Brewers' success a long time coming
After lean years of the '70's, Milwaukee's bunch is for real
Who are these guys, streaking out of nowhere to the top of the National League Central? They aren't the Brewers my two brothers and I followed during the early 1970s. Back then, we cringed between yawns in the bleachers at old Milwaukee County Stadium.
"The best part about going to Brewers games back then was watching Bernie Brewer slide into his beer barrel after home runs, or listening on the radio to Bob Uecker, who kept things from being too boring, and you had the food, which was outstanding," said my brother, Dennis, reminiscing about those Wisconsin brats, smothered with sauerkraut and what stadium folks described as secret sauce.
There was nothing secret about those Brewers, though.
They were bad.
Those Brewers couldn't pitch, but these Brewers can. Those Brewers actually could hit, but these Brewers hit even better. Those Brewers didn't draw large crowds (OK, any crowds), but these Brewers rank among baseball's elite in home attendance.
Mostly, those Brewers never won. These Brewers are sprinting like crazy toward the playoffs.
The Brewers have been around since the Pilots lasted one season in Seattle before moving to Milwaukee in 1970. Even so, the Brewers have reached the postseason just three times -- '81 (strike-shortened season), '82 and 2008. As for '82, they pounded their way to a division title, an American League pennant and a trip to the World Series before losing in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Outside of those years and a few tease seasons here and there, the Brewers haven't been much. I know. Courtesy of my father getting transferred across the Midwest as an AT&T supervisor, we went from the glory of the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati to whatever you wish to call the baseball mess in Milwaukee after we arrived.
Those were the Brewers' dark days of Skip Lockwood, Dave Bristol and Ron Theobald, but let's move to their not-so-distant gray days of 14 consecutive years without a winning season. The streak ended in 2007, and they also finished above .500 the year after that. But the whole thing was a mirage, likely created by the fog from nearby Lake Michigan or from another batch of shaky players.
Two more losing seasons followed for the Brewers through 2010, and despite signs of hope entering this past spring training, there actually were more signs of despair.
Brewers officials all but shouted they couldn't afford star player and pending free agent Prince Fielder after this season. So just like that, a cloud dangled over the team's head while everybody wondered when the whole thing would burst into a storm.
Even so, Brewers officials still operated without an umbrella by functioning as if they were close to contending. They even acquired Zack Greinke, a former Cy Young Award winner.
He then cracked a rib playing hoops in the offseason.
Now look at the Brewers. In a flash, they've joined the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves as baseball's top teams. Not only that, they are building an insurmountable lead in their division with Fielder and Greinke at the forefront of it all.
Fielder is replacing that cloud with sunshine by inspiring his teammates with an MVP-caliber year. He also joins rising slugger Ryan Braun in forming one of the game's best one-two punches in the middle of a batting order. Greinke struggled after returning earlier in the season, but he has rebounded well. In fact, along with the likes of Shaun Marcum, Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf, Greinke is part of a rotation solid enough to scare hitters throughout the playoffs.
What also helps the Brewers is Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford serving as bogeymen in the bullpen.
No, these aren't those other Brewers.
I mean, did those Brewers even have pitchers, period? Can't remember. I do recall that we got a lot of action in the bleachers -- courtesy of shots ripped our way by Brewers hitters and those from the other team.
"In addition to the food, the other fun part was all of those brutes the Brewers had in their lineups, because they always had a George Scott or a Gorman Thomas, somebody like that," Dennis said. "And remember? One day there was all of this talk about this teenage sensation who was about our age, and he was coming to play shortstop.
"His name was Robin Yount."
I remember. I also remember the Brewers always had somebody who supposedly was THE next guy. Bob Coluccio. Rick Auerbach. Charlie Moore. Sixto Lezcano. It turned out that Yount really was THAT guy. Soon afterward, the Brewers acquired Paul Molitor, and Molitor teamed with Yount to became the original Fielder and Braun.
Actually, Yount and Molitor were more prolific than Fielder and Braun, but to be fair, we have the benefit of the whole picture involving Yount and Molitor since they've been retired for a while. They were among the cornerstones of that Brewers 1982 journey to the first World Series for a Milwaukee baseball team since the old Braves traveled that far twice during the late 1950s.
Yount and Molitor also went to the Hall of Fame. They turned their walk toward Cooperstown into a gallop during the late 1970s, when manager George Bamberger had his Bambi Bombers.
Then came Harvey's Wallbangers under manager Harvey Kuenn, who had an amputated right leg and an infectious spirit for players. He also had prolific sluggers joining Yount and Molitor such as Ben Oglivie, Ted Simmons, Cecil Cooper and Thomas. They won that first and only pennant for the franchise, and these Brewers are threatening to win another.
Here's a similarity: Just like the 1982 Brewers, these Brewers are popular among Cheeseheads. The difference is, the 1982 Brewers were among the biggest draws in baseball with a home attendance of 1,978,896 at Milwaukee County Stadium. These Brewers play in Miller Park, where they've already drawn nearly 2,400,000 fans -- with more than a month left in the regular season.
Here's another similarity: Just like the 1982 Brewers -- along with those flimsy ones of the early '70s -- these Brewers still spend home games producing something as huge in Milwaukee as victories.
That secret sauce.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TMooreSports. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.