Brewers in (extremely) rarefied air
Tonight, the Dodgers and Brewers begin the National League championship series in Milwaukee. The roof will certainly be closed.
Good thing Bud Selig demanded it when Miller Park was built. At least the Brewers don’t have to worry about freeze outs in April like the Red Sox, Cubs, White Sox, Twins, Indians and Pirates often have to put up with, and the Royals, Cardinals, Rockies, Phillies, Reds, Yankees, Mets, Orioles and Nationals sometimes do, and the Blue Jays did before Skydome (now Rogers Centre) was built. Even the Rangers and Braves have had a game iced out every so often. The Rangers won’t have to worry about that anymore starting in 2020 when their retractable roof stadium opens next to Jerry World.
The Dodgers, of course, are one of baseball’s iconic franchises. Dem Bums, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider and Don Newcombe, then Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Tommy Lasorda in Los Angeles. Clayton Kershaw has done just about everything in his Hall of Fame career except win a World Series. He could cement his plaque in Cooperstown if the Dodgers win it this year, especially when the American League champion, the Red Sox or Astros, will be heavily favored in the World Series.
The Brewers? Put it this way: the Dodgers have won 48 games in the World Series and six championships, and since 1969, have won two World Series and lost in four others. Tonight will be the Brewers 36th postseason game in franchise history. The sweep of the Rockies in the division series brought the franchise’s all-time postseason record to 17-18.
The franchise didn’t even begin in Milwaukee. It started life in 1969 as the Seattle Pilots. The original owner of the Pilots, Dewey Soriano, was grossly undercapitalized, and there was no suitable stadium anywhere near Seattle for Major League Baseball. The bond issue to build the stadium which became the Kingdome was approved in 1968, but even if construction began immediately, it would not be ready before 1971.
The idea in Seattle was to begin in 1971, along with a new team in Kansas City, which lost the Athletics to Oakland after the 1967 season. However, Stuart Symington, a U.S. Senator from Missouri, demanded Major League Baseball grant Kansas City a new franchise in 1969, or he would introduce a bill to revoke MLB’s antitrust exemption.
It was a reverse move of how the New Orleans Saints were born, when, in 1966, Senator Russell Long and U.S. Representative Hale Boggs agreed to introduce legislation to provide the National Football League an antitrust exemption to merge with the American Football League if New Orleans were granted a franchise.
Baseball commissioner Spike Eckert–who would be fired by owners at the end of the 1968 World Series–and American League president Joe Cronin bowed to Symington’s threat, and American League owners did not want an imbalanced schedule where every team would be force to sit for at least two periods per season, so they awarded Soriano and William R. Daley, who almost moved the Cleveland Indians to Seattle (before the Indians almost moved to New Orleans), the Pilots.
If baseball wanted to do it right AND appease Symington, the best idea would have been to give Kansas City and either Montreal or San Diego a franchise in 1969, and have Seattle and the other city wait until 1972 so the Kingdome would be ready for sure.
The Pilots had to pay the Pacific Coast League $1 million since the minor league club which played in Sick’s Stadium had to relocate to accommodate the Pilots (the minor league team didn’t move far–to Tacoma). Sick’s Stadium wasn’t up to MLB standards, and it was hastily expanded, but still short of the 30,000 minimum capacity. Worse, the plumbing often got clogged by overflow crowds, and visiting teams had no hot water for showers on many a day and night.
Soriano was meeting in secret with Bud Selig, then a Milwaukee automobile magnate, to sell the Pilots. Selig would then move the team to Milwaukee to become the Brewers. Milwaukee had been without MLB since the Braves left for Atlanta after the 1965 season, hosted the White Sox for 10 games in 1968 and 11 more in ’69, and the attendance for those games was triple that what the team averaged in Chicago during those seasons.
The deal between Soriano and Selig was consummated in Baltimore on the opening day of the 1969 World Series, but Washington state called in its political heavyweights, the same way Louisiana and Missouri did.
The Evergreen State had two very powerful Democratic U.S. Senators at the time, Warren Magnuson and Henry “Scoop” Jackson. They, along with Washington attorney general (and future successor to both) Slade Gorton, went to federal court to block the sale and give MLB to find an owner which would keep the team in Seattle.
Two potential deals failed. Soriano and Daley fell into bankruptcy, and came very close to a deadline which, if the players and staff had not been paid, would have made the players free agents and left MLB with 23 teams, not 24, for 1970.
Meanwhile, the Pilots were training in Arizona, not knowing where they would be playing 81 games in 1970. The moving trucks which left Arizona with equipment stopped in Salt Lake City, not knowing whether to drive north or east.
Finally, six days before Opening Day, bankruptcy judge Sidney Volinn awarded the franchise to Allan H. Selig. The Pilots were now the Milwaukee Brewers.
Selig originally envisioned the Brewers wearing the Braves’ colors of scarlet and navy, but it was too late to order new uniforms, so the new Milwaukee team took the field in the Pilots’ colors, royal blue and gold. The colors stuck through 1993, after which the Brewers went to navy blue and old gold, and even added green for three seasons (1994-96).
Milwaukee’s early teams were terrible. The Brewers played in the American League West in 1970 and ’71, building impressive rivalries with the Twins and White Sox. Then, inexplicably, they were moved to the AL East in 1972 when the Washington Senators became the Rangers. MLB would have been just fine keeping the Rangers in the East; after all, the Dallas Cowboys competed in the NFC East. Instead, the AL stunted the Brewers-Twins and Brewers-White Sox rivalries until 1994, when all three were (briefly) in the AL Central together.
The Brewers didn’t enjoy a winning season until 1978. To be fair, though, the Expos were horrid until 1979, and the Padres didn’t succeed until 1984, but since the Royals went the full five games with the Yankees in the 1976 and ’77 ALCS, Milwaukee fans were getting restless.
In 1978, the logo which has been called “the most clever in all American professional sports” was created. The famous ball-in-glove logo shaped in a lower case “m” and “b”. The asshole who changed that logo after 1993 needs to be found and beaten brutally. Why the team won’t wear the logo full-time is beyond me.
In 1981, the Brewers made the playoffs due to Bowie Kuhn’s asinine decision to split the season because of the players’ strike which cancelled games from June 12-August 8. Milwaukee had the best record in the AL East in the second half, earning it the right to play the Yankees in the best-of-five series to determine which team went to the ALCS. The Brewers lost the first two games in Milwaukee, but somehow won the next two in the Bronx before losing game five.
The next year, manager Buck Rodgers was fired with the Brewers below .500. In came Harvey Kuenn, and Milwaukee rocketed to the top of the division, thanks to “Harvey’s Wallbangers”, consisting of sluggers Gorman Thomas, Ben Oglivie and Cecil Cooper, and steady hitters Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. The pitching staff was led by Cy Young winner Pete Vukovich and closer Rollie Fingers, the anchor of the “Swinging A’s” bullpen on Oakland’s championship teams of 1972-74.
However, the Brewers nearly blew it. They went into Baltimore on the final weekend of the regular season with a three-game lead over the Orioles. Earl Weaver, who was retiring at the end of the ’82 season, led his club to three straight victories, leaving a winner-take-all game 162. The winner of that game would be on a plane to Anaheim for the ALCS vs. the Angels, who barely held off the Royals in the West. The loser would go home. (There was a potential playoff in the NL West, where the Braves held a tenuous one-game lead over the Dodgers.)
The Brewers somehow pulled it together on October 3, 1982 and won 10-2. However, Milwaukee foundered on the west coast, losing twice to the Angels and standing on the brink of elimination.
The cold and hometown fans warmed up the Brewers, who won three straight and earned the right to face the Cardinals in the World Series.
Mike Caldwell pitched the game of his life in the World Series opener, shutting out the Cards 10-0. St. Louis won the next two games, but Milwaukee rallied to win Games 4 and 5 at County Stadium. As the Brewers loaded the plane at General Mitchell International Airport the evening of October 17, 1982, Milwaukee was one win away from its first World Series championship since 1957, and its first sports title since 1971, when Oscar Robertson and Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) led the Bucks to a four-game sweep of the Baltimore Bullets for the NBA title.
Wisconsin needed the Brewers to win. The Packers hadn’t done a blessed thing since Vince Lombardi left the sideline following Super Bowl II; the Bucks always seemed to come up empty, losing in the 1974 finals to the Celtics and then falling short time and again in the playoffs after that; and Wisconsin football and basketball were second-worst in the Big Ten consistently (Northwestern kept the Badgers from the bottom).
It didn’t happen. The Cardinals bombed the Brewers 13-1 in game six, then claimed game seven 6-3 to celebrate on the Busch Stadium turf.
Milwaukee was done for a long, long time. The Brewers came close to winning a division title only in 1992, falling just short as the Blue Jays were on their way to the first of back-to-back World Series titles. In November 1997, Milwaukee baseball fans got some great news: the Brewers were moving to the National League.
The Royals were the first team asked to move from the AL to the NL, since the leagues did not want to have an odd number of teams and be forced to stage interleague play every day (that would come in 2013 when the Astros moved to the AL). The other idea, to place the expansion teams in one league, was vetoed by the AL., because it did not want to cede Florida to the NL (the Marlins started in 1993). Therefore, one team was asked to switch from the DH league to the No-DH league.
Kansas City made perfect sense. The Royals would have been in the NL Central with the Cubs and Cardinals, meaning St. Louis and Kansas City would play for something much more meaningful than three picayune interleague games in late August.
Instead, David Glass, chairman of the board which ran the Royals following founder Ewing M. Kauffman’s death in July 1993, said no. claiming Kansas City was an “American League” city.
Next up? The Brewers. Bud Selig, chairman of the owners council and acting commissioner (he became full-time commissioner in July 1998) said yes in about one-eighth of a nanosecond.
The new league did nothing for the Brewers. In 2002, Milwaukee went 56-106, eight games worse than the Pilots did. The Brewers reached .500 in 2005, barely missed out on the wild card in 2007, then finally reached the playoffs in 2008, finishing second behind the Cardinals in the NL Central. Milwaukee traded for the Indians’ CC Sabathia at mid-season, knowing he was a rental (he signed with the Yankees in the offseason and promptly helped the Bronx Bombers to their 27th, and most recent, World Series title), then fired Ned Yost (yes, Kansas City, THAT Ned Yost) in September with the Brewers trailing the Mets for the wild card.
Milwaukee ended up losing its division series in four games to the eventual World Series champion Phillies. The Brewers hovered around .500 in 2009 and ’10, then won the NL Central in 2011, thanks to Zack Greinke, who won a Cy Young in 2009 with the Royals.
To get Greinke, the Brewers had to significantly mortgage their future. Traded to Kansas City were a couple of prospects, shortstop Alcides Escobar and outfielder Lorenzo Cain. Escobar and Cain, along with Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, gave the Royals what many termed the deepest farm system in baseball. With hotshot catcher Salvador Perez already in the bigs, the Royals were looking towards 2014 as the year they hit the big time.
How right they were.
The Brewers defeated the Diamondbacks in the 2011 division series, but lost to St. Louis in six in the NLCS. The Cardinals went on to defeat the Rangers in seven in the World Series.
Milwaukee regressed in 2012 and ’13, but in 2014, started 20-7 and led the NL Central by as many as 6 1/2 games. Yet a disastrous final six weeks left the Brewers barely above .500, 82-80. The Brewers plummeted to 68-94 in 2015, earning manager Ron Roenicke, who led the team to the 2011 NL Central title, a pink slip. In came former MLB utility man extraordinaire Craig Counsell.
Many suggested the Brewers tear it down and rebuild from scratch, much the way the Astros did in the early 2010s when they lost over 100 games for three straight years, bottoming out at 51-111 in 2013. Milwaukee looked like it was doing that in 2016, when it went 73-89.
Then came 2017. Most expected the Brewers to occupy the basement of the NL Central, and possibly one of the worst teams in baseball.
Instead, Milwaukee’s youngsters played out of their minds. The Brewers led the NL Central (over the defending World Series champion Cubs) in July, and even though they could not hold that lead, stayed in the wild card race to the bitter end, falling only one game short of the Rockies. An 86-76 record whetted fans’ appetite for 2018.
And here we are. The Brewers fashioned the best record in the NL, trailing only the Red Sox, Yankees and Astros overall. Milwaukee has its best chance to win a World Series championship since the days of Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews and Lew Burdette. The Packers have won plenty since Brett Favre’s arrival, but Green Bay is almost two hours north on Interstate 43, and the team stopped playing games in Milwaukee in 1994, so some Milwaukee fans feel quite detached from the Packers.
I’ve followed the Brewers since 1984, the first year I was old enough to follow MLB. That year, the Brewers made history by playing a 25-inning game against the White Sox. That, and 1987, when the Brewers started 13-0 and Molitor fashioned a 39-game hitting streak, was about it for me until 2008. Then 2011 was it until now.
I had given up on the Brewers when they were swept in a five-game series at Pittsburgh near the All-Star break. Yet they’ve won 11 straight as they head into the NLCS.
I hope the Brewers can pull it off. But I’m always a doubter. I don’t know if the starting pitching can hold up against Justin Turner, Yasiel Puig, Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger. I don’t know if Christian Yelich can continue to hit out of this galaxy against Kershaw. I don’t know if Moustakas and Cain can regain the magic of 2014 and ’15 when they helped the Royals win two AL pennants and a World Series. I don’t know if Knabel, Hader and Jeffress can get the key outs.
Prove me wrong, Milwaukee. Prove me wrong. Change my doubt into faith. Hopefully that the Brewers are playing in Boston or Houston the night of October 23.
Armageddon at Arrowhead
Four hours until kickoff at Arrowhead Stadium. Four hours until the most important Chiefs vs. Raiders game in 22 years gets started. At stake is first place in the AFC West, and in all likliehood, a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The parking lots at Arrowhead (and Kauffman Stadium) opened early today. Those fortunate enough not to be working today can get plenty of eating and drinking (bad idea; alcohol is not recommended in cold weather, since it lowers the body’s ability to fight the chill) before kickoff.
I know all about that from attending numerous games at LSU, where many fans start tailgating on Friday before a Saturday game. Many fans want night games at LSU in order to have more time to tailgate. The worst thing to some is an afternoon kickoff, since it curtails the time to be eating and drinking.
Kansas City is going to melt down if the Chiefs lose. There are two all-sports radio stations in the area (KCSP 610 AM and WHB 810 AM), and not one local personality believes the Chiefs will lose tonight. They say the Raiders’ defense is soft, they think Derek Carr will buckle under pressure from the Kansas City defense, they think it wil be too cold for the Raiders, whatever. If you believe some of the talking heads, the Chiefs might as well book their reservations for Houston and Super Bowl LI. For a franchise which hasn’t been to the Super Bowl since 1969, and has played in only one AFC championship game (1993) since winning Super Bowl IV, that’s heady stuff.
Many sports fans in the area are upset already. Wade Davis, the Royals’ closer on the 2015 World Series winning team, was traded to the Cubs yesterday. Simply put, Royals owner David Glass didn’t want to shell out the $$$$$ to keep Davis in blue and gold. Instead, Davis heads to Wrigley, where he joins Joe Maddon’s juggernaut. Kelvim Herrera becomes the closer after being a setup man the last few seasons.
The Royals weren’t the only team to trade their closer this week. The Brewers dealt Tyler Thornburg to the Red Sox. Milwaukee isn’t expected to contend until 2018 or 2019, but general manager David Stearns is taking a chance on some prospects developing. Closer has been a royal pain in the butt for the Brewers since the heyday of Dan Plesac in the late 1980s. Before that, it was also a pain, because Rollie Fingers was injured and could not pitch in the 1982 World Series. It may not have made a difference, but Milwaukee would have had a better chance against the Cardinals. More recently, Francisco “K Rod” Rodriguez blew up as the Brewers stumbled down the stretch in September 2014 after leading the NL Central for most of the season.
Speaking of the Brewers, Bud Selig is going into the Hall of Fame. His reign as commissioner of baseball was an abomination. Ignoring steroids, foisting interleague play upon us, and worst of all, giving the winning league in the All-Star Game home field advantage in the World Series. On the good side, he brought baseball back to Milwaukee after the Braves pulled up stakes and moved to Atlanta, and built a solid core around Robin Young, Paul Molitor, Jim Gantner, Cecil Cooper and Ben Oglivie, all of whom started on Harvey’s Wallbangers, the Brewers’ 1982 American League championship team. Also, Selig got Milwaukee into the National League.
I’ve been at Buffalo Wild Wings since 1 p.m. Going to stay for part of the Chiefs game, but how long is up in the air.
The Pro Bowl began a few minutes ago.
As bad as the NFL’s annual all-star game has been through the years, it’s now a total joke.
Instead of the traditional AFC vs. NFC format, which was used from the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 through the 2012 season, the game is now a glorified playground game, with teams chosen the same way third graders choose their teams for kickball at recess.
Two Hall of Fame players serve as team captains. The top two vote getters among offensive players and top two vote getters among defensive players are assigned to teams and advise the Hall of Famers on whom to draft.
Sadly, the NFL isn’t the first major sports league to use this format for its All-Star Game.
The NHL began it one year before the NFL. There have been several formats tried in hockey, including the defending Stanley Cup champion vs. All-Stars from the rest of the league, and a North America vs. World format. This, however, is ridiculous.
As bad as the pick-up formats used by the NFL and NHL are, at least those are pure exhibition games which count for absolutely nothing.
That’s not the case in Major League Baseball.
In 2003, then-commissioner Bud Selig overreacted to the uproar caused when the previous year’s All-Star Game, held in Selig’s hometown of Milwaukee, ended in a 7-7 tie after 12 innings when both teams ran out of players.
Beginning with the 2003 All-Star Game, Selig decreed the league which wins the exhibition contest would receive home field advantage for the World Series that season.
I’ve heard of stupid ideas, but this was beyond stupid. Bud Selig should have been put in a psychiatric hospital for that idea.
MLB rules state every team, no matter how pathetic, must have at least one All-Star. And given the bad attitude of today’s players, who sulk and bitch to everyone within earshot if they don’t get into the All-Star Game, it often puts home field advantage for the most importnat event of the season in the hands of players who have no chance of sniffing the wild card game, much less the World Series.
The NBA does not draft its All-Star Game teams, nor does it count for anything, but there’s no defense, period.
There’s got to be a better way in all four sports.