadcast, how to handle a game that’s lopsided in the wrong direction for your team, how to thread that delicate needle of putting it in perspective in 162 and still enjoying yourself. You don’t want to be totally goofy and crazy, but you can strike a balance with that, and I think he’s as good at that as anybody.

He is a genius in the big moments. We learned that on Sunday when Daniel Vogelbach hit the grand slam. He’s 87 and he nailed that call. I was sitting next to him in the booth because I was on the air with him, and I was in awe. Once Vogey made contact, I knew it was gone. So I kind of slowly turned and just watched Ueck because it was such a big moment and I just wanted to take that in, see him do it because he’s a legend.

Uecker’s coaching tree

The small list of Uecker’s former partners runs like a who’s who of baseball radio. Hughes has served as the Cubs’ lead play-by-play announcer since 1996. Powell has been with the Braves since 2009. Provus left Milwaukee for the Twins after the 2011 season and has stayed in Minnesota. Block has been the voice of the Pirates since 2016. Levering and Grindle are destined for big things.

Powell: We all are close. We’re our own little fraternity. The Uecker Partner Mafia. We all look out for each other. We all have a shared experience that nobody else has. We know it. We appreciate it. And we talk about it.

Levering: He might be my partner, but he’s more my friend, and he treats us that way. He treats my kids like they’re grandkids. When my son — he’s 6 years old, he’s been doing this since he was 2 — goes up and says, “Hi, Bob,” and Bob will have gumballs in his briefcase and Brock will go grab those gumballs. That’s their thing.

There have been other opportunities that I’ve had, that have been presented to me to move on from the Brewers. And the first person I call is Bob. And he’ll shoot me straight. And then he’ll tell me, “You’re in a great place here. And I like working with you.” And that weighs really heavily in all those decisions that I’ve made in the past.

Hughes: I learned so much from Uecker. So it was not just comedy and laughter but it was an intelligence that he has regarding baseball, and, frankly, in life as well.

Provus: He’s the best remedy for a bad day.

Hughes: I laughed every day working with Uecker.

Block: Madness and good fun is always right around the corner.

Provus: This is my 10th season doing the Twins. My favorite compliment that we get as a crew is, “It sounds like you guys are having fun.” And the Twins — outside the last two seasons — have had a lot more losing seasons than winning seasons since I have been here. And so when I hear that, it’s my favorite compliment because that comes from Bob, because Bob was — and still is — a champion of having fun.

Broadcaster, not a character

To those outside of Milwaukee, Uecker is known for so many things. Maybe it’s the movie “Major League.” Or his appearances on the “Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. Perhaps it could be that WrestleMania segment when André the Giant pretended to choke him. But throughout it all, Uecker has remained synonymous with the Brewers. For good reason.

Levering: With everything he has done in his life — the movies, the stand-up, the commercials — everything was around the Brewers. He made sure of it. Nobody will ever be like him ever again.

Powell: His personality is unmatched by anything I’ve come across in my entire career or entire life.

Provus: Bob, he’s an amazing comedian. That we all know. But, man, he calls a great game.

Grindle: He’s unbelievably gifted as a play-by-play guy. I do think that a lot of the attention gets focused on, he’s funny, he’s a great entertainer, and he played the game, and he has a fun time making fun of himself. But at the same time, the reason he’s done this for so long and the reason he’s in the Hall of Fame is because he can call a damn good game. And that should never get lost in the translation because he is one of the best that’s ever called the game.

Hughes: He is still darn good at what he does. He’s detailed. He’s accurate. He’s got the good pace. He has unbelievable knowledge of the game. He’s still fun. There’s an old song by Neil Young, “Long May You Run.” Long may you run, Bob Uecker.

Why do I want the Brewers to win the World Series? For Uke.

 

The contenders in Milwaukee

Travis Sawchik writes about how the Brewers went from a one-and-done (expanded) playoff team to the team with the second best record in the National League:

In the winter before the pandemic arrived, Corbin Burnes was trying to get better. He had to. He posted an 8.82 ERA in 2019, one of the worst marks in the majors. So he went out to the synthetic turf mound in the backyard of his suburban Phoenix home looking for a fix. He threw ball after ball into the netting behind the makeshift plate, experimenting with grips. His wife helped collect the baseballs that accumulated on the ground.

Even though the Milwaukee Brewers’ state-of-the-art pitching lab at the club’s new spring training complex was just a few miles from his house, he didn’t spend much time there. His self-help quest wasn’t driven by spin-tracking data or high-speed camera images. His backyard bullpen offered a low-tech feedback loop, guided by what he felt and saw. What felt right, what he created, was not the slider he intended to throw.

Initially, he sought a pitch in the “88-90 mph range,” Burnes told theScore, but as he kept working on it, as he kept throwing it, its velocity kept increasing. The pitch became a mid-to-upper 90s blur of late-breaking filth that seemed impossible to make quality contact against. What he built is a unicorn pitch. The offering is akin to Kenley Jansen’s peak cutter, only Burnes is, of course, a starting pitcher.

“When we came back to summer camp, it was kinda like, ‘Whoa, you got something here,'” Burnes said.

Last season, Burnes stopped throwing his four-seam fastball and replaced much of that usage with his cutter. He was the most improved pitcher in baseball in 2020. Burnes was even better early this season and – incredibly – he’s kept improving even as baseball cracked down on sticky stuff and he suffered some spin decline.

Burnes has a 2.10 ERA and .193 opponents batting average in the second half of the season, compared to a 2.36 and .210 in the first half. He’s gotten better because he keeps evolving. He’s spread apart his fingers on his cutter grip this year, which added velocity to it, and now enjoys above-average vertical movement – what appears as a rising effect to batters – and above-average horizontal movement on it.

Burnes further expanded his skill set by increasing his curveball usage as this season went along. His hammer curve grades even better than his cutter, as opponents are hitting only .073 against it. He used it to throw eight no-hit innings Saturday in Cleveland, combining with Josh Hader for the ninth no-hitter in the majors this season. After never throwing the curve more than 8% of the time in a previous season, he’s thrown it on about a quarter of his offerings in the second half.

“The curveball is more something I picked up this year. We found this year that I was able to throw it with a little more effectiveness,” Burnes said of his work with the Brewers staff. “It provides a good speed differential off of the sinker and cutter. Kind of plays if a right- or left-handed batter is in there.”

Brewers bullpen coach Steve Karsay, who’s watched the evolution of Burnes and his pitch arsenal from his time in the bullpen to his struggles in 2019 to his breakout season, said: “I mean, really, the only comp I can think of is (Jacob) deGrom.”

Like deGrom, Burnes is one of the few individual pitchers on the planet to feature four above-average pitches per FanGraphs’ run values and premium velocity. Burnes now has five when including his curveball.

Burnes’ remarkable pivot is a big reason why the Brewers have become a threat to win it all.

The “Oriole Way” and “Cardinal Way” celebrated standardized, top-down player development processes during those organizations’ heydays. If there is a “Brewers’ Way” – an organizational belief system that explains how this small-market club became a World Series contender – it’s not a one-size-fits-all philosophy but tailored toward individuals instead. The Brewers have built upon player strengths and added skills that complement them. It’s a story about continuous improvement, ideally driven by the player. While a lot of teams are focused on this in the data-driven age of player development, the Brewers are executing better than most.

For instance: Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta each rank among the top 27 starting pitchers in WAR gains since 2019.

When veteran Brewers pitcher Brett Anderson came up through the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, he said coaches and club officials wanted everyone to try and throw like then-Diamondbacks ace Brandon Webb. The problem, of course, was no one could throw a sinker like Webb.

“They don’t try to pigeonhole guys or change them one way or the other,” Anderson said of the Brewers’ methods. “We have sinker guys, four-seam-up guys, cutter guys, it’s working with our strengths and going from there.”

The Brewers’ road map to a title begins with a special rotation, but the improvement stories and the collaborations between self-help efforts and targeted instruction exist all over the roster, which might be the most complete in the game.

When Milwaukee acquired Willy Adames on May 21, it became perhaps the most symbiotic transaction of 2021.

Once a promising prospect, Adames was struggling in Tampa Bay. He hit .197 with the Rays this season and struck out in 36% of his at-bats. He was seemingly chasing every breaking ball that fell below the strike zone. The Rays traded him to Milwaukee with reliever Trevor Richards for pitchers J.P. Feyereisen and Drew Rasmussen.

Behind Adames in the Rays organization was baseball’s No. 1 prospect, Wander Franco, also a shortstop. It’s fair to wonder if Franco’s shadow led Adames to press early this season, although Adames said that wasn’t the case because the Rays constantly move players around the field. By late spring, though, the amiable Adames was tired of the questions about Franco. The two are close and Adames considers himself a mentor to Franco.

“Every time I was doing an interview it was the same question, ‘Are you worried about Wander coming up?’ It was kind of annoying after a while,” Adames told theScore. “I was at the point where I had to say the same answer for everybody.

When he arrived in the visiting clubhouse in Cincinnati on May 22 for his first game as a Brewer, that question disappeared. Brewers hitting coach Andy Haines pulled him aside in the indoor batting cages in the depths of the stadium. Here was a chance to reset.

Haines, seated next to Adames, arranged two laptops before them: one featured video of Adames in 2019, his best year, and the other showed video of some poor swings from earlier in the season. The Brewers did their homework on Adames; they knew he was a premium athlete, a plus runner, and a quality defensive shortstop. He’d demonstrated above-average hard-hit ability when he connected with a pitch – the problem was that wasn’t happening often enough.

Haines wanted to know why Adames changed his swing.

Adames explained that his struggles became pronounced in the postseason last year when the Rays advanced to the World Series. In the fifth inning of Game 1 against the Dodgers, Mookie Betts walked and stole second base, meeting Adames at the bag.

They were amiable division rivals during Betts’ time with Boston. Betts had watched Adames struggle in the playoffs. So, in the middle of the game, between pitches at Globe Life Field, at second base, Betts said he might be able to help him.

“He came up randomly and told me that he had the perfect guy to help me get to the next level. I was so surprised,” Adames said.

After the game, Adames sent Betts his cell number through an Instagram message and Betts responded with a text and a name to call: Lorenzo Garmendia, private hitting instructor to Betts and a number of pros.

After the Dodgers beat the Rays, Adames made the trip to Miami to begin working with Garmendia. He developed a new routine that included one-handed drills, using a new customized bat, and countless reps against high-velocity pitching machines. The idea was to better unlock his power and hit the ball harder and in the air more often, like Betts had done.

Adames brought his new swing and his new approach into the season. Initially, it didn’t work.

Haines listened to the story and what Adames was trying to accomplish. The coach didn’t suggest making wholesale changes to Adames’ new swing or routine.

“The one-hand drill, the bat that (Garmendia) gave me … hitting off the machine a lot, that’s what we were doing in Miami every day,” Adames said. “I am still doing the same routine.”

Haines suggested one tweak, however: get more upright in his stance like he’d been in 2019.

Adames kept the routine he learned in Miami, as well as the swing path and leg kick. What he changed was his posture. When he begins his swing he starts with his back upright.

“I just try to ask the right questions to get to where I think we should probably get to,” Haines said. “Empowering him to see the information, but talk us through how he got here.”

Almost immediately, Adames became a different player in Milwaukee. He stopped chasing as much and cut his strikeout rate dramatically. He was hitting .294 with the Brewers before landing on the IL this month with a quad strain. Adames said he expects to be back next week. Hidden amid his contact issues in Tampa this season were improved power-per-contact numbers. He produced a career-best hard-hit rate of 44.5%, which Adames believes is a product of his new swing. That carried over to Milwaukee (45.2%). What’s changed is he was making more contact after adjusting his stance.

“(Haines) helped me be taller at the plate,” Adames said. “That helps me to see the pitch better, and recognize the pitch better.”

If there’s a “Brewers’ Way,” perhaps it shows up here: the club didn’t pressure Adames to make dramatic changes. They believe he was correct in trying to unlock his power and he’s transitioned from a ground-ball hitter to a fly-ball hitter this year – increasing his fly-ball rate to 40% from 31%. Rather, they collaborated to make slight adjustments. Like with Burnes, the impetus to improve started with the player.

And as much as Adames needed the Brewers, the Brewers needed him.

Since the club acquired Adames in late May, Milwaukee boasts a different – and far more prolific – offense. The Brewers ranked 12th in the NL in runs scored and tied for 26th in the majors through May 21, but rank first in the NL in the second half and fourth in the majors since the trade.

Adames improved his hitting while playing a premium, up-the-middle position. Improving in the center of the field with players who can contribute on both sides of the ball gives the Brewers an edge. And there, in the middle of the field, Adames isn’t alone in growth.

The Brewers were interested in signing Kolten Wong last winter in part because of his excellent glove. They also signed Jackie Bradley Jr. in the offseason to bolster their outfield defense.

Milwaukee doesn’t just have an elite pitching staff and improving lineup; they also have the game’s best defense, according to FanGraphs’ defensive metric, and rank third in Ultimate Zone Rating and fifth in Defensive Runs Saved. Wong’s a big part of that.

While his glove has rarely slumped, it’s his improvement offensively that has led to Wong’s bounce-back season. He’s another Brewer who was focused on fixing a weakness.

When Wong’s $12.5-million option was declined by the Cardinals last October, it was something of a jolt. He felt he had to get more out of his bat. He hit one home run in 208 plate appearances last year and had one of his poorer offensive seasons.

So late last fall, he dove into his numbers, using public databases on the internet to see if he could identify an area to improve, a weakness that wasn’t obvious. He always believed in a contact-focused, two-strike approach. He was coached to believe in that since his youth, and owns a below-average strikeout rate for his career as a result. What he found, though, is that his two-strike approach and his consistent efforts to trade power for contact was actually hurting him.

“I started to realize that my swing-and-miss rates were pretty similar regardless if I was going to no leg kick or just trying to put the ball in play,” Wong said. “This year when I got to two strikes, I decided I was not going to shorten up.”

The results: Wong’s slugging percentage with two strikes is up by nearly 100 points. His overall slugging percentage (.464) is a career high. While his swing-and-miss rate is up slightly, his power gains have more than made the trade-off worth it – he’s on the cusp of his second 3 WAR season. By weighted runs created plus, he’s having the best hitting season of his career (115). He’s made the two-year, $18-million contract he signed a major bargain for the club.

And what honed Wong’s new approach even further was one of Haines’ most frequent messages, albeit one of his rare one-size-fits-all beliefs: Be aggressive, but stay within the strike zone. Instead of flailing at pitches off the plate with two strikes, Wong tried to tighten his zone discipline with two strikes.

Haines periodically gives reports to position players, grading their swing decisions and zone discipline.

“It’s just kind of our process and how we go about continuous improvement,” Haines said. “I think that’s what an MLB season is. You have to use the length of the season to help you, not hurt you. I’m a big believer in that.

“We feel like as we continue to show our guys quality information, more predictive (metrics), how they are getting to their outcomes … (results) will show up over time. … We’re making sure they value the correct things.”

Through May 21, the Brewers had a 26.3% strikeout rate as a team, above the MLB average through that date (24.1%). Since then, it’s dropped to 23.1% – below the MLB average of 23.3% for that period. Compared to last year, there are four Brewers who rank in the top 76 of WAR gainers, year over year, in the majors: Adames, Wong, Omar Narvaez (who also works with Garmendia), and Luis Urias.

Yes, Milwaukee’s also had some notable decliners, such as Bradley Jr. and Keston Hiura, and injuries have perhaps sapped Christian Yelich’s power, but the pitching-first Brewers are on pace for their fourth-best position player WAR season since 2011 – coupled with what is already their best pitching season in franchise history by WAR.

Manager Craig Counsell said he feels his players are more and more buying into the notion of the “circular” nature of a batting order, wearing down opponents through quality at-bats.

“We’re not a big home-run team,” Counsell said. “But the quality of at-bats we get throughout a game. … That’s what’s helped us score runs at times. We make it really tough on guys and maybe there’s a crack somewhere.”

On the surface, the role of Brewers’ bullpen coach seems like one of the least eventful jobs in baseball for the first five or so innings of a game. The phone rarely rings that early – a Brewers starting pitcher is often shoving. So what does Karsay do out there early in games?

“We watch the game. We have our iPads out there. We’ll talk about our sequences, and what happened in yesterday’s game for the guys that pitched,” Karsay said. “By the fourth, fifth inning, guys start to get locked in.”

Karsay represents much of what a club wants in a coach. He was a major-league player who dealt with highs and lows that included Tommy John surgery. He owns that experience, but he’s also taught himself how to use new available tools. He’s one of the coaches who keeps an eye on any changes to pitchers’ release-point data and quality-of-stuff metrics to make sure there are no “red flags.”

He said the Brewers’ individualized approach is especially important in the bullpen, where games become matchup-based in the later innings.

“The biggest challenge is to treat each guy as an individual,” Karsay said. “They are all puzzle pieces that you have to piece together to make a bullpen work as efficiently as possible.”

Here, too, the Brewers keep improving. Consider the case of Devin Williams, Karsay said, who burst on the season last year as a dominant back-end arm along with Josh Hader. Williams is still evolving and keeps improving one of the best pitches in baseball: his changeup.

“His changeup is something special,” Karsay said. “He’s had it his whole life. But he’s refined it more. … It’s him learning how to use his fastball with it in combination, to move his changeup to both sides of the plate, not get too heavy with it.”

Like so many of his teammates, Hader, an All-Star, is getting better, too: his ERA and fastball velocity in 2021 are career bests.

The Brewers look like a legit World Series threat as the playoffs near. They’ll make the long season work for them, using its length to keep improving, to keep getting better.

We’ll see how this pans out. Brewer history and the looming presence of San Francisco and the Dodgers makes me skeptical about a World Series berth. But this is their best shot at a World Series berth since the 2018 season, when they lost in the National League Championship Series to … the Dodgers.

 

Simba

MLB.com:

Ted Simmons’ upcoming induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame has robust support from the record book. He has the most hits in Major League history among switch-hitting catchers. His career OPS+ is higher than that of fellow Hall of Famers Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter, and Iván Rodríguez.

But to fully measure Simmons’ legacy requires a different sort of story, one that unfolded subtly over the 15,000-plus innings he caught for the Cardinals, Brewers, and Braves.

While plenty of statistics classify Simmons as an all-time great, his peers rarely allude to them. Instead, they speak about his passion, his intellect, and his unwavering focus. He never coasted through a ballgame. And by all accounts, he’s riding a lifelong streak of 72 years without a perfunctory conversation.

“He got the most out of his ability because of his mental approach,” said Bill Schroeder, a teammate in Milwaukee during the early 1980s. “He out-thought everyone.”

Simmons is a scholar of baseball, art, history — and life. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan in 1996, nearly three decades after attending his first college class. He completed his coursework in Ann Arbor on trips to Detroit while scouting for the Cleveland Indians, because, as he said, there are certain things in life that a person is supposed to finish.

And he is willing to share his wisdom, provided the interlocutor is prepared with the right questions.

“You’d better be thinking it out for yourself,” Simmons told me earlier this year. “If you’re not taking this game real seriously and examining everything you see — incorporating it into some form, like an essay, a notebook, or a booklet — then you’re never going to understand baseball the way a professional should.

“If someone who is really serious about the game asks you a thoughtful question, I’m inclined to say, ‘Come here and sit down, and I’ll tell about what you’re seeing.’ If they have thought about the game, you can help to illuminate it for them.

“What I tell people, in the simplest form, is this: Anytime you see something happen on the field that strikes you as unusual, go there. Tear that situation apart, inside-out, upside-down and backwards. There’s going to be insight in there.”

To think deeply while playing freely is baseball’s essential riddle. Over 21 Major League seasons, Simmons came closer to solving it than most mortals have, before or since. He found a way for painstaking contemplation to enhance, rather than compromise, his natural athleticism.

And he did it all with magnetism that was evident while growing up in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, Mich. His older brothers encouraged him to switch-hit. His mother, Bonnie Sue Webb-Simmons, modeled the determined work ethic that became the backbone of Ted’s career. He drew attention as a Big Ten football recruit while starring for the A&B Brokers amateur baseball team.

Oh, and have you heard the story about the time Ted and his wife, Maryanne Ellison Simmons, hitchhiked in Michigan with an aspiring rock star named Bob Seger?

Sources confirm: It’s true.

Simmons’ long, flowing hair earned him a memorable nickname: Simba. He planned to play baseball at the University of Michigan, until the St. Louis Cardinals selected him with the 10th overall pick in the 1967 Draft. He was 17 when he signed his first professional contract.

One year later, the Cardinals met his hometown Tigers in the World Series. The Cardinals arranged for Ted and Maryanne — then his girlfriend, now his wife of 51 years — to attend the games at Tiger Stadium. More than a half-century later, Simmons remembers the “horrible” internal conflict he felt. The Tigers were his boyhood team. Al Kaline was his favorite player. But now he was a professional. Baseball remained the game he loved — but now it was his livelihood, too.

“I was sitting in the upper deck, watching the game with all of the Cardinals’ front-office people,” Simmons recalled. “They knew I was from Detroit. I’d played that season in Modesto. At one point, Al Kaline got a big base hit to put the Tigers ahead. I did everything I could to prevent myself from cheering along with the rest of the crowd. I realized quickly enough where I was sitting and who was responsible for my tickets. I kept in my seat.”

Simmons spent 14 years in the Cardinals organization, absorbing the traditions and teachings of St. Louis baseball oracle George Kissell. Simmons made six All-Star appearances by the time he was dealt to Milwaukee after the 1980 season. He earned two more selections as a Brewer.

At first, Brewers players weren’t sure how to approach their new, serious-minded teammate. Simmons would read books in the clubhouse. He also enjoyed playing bridge, which evolved into a point of connection — and instruction — for his teammates.

Simmons revealed the nuances of bridge to Schroeder, a fellow catcher nine years his junior. In cards, as in baseball, Simmons demanded accountability and honesty.

“He had such passion for everything he did,” Schroeder said. “When we were playing bridge, he’d jump on people if he thought they were trying to cheat. We’d be having a laidback card game in the clubhouse, but if someone wasn’t acting appropriately, Ted would be the first one to go over to you and say, ‘We can’t operate that way. That’s not how a big leaguer acts.’”

After games, the daily seminar met at Simmons’ locker. Attendance was required for younger catchers, including Schroeder and future MLB manager Ned Yost.

Questions were specific. Answers had to be, too.

In the fourth inning, you called a 2-1 changeup to Ripken. Why?

“Baseball was a chess game for him,” Schroeder said. “One pitch set up another, within the at-bat or later in the game. I got a sense for that through Ted.”

So substantive were those conversations, so enduring the lessons, that Yost hired Simmons as his bench coach in Milwaukee for the 2008 season. And when Yost won back-to-back pennants with the Royals in 2014 and ’15, he publicly cited Simmons’ influence on his managerial approach.

By the time Yost won the World Series, Simmons was well into his decades-long MLB front office and coaching career. He was general manager of the Pirates in 1992 and ’93, before resigning from the position for health reasons after suffering a heart attack and undergoing an angioplasty. Simmons worked as an executive and scout for the Cardinals, Indians, Padres, Mariners and Braves.

Simmons also spent the 2009 and ’10 seasons as the bench coach in San Diego, where he mentored catcher Nick Hundley during a crucial period early in his career. Hundley, now 37, remembers how Simmons helped him to see the game holistically, in the context of a roadmap to 27 outs.

One example: It’s the eighth inning. The Padres are winning by two. The other team’s star — Buster Posey, let’s say — is the eighth hitter due up. With six outs to get, every pitch must be called with the goal of not allowing Posey to bat as the tying run.

“Even though that’s not something that would happen until the ninth inning, any 2-0 pitch in the eighth needs to be a strike,” Hundley explained in an interview earlier this year. “If you give up a base hit or a double, you can live with that. But he has to earn it. Otherwise, if you walk that guy, you’re one step closer to facing [Posey] as the tying run.”

Here’s another Simmons story — about decorum, more so than strategy: Rick Renteria, then a Padres coach, was acting manager for a split-squad game in Mesa, Ariz., during Spring Training in 2010. Hundley had a 3-0 count against Cubs starter Carlos Silva. Renteria gave him the take sign. Hundley saw it, but the urgency to prepare for the season compelled him to swing away. He rocketed an RBI triple off the wall.

Simmons was furious.

It didn’t matter that the result was favorable. Hundley had disregarded a sign. Simmons asked Hundley if he would have swung away had the sign come from Padres manager Bud Black, instead of a coach. Hundley said he didn’t know. And that was the point.

Simmons didn’t speak with Hundley for two days.

“He held me accountable for it,” Hundley said. “I remember that to this day. That’s the kind of impact he has on people. He makes sure you do things the right way. You knew he was coming from a place of love, because he would do anything to help our team.

“One of the biggest things he did for us in 2010 was he would always build people up, no matter what the score was. We’d be down in a game, and he’d go up and down the bench, saying, ‘Just get the tying run up!’ And if it happened, when that batter was on deck, he would be so fired up. He’d yell, ‘That’s him! Right there!’ Even if we lost, he’d tell us afterward, ‘Hey, we got that guy up. We got the guy we wanted to the plate.’ It was such unbelievable perspective. He showed me how someone can really impact a game without playing in it.”

He makes sure you do things the right way. You knew he was coming from a place of love, because he would do anything to help our team. … He showed me how someone can really impact a game without playing in it.

Nick Hundley

Simmons could be described as an adherent to baseball analytics — before the field existed. He once noted that the average for pinch-hitters is substantially lower than that of Major League hitters overall. From a pitching standpoint, he said, the goal should be to turn every batter into a “pinch-hitter.”

How could a team accomplish that? Well, by ensuring no pitcher faces the same hitter twice. Once through the lineup, per pitcher, at the most. If that reminds you of the Rays’ or Brewers’ savvy approach to recent postseasons, it should. And Simmons contemplated the proposal during his playing career, which ended in 1988.

Fortunately, Simmons kept a record of his baseball experiences and reflections — an unpublished journal that hasn’t been seen by the public and probably never will. According to legend, the magnum opus has philosophical paragraphs and diagrams of where every defensive player should be on a relay throw. Only a few copies exist. Simmons has the original, of course. Pete Vuckovich, his close friend and former teammate, has one edition.

“It might be 500 pages,” Vuckovich said earlier this year. “He put it into thick notebooks. Three-ring binders. There are probably two or three of them. He’s got everything in there: how to handle a bullpen, the things you need to do if you’re starting up an organization, what you look for in a starting pitcher.

“It might be boring to some people, but in terms of pure, old-school baseball, it’s very on the money.”

‘A LIFE APART FROM BASEBALL’

Simmons did something else that is acknowledged as crucial now but wasn’t discussed as often when he played: He sought balance in life. And he found it.

SImmons at Museum of Art 2568
Art has been a passion in Ted Simmons’ life since his playing days. | Art or Photo Credit: Simmons family

Maryanne is an accomplished artist with a bachelor’s of fine arts degree from the University of Michigan and master’s from Washington University in St. Louis. The couple has collected contemporary American art for decades. Earlier this year, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the St. Louis Art Museum acquired 833 works of art from the Simmons family — a “partial gift, partial purchase,” for which “the museum paid just over $2.3 million, about half of the collection’s worth.”

Ted and Maryanne still make their home in the St. Louis area, where Maryanne owns Wildwood Press LLC, which specializes in custom papermaking and the printing and publishing of contemporary art. The couple’s sons have careers that have taken them around the world — Jonathan to Australia and Matthew to San Francisco.

“You’ve got to be a human being first,” Simmons said. “That’s how I’ve lived my life, how I’ve kept everything compartmentalized and separated. By doing that, I was able to create a life apart from baseball. That’s very difficult for a Major League player to do — not only for himself, but his [family] too.

Simmons Family combo
Ted and Maryanne Ellison Simmons; Ted with sons Jonathan and Matthew. | Art or Photo Credit: Simmons family

“You have to carve out your own place and be the human being you want to be. Whether it’s going to the art museum, collecting furniture, contemporary art, works on paper — all of these things are more of what there is in this thing called life, that everybody has a responsibility to do for themselves. … I don’t believe anybody is entitled to anything. Everybody has an obligation to earn it.”

Ted Simmons earned it. He is a Hall of Famer.

The Modern Baseball Era Committee took a while to acknowledge that reality, but the length of their review has no bearing on the righteousness of the result.

Besides, they’ve elected a man who sees virtue, and perhaps a little art, in taking time to think it all through.

Bucky, the Packers, the Brewers and the Bucks vs. Goldy Gopher, Viktor Viking et al

Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis–St. Paul Star Tribune:

Current head-counting has the Minnesota population at 5.7 million and Wisconsin at 5.9 million. The major difference is that 3.65 million of Minnesotans are concentrated in the Twin Cities metro area. The Milwaukee metro is 1.58 million and Madison, located 80 miles west, is 670,000.

Wisconsin’s larger population is fed by more mid-sized cities than in Minnesota, including Green Bay, home to an NFL franchise with a metro area population of 325,000.

Tom Oates, the now-retired, long-time columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal, said: “I was asked frequently in press boxes, ‘How can Green Bay support a football team?’ Those people don’t understand how it works in the Midwest, and for sure, in Wisconsin.

“The Packers aren’t Green Bay’s team. They are Wisconsin’s team.

“There are no divided loyalties in Wisconsin. Everyone is a Packers fan, everyone is a Brewers fan, everyone is a Bucks fan and everyone is a Badgers fan.”

Oates paused and said: “Except Marquette in basketball. Marquette fans don’t like the Badgers in basketball.”

Much of Minnesota’s rivalry with Wisconsin stems from similarities. Population (as cited). Lakes, woods, fishing and deer hunting. Starkly divided politics by urban and rural.

Twin Cities media outlets have thrived on claiming “hate” for Wisconsin teams and their fans, but they are basically us — with a few more 16-stool taverns in the small towns.

The Minnesotans embracing that hate are having a very tough 21st century. And the competition taking place around pandemic outbreaks in 2021 has been toughest of all.

Consider the period from July 20 to July 27:

On the first of those Tuesdays, Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to their first NBA title in 50 years. On the second of those Tuesdays, Aaron Rodgers showed up in Packers camp after an offseason drama in which management refused to trade him.

In between these two happenings, the Brewers were winning two out of three in a home series vs. the White Sox. The attendance for the series was 111,287, and the Brewers’ lead was seven games in the National League Central.

Here in Minnesota, the lowly Timberwolves were preparing to sit out the NBA draft after a trade that ridded them of Andrew Wiggins and brought in No-D-Lo Russell, the Vikings were about to discover that their quarterback’s plan to avoid another COVID quarantine was to shield himself with Plexiglas, and the Twins finished July last in the woeful AL Central, 17 games behind the White Sox.

What was left was for the Minnesota’s haters of Wisconsin sports entities was to gaze eastward and say, “This interstate rivalry has gone from bad to worse.”

Minnesota and Wisconsin started playing football in 1890. The only year missed was 1906, when 19 deaths in college football the previous season had caused a national campaign to ban the activity. Wisconsin’s response was to play a five-game schedule that did not include its “fiercest” rivals: Minnesota, Michigan and the University of Chicago.

The game was almost missed again last season because of the pandemic. The Gophers bowed out of two late games because of COVID issues, then agreed with the Big Ten to play at Wisconsin in mid-December.

A subpar Gophers team lost to Paul Chryst’s worst Badgers team 20-17. The Badgers are 16-1 in Paul Bunyan’s Axe games since 2004. There are other huge discrepancies, but leave it at this: 0-7 in Axe games vs. Bret Bielema.

In men’s basketball, coach Greg Gard had a group of seven seniors that primarily disliked him. And they beat the Gophers 71-59, putting Richard Pitino at 3-11 vs. Wisconsin and helping him to get fired after eight seasons.

Worst of all, there’s volleyball, where Hugh McCutcheon has the best program on the Twin Cities campus. The Badgers played for the national title in last spring’s delayed season. Now, they enter the fall season rated No. 2 in the nation, with the Gophers at No. 7.

Wisconsin has a two-time NBA MVP in Antetokounmpo, said by Oates and other observers to be an all-time great guy. It has a three-time NFL MVP (including 2020) in Rodgers, an all-time great quarterback. And it has a Brewers team that’s 25 games over .500 with the 2018 MVP, Christian Yelich, still waiting to get warm.

Plus, the Brewers now have Eduardo Escobar, “Effervescent Eddie,” who’s supposed to be our guy.

Face it, alleged haters of our Wisconsin rivals. They own us.

Minnesota is known as having 10,000 lakes (the correct number is 11,842). Former Gov. Tommy Thompson would say that Wisconsin had more lakes (15,874), “and ours have fish in them!”

YouTube provides us with a couple of highlights:

 

Go watch what’s Brewing

Five Thirty Eight:

MLB’s top three World Series contenders in our forecast — the Los Angeles Dodgers (29 percent chance to win it all), Houston Astros (14 percent) and Tampa Bay Rays (12 percent) — have all been there before, and quite recently. The Dodgers won the championship last season over the Rays, while the Astros made the Fall Classic in 2019 (losing to the Washington Nationals). But you can’t say the same for the fourth team on the list: the Milwaukee Brewers (8 percent). The Brew Crew haven’t been to a World Series since 1982, when they lost a heartbreaker to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. Since then, Milwaukee has had a few near-misses — dropping the NLCS in both 2011 and 2018 — but it hasn’t quite been able to get so close again to earning the franchise its first-ever title.

This could very well be the year that changes. Earlier in the season, we wrote about the Brewers’ dominant rotation as a secret weapon in their bid for a fourth consecutive playoff appearance. That’s still true: Milwaukee ranks first among all teams in wins above replacement1 from starting pitchers in 2021.2 But on top of that, the team has also doubled down on a familiar winning formula and shored up some of its biggest weaknesses as the season has evolved. As a result, the Brewers own MLB’s best record (45-23) since June 1 and are looking about as strong as they have at any point since that 1982 pennant-winning performance.

Last year’s Brewers had a similar pitching profile to the 2021 version, with both a strong rotation (No. 9 in WAR) and bullpen (No. 6). They also made the postseason, which is something this year’s team has a 99 percent probability of doing — but only because MLB expanded its playoff field amid a pandemic-shortened schedule. (Milwaukee became one of only three teams in league history to make the playoffs with a sub-.500 record, joining the 2020 Astros and 1981 Kansas City Royals.) In truth, the 2020 Brewers were a mediocre team despite their impressive pitching, with a weak offense and an uncharacteristic lack of success in terms of defense and base running, two areas that had been hallmarks of the club’s ascendancy over the previous few seasons.

This year’s Brew Crew have rededicated themselves to those practices, and it’s paying dividends. A year after dropping from ninth in MLB in fielding runs above average3 to 24th, Milwaukee is back up to fourth — thanks in part to a much better season with the glove from left fielder Christian Yelich and to some defensive reshuffling, enabled by the acquisitions of center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and second baseman Kolten Wong before the season  …

And they’ve been even better since picking up shortstop Willy Adames from the Rays in late May, which allowed Luis Urías to move to third base and later split time there with versatile All-Star Eduardo Escobar, who was acquired at the trade deadline. Suddenly, a team whose defense had been a weakness has turned it into a strength once again.

The same applies to Milwaukee’s performance on the base paths. After falling from No. 7 in base running value4 in 2018 to No. 14 in 2019 and, shockingly, dead last (30th) in 2020, the Brewers are back up to 10th so far in 2021. Milwaukee’s opportunistic runners have a 43 percent rate of taking extra bases when chances present themselves, tying them for seventh-best in MLB, with Adames (71 percent), second baseman Jace Peterson (65 percent) and Bradley Jr. (57 percent) particularly standing out. Between their revitalized performances on defense and between the bases, the Brewers are back to following the formula that had defined the franchise’s recent rise.

Hitting remains something of a weakness for Milwaukee; it ranks just 19th in batting runs above average and 16th in weighted runs created plus. Not coincidentally, Yelich, who won the National League MVP in 2018 (his first season as a Brewer) and finished second in 2019, has now had two consecutive seasons of subpar play by his standards, the second of which has also been marred by a back injury. He had been carrying the Brewers’ offense with his bat, but Milwaukee’s output has understandably suffered without Yelich producing at an MVP level.

Other hitters have picked up the slack some, though. Right fielder Avisaíl García, catcher Omar Narvaez and Peterson all have wRC+ marks north of 120. And nobody has gotten more out of their in-season pickups than the Brewers, whose offense would be much worse without the additions of Adames, Escobar and first baseman Rowdy Tellez since Opening Day. According to WAR, batters who started the 2021 season on other teams but were later acquired by Milwaukee have produced 6.2 WAR per 162 team games for the Brewers — by far the most of any team in MLB this season, and a number on pace to be one of the highest totals of any team in the divisional era (since 1969) …

Adames in particular has been stellar after arriving in Milwaukee. The 25-year-old was already one of baseball’s best-kept secrets in Tampa, producing the full-season equivalent of 4.7 WAR last year as the Rays marched to the World Series. But after he got off to a cold start in 2021 — one perhaps fueled by an inability to see the ball at Tropicana Field, where he hit .156 this year — Tampa Bay shipped Adames to the Brewers for a couple of pitchers. The Rays’ loss has been Milwaukee’s gain, as Adames has emerged as an MVP candidate for the Brewers, with 17 home runs, a 150 wRC+ and 4.9 WAR per 162 games after the deal.

Penciling Adames into the lineup at short, the Brewers have been one of — if not the — best teams in baseball these past few months. With a dominating rotation, quality bullpen, resurgent defense, good heads-up base running and a retooled lineup, Milwaukee appears to check off all the boxes of an October contender.5 We’ll just have to see if that ultimately proves good enough to get the Brewers to greater heights than the franchise has reached in a long time.

That would be 1982 …

… Harvey’s Wallbangers, whose model to win the AL pennant was essentially the opposite of this year’s team. The 1982 Brewers finished 18th in the 26-team MLB in team ERA (despite having the 1981 and 1982 American League Cy Young winners on the team), 10th in fielding, 11th in fewest errors, and 21st in runs allowed. They were, however, number one in runs scored, second in batting average, first in home runs, first in slugging percentage, and first in a stat that didn’t exist at the time, OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging). And so the 1982 Brewers — despite, or perhaps because of, playing games like a slow-pitch softball team (average score 5.47–4.4) — were number one in another stat — wins, until they ran into St. Louis in the World Series.

How about the 2018 Brewers, which got to the seventh game of the National League Championship Series before their season ended? They were 12th in runs scored, fourth in home runs, ninth in OPS, fifth in team ERA, eighth in runs allowed, 26th in fielding percentage, fifth worst in errors, and with all that fifth best in wins.

For those not up on advanced metrics, this year’s Brewers are 11th in the 30-team MLB in runs scored, 14th in home runs, and 18th in OPS. On the other hand, they are also third in ERA (which might be their highest ranking in team history given their historically mediocre pitching) and third in runs given up, though they are 25th in fielding and fourth from worst in errors. Somehow the extra base runners that are the result of fielding failures haven’t led to giving up many runs compared with their opponents.

I am not convinced the Brewers are going very far in the 2021 postseason, largely because of the teams in their way later in the postseason — notably three NL West teams, the Dodgers, San Francisco and San Diego. The one optimistic intangible in the Brewers’ favor — and it’s really a stretch — is that finally the sports gods might have sent their Mo to Wisconsin given the Bucks’ world championship and the Packers’ being one of the next Super Bowl favorites. At least the Brewers have a better chance of winning the World Series than the Cubs do.

 

The Ides of June, 1982

In this year that may be without baseball (and numerous other things), it has been entertaining to read chronicles of the 1982 Brewers season, courtesy of the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers page, which has been chronicling 1982 in simulated real time.

The ’82 Brewers are actually a story that started four years earlier. The Brewers, remember, started as the Seattle Pilots, the last major pro sports franchise to go bankrupt in its first season of existence. Milwaukee car dealer Bud Selig, a former minority owner of the former Milwaukee Braves, purchased the Brewers in bankruptcy court during 1970 spring training, and thus begat the Brewers … and eight years of mediocrity.

Then Selig hired former Baltimore Orioles general manager Harry Dalton, who in turn hired Orioles pitching coach George Bamberger to be their manager. The Society for American Baseball Research shows how Dalton was successful before coming to Milwaukee.

The cupboard was not entirely bare when Dalton and Bamberger arrived — 22-year-old shortstop Robin Yount was a four-season veteran already, and the Brewers had previously swapped first basemen with the Red Sox, getting future star Cecil Cooper for aging star George Scott, while the Brewers had drafted Paul Molitor in the 1977 first round. But the 1977 Brewers won only 67 games (at least they were consistent — they were 11th in runs scored and 11th in earned run average)  while the 1978 Brewers won 93 games and, for the first time in their existence, were a contender.

How did that happen? “Bambi’s Bombers” emulated the style Bamberger’s former manager, Earl Weaver, used in Baltimore — pitching (for the first time), defense and three-run home runs. (Instead of 11th, they led the league in runs scored, though pitching improved only from 11th to eighth.)

Dalton replaced Jim Wohlford (.248, 2 home runs, 36 RBI) in left field with Larry Hisle (.290, 34 home runs, 115 RBI), and Von Joshua (.681 OPS) with Gorman Thomas (.866 OPS) in center. Nearly everyone else’s hitting improved. Molitor, having played all of 64 minor-league games, played well enough to finish second in American League Rookie of the Year voting.

As for pitching, Mike Caldwell, whom the Brewers had obtained from Cincinnati’s farm system when the Reds were making annual postseason trips, went from 5–8 with a 4.58 ERA to 22–9 with a 2.36 ERA. Lary Sorenson went from 7–10 and a 4.36 ERA to 18–12 with a 3.21 ERA. Every starting pitcher who was with the team a year earlier had a better record than the previous season.

Dalton must have taken a big gulp before trading his best pitcher of 1977, Jim Slaton, to Detroit for outfielder Ben Oglivie, but Oglivie batted .303 in 1978 for the Brewers. Slaton, meanwhile, came back to the Brewers as a free agent in 1979, and ended his career as the Brewers’ all-time winningest pitcher. (Which says volumes about the traditional state of Brewers pitching, but we’ve already covered that here.)

The Brewers remained a contender for the next four seasons, though Bamberger had to step down for health reasons during and at the end of the 1980 season, replaced by Rodgers, his third-base coach. Thomas led the AL with 45 home runs in 1979 and 39 home runs in 1982, and Oglivie tied Reggie Jackson for the lead with 39 1980 home runs. “Benji” and “Stormin’ Gorman” also got more than their share of RBIs despite relatively low batting averages because of how well Molitor and Yount got on base in front of them. Cooper was the quietest elite hitter in the league, with an OPS of .833 or more every season between 1978 and 1983.

Then came The Trade. In November, Dalton traded outfielder Sixto Lezcano, Sorenson and pitcher Dave LaPoint and David Green, the Brewers’ top minor league prospect, to St. Louis in exchange for starting pitcher Pete Vuckovich, relief pitcher Rollie Fingers (who had been with the Cardinals for four days as part of a 10-player trade) and catcher Ted Simmons.

How did that trade work out? Fingers won not just the 1981 Cy Young Award but the 1981 American League MVP. Vuckovich won the 1982 AL Cy Young Award. Simmons didn’t hit well for a season and a half, but was a big improvement behind the plate, moving out Charlie Moore, who found a spot in right field, as Reggie Jackson would find out:

(Sorenson, by the way, pitched one year for the Cardinals, then went to Cleveland as part of a three-team trade to get outfielder Lonnie Smith from Philadelphia. Lezcano was traded with shortstop Garry Templeton to San Diego so the Cardinals could get shortstop Ozzie Smith. LaPoint was part of a group of players traded to San Francisco to get Jack Clark, the hero of most of the Cardinals’ 1985 season, but a World Series goat.)

The 1981 Brewers made the postseason for the first time …

… and there was considerable hoopla about 1982. That hoopla didn’t pan out at first, and by the start of June the Brewers were 23–24 and in fifth place in the AL East.

There was considerable underperformance, and there was considerable disgruntlement with Rodgers, who one year earlier decided to move Molitor from second base (where Jim Gantner was waiting to play) to center field, pushing Thomas unhappily to right field (Lezcano’s former position), until Molitor got hurt and the 1981 baseball strike interrupted the season.

Then in 1982, Molitor moved to third base, pushing Roy Howell unhappily into a platoon at designated hitter with Money, while Moore went from behind the plate to right field. All these moves might have been all right if the Brewers were winning, but through the first two months of 1982 they were not.

All may have come together in a 5–4 11-inning loss in Seattle June 1 that dropped the Brewers to two games below .500:

Once again, the Brewers blew leads (2-0 in the first, 3-2 in the ninth and 4-3 in the 11th). This time, it was the trifecta.

With a runner on second and two outs in the ninth of a 3-2 game, manager Buck Rodgers went to the bullpen in an attempt to retire lefty Bruce Bochte. Was it Rollie Fingers, the closer? No. Rodgers went with usual-starter Mike Caldwell, who many fans remember had given up a home run to Bochte into the third deck of the King Dome in the 10th inning two years ago.

Bochte hit a single to score Rick Sweet and force extra innings. It was only then that Fingers came on to get the final out. It would be the only batter he would face.

Why? In all likelihood, words were exchanged between innings.

Fingers after the game: “That’s probably the final nail in the coffin,” Fingers said, presumably referring to Rodgers’ fate. “Does he think I can’t get a left-hander out? I’m getting good money to do that.”

Fingers wasn’t done: “That’s my job, to come in save situations. Mike Caldwell is paid to start. I’m paid to relieve.”

Did Rodgers panic, over thinking the move? “I shot my wad in the ninth inning,” he explained. “I was trying to get the game over in the ninth.”

Other players in the clubhouse weren’t shy when talking about the current state of the team. “We’re in serious trouble if we can’t beat these guys,” said Cecil Cooper, “especially when you take the lead three times and can’t hold it. There’s just no answers. What do you do? What do you do now? We’re losing every way we can. Those two games we lost in Anaheim, we were up three runs and we lose. We’ve lost three games on this trip and we should have won every one of them.”

[Jim] Gantner made a not so subtle hint at the change he expected to be made: “You can’t fire 25 players. Sometimes the manager’s at the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s really too bad. We’re going to have to do something to shake up this club. I’m not saying fire the manager, but something has to be done to shake up this club.”

It was the Brewers’ 14th loss in 20 games, dropping back to two games under .500. For the first time since April 18 when they were 6-9, the Brewers are in sixth place.

(Note to current coaches and managers: The phrase “shot my wad” is probably one you should avoid today.)

The next day, Dalton fired Rodgers:

Yesterday, Harry Dalton told us that the job of a general manager is to remain patient. Apparently, his patience has run out. …

“I think Buck’s a good baseball man,” Dalton said today. “The chemistry went sour. We hadn’t been getting what we had the right to expect with the talent we have available. I recognize everything that happened wasn’t Buck’s fault. I wanted to give Buck every opportunity to right the ship.”

And that opportunity ran out. Brewers fans would argue that Rodgers was given far too much time to “right the ship.” You can’t right a ship that’s sinking, and water’s been flooding a gaping hole in the SS BrewCrew for quite some time.

It’s interesting this announcement was made today, given the Brewers beat the Mariners 2-1 yesterday. But the rumor is that the decision to make the move had already been made prior to yesterday’s game, which would make sense considering the collapse that led to three blown leads in that game. Dalton knew that change was coming when he spoke of patience. Rodgers was a dead man walking and he was made aware of the change this morning.

In something of a surprising move, the Brewers have replaced Rodgers with longtime coach Harvey Kuenn… at least for now. “We have appointed Harvey Kuenn as interim manager,” said Dalton. “That can mean anytime from two to three weeks to the end of the 1982 season. We have been looking for someone to take over on a permanent basis.”

So who will be that permanent solution? Good question. It won’t be former team captain Sal Bando, long rumored to be waiting for the opening. He isn’t interested in committing to managing.

The interesting twist in all of this is that the man the Brewers really want, former manager George Bamberger, is no longer available. Bambi stepped down due to health concerns and Rodgers took over. Had the Brewers not made the playoffs last season, they were primed to invite Bamberger back. Instead. they did take that next step and felt obligated to bring Rodgers back. Meanwhile, Bamberger took a job to manage the Mets.

A couple of possibilities are on Bambi’s staff. Jim Frey, the former manager of the Royals and current coach on the Mets, could be an option. Frank Howard, a former Brewers coach who was fired after managing the Padres last season, is also a coach on the Mets’ staff who could be on the Brewers’ radar.

Rodgers did not go quietly

Contacted for his comments on being fired as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers today, Buck Rodgers tried to be diplomatic.

On whether he feels like he failed: “Sure, there’s a little sense of failure. I thought this club could win. I’ve never failed in my life. I don’t like to fail. But that’s all part of the game, you know that. It wasn’t exactly unexpected. I’ve had my mind made up for the last two weeks it might happen.”

Then Rodgers decided that if he were going to go down, he’d take someone with him. He went down swinging.

“I think there are a couple of cancers on the club,” he said, not mentioning their names. “I think you’ve got 18 or 19 players who want to win. You’ve got three or four who will go any way the wind blows. I’m not going to name the cancers, and I’m not going to name the ones who blow with the wind.”

… leading to speculation about to whom Rodgers was referring:

We’re left guessing about the two players he’s speaking of, but those following the team tend to believe they are Mike Caldwell and Ted Simmons.

Caldwell was often a critic of the way Rodgers handled pitchers. In fact, as recently as May 23, he made this comment to the press following a loss to the Mariners: “I don’t know. I’m just a player. I’m just trying to do my job. I don’t know if I’m getting a chance to do it.”

The Brewers also tried unsuccessfully to trade Caldwell during the winter. Knowing that the team didn’t want him likely didn’t make relationships with management or his performance on the field any easier. Caldwell is sporting a disappointing 2-4 record and 4.70 ERA.

While Ted Simmons didn’t provide the juicy quotes like Caldwell, he and Rodgers did not see eye-to-eye. Rodgers, a former catcher who prided himself on his defensive ability, was thought to prefer Ned Yost and Charlie Moore as defensive backstops. Simmons has yet to live up to the hype as an offensive producer either, and Rodgers may even prefer Don Money or Roy Howell as the DH.

In other words, Simmons was forced upon him, and Rodgers wanted him off of the team. Some believed that if Simmons stayed with the team all season, Rodgers would quit.

If Rodgers wasn’t referring to one or both of Caldwell and Simmons, he may also have been talking about Roy Howell. Howell has received very little playing time and has been a thorn in the side of the team since spring training. Unable to trade him, Howell has sulked and thrown tantrums while producing very little.

Not Howell? It could also be Gorman ThomasRollie Fingers or Pete Vuckovich. But at this point, we’re reaching. And to be honest, it’s why making the comment without naming names is a cowardice act.

Rodgers’ former players didn’t seem heartbroken at their former manager’s departure:

Mike Caldwell, who many believe is one of the “cancers” that Rodgers referred to, thinks that his former manager didn’t give the pitchers equal billing on the team: “He’s the one who said we didn’t have a team leader. He mentioned several players who could be leaders. None of them were pitchers. I think there are some pretty good pitchers around here who have the guts and integrity, who are the types who could be leaders.”

Cecil Cooper: “I think we needed a change. Not necessarily the manager, but something had to be done. We’re not a .500 team. Harvey told us if something is bothering us to come in and we’d talk about it. That might have been harder with Buck. Guys didn’t feel relaxed with him.”

Just two days ago, Jim Gantner seemed to know what was coming. Always willing to speak his mind, he had this to say: “You can’t fire 25 players. Sometimes the manager’s at the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s really too bad. We’re going to have to do something to shake up this club. I’m not saying fire the manager, but something has to be done to shake up the club. Make some changes somehow. That’s not my decision, though, that’s the front office.”

So whose fault was it?

We know that Buck Rodgers was a bad fit. We tried to accept him for a while. We blamed a bad attitude here, bad luck there. But Brewers fans have collectively come to the realization that the reason for their team’s under performance may have been much easier to explain than we thought.

When rumors surfaced of Rodgers’ demise weeks ago, you couldn’t find a player who had their manager’s back. And whether it was Rollie FingersTed SimmonsMike CaldwellPete VuckovichRoy HowellJim Gantner or the countless other malcontents, someone was always spouting off.

Players weren’t happy. They didn’t respect their manager. The inmates were running the asylum, and they were plenty crazy. Should it be any wonder that they played below expectations?

Roy Howell is a role player. He never understood his role. As a result, he was never happy when each day passed by and he wasn’t on the lineup card. Isn’t this a communication issue? Howell should never be surprised about when he will or will not be playing.

Buck Rodgers lacked confidence in his starting pitchers, often giving them the hook rather than letting them fight their way through jams. Based on complaints from Mike Caldwell, it’s also possible that he lacked respect for pitchers in general. Is it any wonder that the rotation as a whole has been shaky?

In steps Harvey Kuenn, destination unknown. He’s known as a loose leader, one who wants his players to relax and have fun. He’s a communicator. He’s everything that Buck Rodgers wasn’t.

The change, whether directly or indirectly, resulted in a win. One win in one game. But what we saw were things we had seen rarely during the past two months. A starter fought through his own jam and pitched a complete game, shutting down the opposition during the final three innings. The offense was timely, collecting 12 hits. And the defense didn’t commit an error.

Most importantly? The players are happy. For the most part, that was rarely the case under Rodgers, even after a win.

Soon after being fired, Rodgers didn’t hold back when referring to two cancers on the team. Given the time to cool off, he hasn’t backed down: “I can’t say too emphatically how good this club is, except for a couple of players. I know who they are, the players know who they are and the front office knows who they are. They may have tried to stab me in the back, but they didn’t get me fired. They’ve stabbed everyone they’ve been involved with in the past, and they’ll do the same in the future.”

We shouldn’t be surprised about reports surfacing that Mike Caldwell, during a card game on the May 30 flight after a 7-3 win over the Angels, said, “I hope we lose 10 games in a row just to get rid of that sucker.”

The Brewers are littered with strong personalities. They need someone to lead them. They don’t need someone who is paranoid, constantly worried about who is trying to stab them in the back. This happens when a leader fails to communicate or loses the respect of his team.

Keep in mind this was not the same era of baseball as today for numerous reasons. There were managers known as disciplinarians who were successful — Fred Haney was not friends with his players, but won the 1957 World Series and got the Milwaukee Braves into the 1958 Series. Dick Williams took Oakland and San Diego to the World Series and Montreal to the cusp of the playoffs; Dallas Green, who was perfectly fine with his players not liking him, was the manager of the 1980 World Series-winning Phillies (who wrote an interesting book about his dealings with his players), and Earl Weaver won four pennants (three in a row) and the 1970 World Series with Baltimore. There were also managers known as, shall we say, colorful yet successful — Billy Martin took Minnesota, Detroit, the Yankees (during his four stints as manager) and Oakland to the playoffs, getting fired afterward in each case; and Tommy Lasorda won two World Series and managed in two more with, as one sportswriter put it, his “outrageous combination of pasta and theatricality.”

The pattern in pro sports for decades used to be that a team would hire a disciplinarian, get some wins (they hoped), and when the winning stopped hire a so-called “player’s” coach or manager, get more wins (they hoped), and when the winning stopped go back to the disciplinarian. Or if the franchise started with the nice guy and he failed, bring in the head-knocker. (None of this, you’ll notice, includes how well the GM does, or not, in bringing in players, nor the manager’s ability to manage in-game situations or use players correctly during the long season.)

Rodgers was far from the last manager who had to deal with players who disliked him. (Casey Stengel’s famous line about one of his Yankees teams was that one-third of his team liked him, and he was trying to keep the one-third of his team that hated him away from the one-third of his team that hadn’t made up their minds yet.) The next player who says he likes his manager but feels misused or not used enough will be the first, since the latter always outweighs the former. Rodgers was far from the last manager who appeared to have disdain for his pitchers, or vice versa, or was accused of mishandling pitchers. (Lasorda, a pitcher, was accused of burning out Fernando Valenzuela, and Martin was accused of burning out his entire starting rotation in Oakland. Sparky Anderson took disdain for beyond pitchers when he announced to his team that he had four stars — Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez — and the rest of the team, including all of the pitchers, were all, to directly quote him, “turds.” The manager known as “Captain Hook” for his pulling of starting pitchers nonetheless won five division titles, four pennants and two World Series in Cincinnati.)

But Gantner was right then (and certainly now) when he observed that it’s impossible to fire 25 players, at least during the season. Whether it was Rodgers’ fault, it was Rodgers’ responsibility, and it appears from nearly 40 years’ perspective that he failed to get his team to play better than it should have. (If the “cancers” included the three players for which Dalton traded, that probably made Dalton think it was time to change managers.

Rodgers went on to win more games than he lost as a manager, though he fit in better with a young Montreal team than he did with a veteran Brewers team. Kuenn, meanwhile, followed Rodgers’ start with a 72–43 finish, winning the AL East on the last day of the season, and then coming back from an 0–2 hole to win the American League Championship Series and go to the World Series for the only time in team history.

That, however, has yet to be covered.

 

Come see what’s now Brewing

The biggest Wisconsin sports news for a team no longer playing is …

… the Brewers’ new uniforms to go with their new/old logo:

I wrote about what might be happening a couple of weeks ago. The logo is modified somewhat from the original …

… but not enough for non-uniform geeks to notice.

The obvious inspiration is the “Bambi’s Bombers” and “Harvey’s Wallbangers” Brewers of the late 1970s and early 1980s, which includes their only World Series trip. This is despite the fact that the previous uniform design was in the playoffs four times, as opposed to twice in the ball-in-glove era.

One of the colors changed, from metallic gold to yellowgold. The other did not; navy blue, which is a uniform color of nearly every Major League Baseball team, will remain instead of going back to the Brewers’ original royal blue colors. (Most likely because the big rival to the south on Interstate 94 wears royal blue.)

Also new is the primary home uniforms’ cream color, matching the Bucks’ home uniforms to represent cream city brick, a Milwaukee thing. The other home set brings back the 1978–1993 pinstripes, which I have argued are inappropriate for a team with little heritage, unlike such pinstripe-wearers as the Yankees and Cubs. (In the later case, consistent losing is heritage too.)

The one uniform that doesn’t match the others is the navy alternates. Those supposedly will be worn mostly on the road, though the only thing preventing them from home use is the tradition of having the team’s name on home uniforms and the team’s location on road uniforms. If you watched the Brewers on TV, you may have noticed how often the Brewers wore their navy alternates the last few seasons, so you might see those more often than the word “alternate” might make you think.

 

Come see what’s Brewing next year

Those of us who remember these days …

… should be pleased with what Clint Evans reports:

Sources have indicated that the Milwaukee Brewers will change their uniforms and primary logo for the 2020 MLB season. Indeed, this would mark the first full uniform change for Milwaukee as a franchise since the 2000 season when they opened Miller Park. Remember, in 2020 Nike will take over as the official uniform supplier of MLB next season.

Furthermore, the organization will be going to a throwback classic from the past. From 1978 to 1993, Milwaukee had a classic baseball glove with a ball inside the glove logo on a lighter toned blue cap. Now, that is very similar to what the new logo will look like. Without question, this is the logo that many middle-aged fans remember the Brewers wearing during their formative years watching the club.

The team is expected to go with a pinstripe look similar to their current alternate uniform set. This will become the primary uniform set along with the new ball glove logo.

Equally important, a major Milwaukee Brewers site has also heard of the same rumor. Therefore, see the following tweet from ‘Reviewing the Brew’:

It’s always exciting when a team changes it’s logo or uniforms, especially if it’s a classic franchise with a rabid fan base like the Brewers. By comparison – floundering teams who change uniforms like the Miami Marlins or Cleveland Browns – don’t seem quite as exciting.

However this situation is different.

With a star player like Christian Yelich under contract and a solid manager like Craig Counsell, the Brewers have the organizational arrow pointing up entering 2020. They followed up a trip to the NLCS in 2018 with a Wildcard appearance in 2019, losing in heartbreak fashion to the Washington Nationals.

Now, the Brewers will have new uniforms in 2020 that should make their great fan base very happy. Equally important, a lot of people will run out and buy that new swag; which should in turn make Nike very happy as the official uniform supplier of MLB.

Which would mean something more like this …

1978–1990

… or this …

1990–93

… than this:

2000–present (multiple alternate uniforms not included)

I wasn’t especially a fan of the ball-in-glove look, which frankly ripped off teams with actual tradition, namely the Yankees. I also am not a fan of baby blue road uniforms, though as a blue team the Brewers were more appropriate for blue (as were the Royals, the Cubs — though white-pinstripes-on-blue is an abomination — and the Blue Jays) than the White Sox, Cardinals and Phillies.

Blue and gold is an accident anyway. Those were the colors of the 1969 Seattle Pilots …

… which hurriedly became the Brewers, thanks to stitch-pulling instruments, when Bud Selig purchased the Pilots (who managed to go bankrupt during their first season, believe it or don’t) during 1970 spring training.

Selig’s original idea was to emulate the Milwaukee Braves’ navy blue and red color scheme. (As if there aren’t enough teams wearing that color scheme now.)

But the uniforms the Brewers have worn since the year before Miller Park opened (they were supposed to debut in Miller Park, but the 1999 fatal crane accident delayed the stadium opening by a year) are quite uninspired, especially the name and number fonts. (Times New Roman? Really?) They have been augmented, if that’s what you want to call it, by navy blue (“Brewers” and “Milwaukee”), Spanish-language (“Cerveceros”), German-named (“Bierbrauer”), gold and even green and red (the Italian-themed “Birrai”) jerseys since then.

The MB-logo uniforms have always been more popular, perhaps partly because of the blah nature of the current uniforms, though more likely because of the success of those days. (As in one World Series appearance and a division half-title, and a few non-playoff winning seasons.) By that measure the current Brewers uniforms should be as popular since they have been worn during four postseasons, though no World Series visits.

I have argued here before that the Brewers really should adopt beer colors, such as black (for dark beer), gold (obviously) and cream (since Milwaukee is the Cream City). However, no one is paying attention to my correct views. (As usual.) Therefore, I suppose the question is whether the Brewers will go with navy blue (now) or royal blue (before the 1994 “Motre Bame” uniforms) and metallic gold (now) or yellowgold (first version) colors.

 

Today’s season

The Washington Post:

The Washington Nationals and Milwaukee Brewers have opposite approaches to the question of how best to win with pitching. The Nationals will start ace Max Scherzer on Tuesday and hope he goes as deep into the National League wild-card game as he possibly can. The Brewers will start Brandon Woodruff, their ace on the mend, and probably lift him after around 40 pitches — at which point the bullpen will become a revolving door. The Brewers match up with relievers as much as any team in baseball.

“It’s basically like we’re starting in the sixth inning with their pitching staff,” Nationals right fielder Adam Eaton said. “There’s nothing we can do to prepare for that.”

The contrasting philosophies on display for the one-game playoff reflect the heart of these organizations. The Nationals, principally owned by the richest family in baseball, committed $525 million dollars to three starting pitchers — Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Scherzer — and rode them here. The small-market Brewers cobbled together one of the sport’s better bullpens on largely inexpensive deals and deployed it liberally to string together 18 wins in their last 23 games and eke into the postseason. The Brewers paid their entire pitching staff $39.2 million this season, according to Baseball Prospectus, which is only slightly more than Strasburg ($38.3 million) and Scherzer ($37.4 million) will earn this year alone.

The answer to which approach works best — quality or quantity — could play an outsize role in who advances to the National League Division Series against the top-seeded Los Angeles Dodgers. Both teams expressed confidence in their way, but Brewers Manager Craig Counsell didn’t believe one was better.

“Playoff teams should be different; I think that’s cool,” he said. “Teams have to play to their strengths [and take advantage of their personnel]. . . . Our depth and our numbers are what makes our pitching good, and that’s how we’re going to treat games.”

If Counsell had the Nationals’ roster, he would manage accordingly. He called Scherzer a probable Hall of Famer and intimated that if Woodruff were further along in his return from injury he’d probably lean more heavily on him, too. The Brewers’ star right-hander tossed six stellar innings against the Nationals in May, but he missed two months with an oblique strain and has thrown fewer than 40 pitches in each of his two starts since. Counsell seemed pessimistic Gio Gonzalez, a former National, could be available for the game because he started Saturday.

Whether Scherzer can get into the sixth or seventh inning and deliver an ace-caliber start is unclear. He has been shaky since returning from injuries of his own — a balky back sidelined him for several weeks — though he has had seven straight starts since and feels 100 percent. Manager Dave Martinez will apparently afford him some leeway; he intimated Sunday that he wouldn’t lift his starter at the first sign of trouble.

But Scherzer could need relief early. If he does, Martinez must make hard decisions. He could go with regular relievers, who said they will be available from the first inning on, or Strasburg or Corbin. Even if this doesn’t happen, the Brewers said they would feel more confident the longer Scherzer stays in.

“If he’s throwing well, he’s obviously one of the best pitchers in the game,” Brewers infielder Travis Shaw said. “But if you can get multiple shots at a pitcher, it benefits the hitter.”

Nationals hitters stressed the key against the Brewers is to find a balance between aggressiveness and patience. Hitters often try to attack early against relievers because they know the pitcher has little margin for error and prioritizes efficiency to be available the next day. But when every pitcher functions as a reliever, they must weigh the usual approach against seeing more pitches and stressing top-shelf arms. Eaton sees his role in the lineup as a taxer, and he preached the need for balance. Early, hard-fought at-bats might force the Brewers to face difficult decisions.

“If you can get some of their really good arms out of the way, I think it’s only going to benefit us,” Eaton said. “Patience and grittiness will go a long way.”

Whenever the Nationals go to the bullpen, they forfeit any advantage Scherzer might have given them. The Brewers’ bullpen is a well-conditioned machine, refined by the fire of their playoff push. It features three versatile, dominant lefties in Josh Hader (one of baseball’s toughest matchups for years), Brent Suter (NL reliever of the month for September) and Drew Pomeranz (a once-struggling starter who went to the bullpen and became Hader-lite.). Their top high-leverage right-handers are Junior Guerra and Jay Jackson.

The Nationals’ bullpen is still undefined. Washington doesn’t have the left-handed specialist it acquired at the deadline (Roenis Elías, out with a hamstring injury), and its relievers aren’t locked into definite roles. Strasburg, seemingly the Nationals’ first option in relief, has never appeared out of the bullpen. Their second choice, Corbin, has but not regularly in three years.

First baseman Ryan Zimmerman said Strasburg could get the job done in the must-win game but cautioned against changing habits developed over a six-month-long season. He joked: “Oh, just go out and get three outs in the big leagues against one of the better teams in one of the biggest moments, and it’ll be exactly the same.”

“You have to be careful doing too much of that,” he added. “I think people get carried away with it and just assuming we’re not humans. If you’re used to doing something, it’s hard to do it in that situation.”

Closer Sean Doolittle proposed normalizing the situation for starters-turned-relievers as much as possible by only using them to start innings. If Scherzer, for example, departed with two on and one out, let a reliever familiar in those spots “clean that up.” Doolittle emphasized that he felt confident the team will have three pitchers who will receive Cy Young Award votes available but that it’s all about what button to push and when.

“These are the questions that you have to think about,” he said. “You want to use your strengths, but where is that line where you’re putting somebody too far outside their comfort zone?”

These are the questions with which the Nationals must grapple as their season hangs in the balance.

The Brewers could have played a one-game division playoff had they won, instead of lost, two extra-inning games this weekend. Their play this weekend suggested a team that, after having had to charge from behind because of mediocre play in the first five months of the season, has run out of gas. What will end the Brewers’ season — because they have to play a one-game playoff on the road followed by, in the less-than-likely event they win tonight, followed by a trip to 106-win Los Angeles — is a poor record against the National League West (15–19) and in interleague games (8–12), of all things.

The only way the Brewers can win this game is if Scherzer is not on and the Nationals have to go to their bad bullpen (as in the worst ERA of any playoff team by far) early.  Pitchers like Scherzer and their postseason experience is why you pay them the big bucks, unless, like the Brewers, you can’t develop long-lasting starting pitching and can’t afford to purchase starting pitching and instead must cobble together a pitching staff.

You probably can tell I’m not optimistic about tonight. Remember, I was right about last year.