Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Even ESPN.com's Page 2 knows it stinks to be a Brewers fan. Are

By Nicole
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Woe is the Milwaukee Brewers  

Page 2

Updated: May 6, 2008, 5:59 PM ET

We'd like to root for the Brewers. We still think their old logo was one of the coolest ever. Robin Yount was awesome in 1982. Gorman Thomas was like the anti-Tom Brady. Rob Deer was one of a kind. Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and company bring some serious lumber to the park. The sausage race has become as classic as double-knits and beanballs.

But when we read news items like the one in which general manager Doug Melvin told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that Eric Gagne will remain as the team's closer, our heads start spinning and we feel like removing the Pat Listach poster from our cubicle. It becomes very, very difficult to root for this team.

"There's no magic number," Melvin said of Gagne's five blown saves in 14 opportunities. "If they are consecutive, that's when you get worried. You stay with a closer as long as you can. If a hitter slumps for six weeks, you stay with him. Closers go in slumps, too. You give him the benefit of the doubt for now."

Gagne has allowed 26 baserunners in 14 2/3 innings, allowing four home runs. Only three of his nine saves have come in one-run games. The guy isn't in a slump; he's in a career crisis. But this is typical Milwaukee Brewers baseball: One bad decision that can derail an entire season. There is, after all, reasons why something has gone wrong every year since 1982, when Milwaukee last made the playoffs.

1983: Sluggers are supposed to play right field, correct? Charlie Moore starts 148 games in right despite hitting just two home runs. He does, however, rank second in the AL in sacrifice bunts.

1984: The Brewers rank last in runs scored. It doesn't help that DH Ted Simmons collects 532 plate appearances, hits .221/.269/.300 and grounds into 23 double plays. Can you imagine how many sausages must have been thrown at him that season?

1985: After hitting .229 and .248 the previous two seasons, the Brewers still give 219 at-bats to Rick Manning. He hits .218 with no power.

1986: Rob Deer hits 33 home runs. Cecil Cooper hits 12. Nobody else reaches double figures. Never a team to exactly learn from its mistakes, Moore and Manning are still around, sucking up over 200 ABs apiece.

1987: This was the year the Brewers started out 13-0 (and 17-1). They would finish with 91 wins, seven games behind first-place Detroit. If only they hadn't given 29 starts to Len Barker, Mike Birkbeck and Mark Knudson, who combined to give up 205 hits in 150 2/3 innings, maybe the entire future of the franchise would have been different. Or perhaps not.

1988: The Brewers finish second in the AL in ERA, but for some reason, playing a .212-hitting first baseman for 115 games (Greg Brock) doesn't win them a division title.

1989: A young Gary Sheffield plays 70 games at shortstop. Birkbeck is still floating around and fails to win any of his nine starts. Deer hits 26 home runs but drives in just 65 runs. It doesn't add up to a playoff berth.

1990: The Brewers do stick to their guns. Brock is still playing first base even though he hits just .248 with seven home runs in 367 at-bats. Sheffield moves to third base and later accuses the organization of racism by choosing to play Bill Spiers at shortstop over him. He would later say, "The Brewers brought out the hate in me. I was a crazy man. … I hated everything about the place. If the official scorer gave me an error, I didn't think was an error, I'd say, 'OK, here's a real error,' and I'd throw the next ball into the stands on purpose."

1991: They finally attempt to solve the first-base problem, but Franklin Stubbs shockingly fails to deliver the promise he had also failed to deliver his previous seven years in the majors by hitting .213/.282/.359.

1992: In Phil Garner's first year as skipper, the team wins 92 games and finishes just four games behind Toronto. Proving 1991 wasn't a fluke, Stubbs hits .229/.297/.368 in 92 games.

1993: Closer Doug Henry finishes with a 5.56 ERA. Tom Brunansky hits .183 in 80 games. Other problems too numerous to list also exist.

1994: Ladies and gentleman, your 1994 Milwaukee Brewers All-Star representative … Ricky Bones!

1995: The team's pitching staff finishes with 603 walks and 699 strikeouts. That's not good. It's possible the team fielded the first rotation in which all starters threw under 90 mph.

1996: Catcher Mike Matheny plays stellar defense but hits .204/.243/.342. Oh, wait … Listach, who couldn't hit as a shortstop after his rookie year in 1992, is moved to center field … and hits .240/.317/.312.

1997: Ah, yes, the Gerald "Ice" Williams era. He played 155 games, hit .253/.282/.369 and drove in just 41 runs. Those are nice numbers for a shortstop. In 1968. For an outfielder in 1997? Kind of like seeing Pacino in "88 Minutes."

1998: Do you remember guys like Brad Woodall, Rafael Roque, Paul Wagner, Jose Mercedes and Bronswell Patrick? Nope, we don't either. (OK, actually we do, but that's because we're baseball nerds.)

1999: Despite six consecutive losing seasons, Garner is brought back for another year. He's fired after a 52-60 start; Bill Pulsipher (16 starts, 5.98 ERA), Jim Abbott (15 starts, 6.91 ERA) and Cal Eldred (15 starts, 7.79 ERA) stink like the inside of one those sausage costumes.

2000: The Brewers have long had an affinity for outfielders who don't get on base: Marquis Grissom gets 595 at-bats despite a stomach-churning .288 OBP. But at least his nickname wasn't "Ice."

2001: The Brewers dump Grissom, only to sign Jeffrey Hammonds to a three-year, $21 million contract. Hammonds, oft-injured and with mediocre OBPs outside of Colorado, plays 49 games with a .314 OBP.

2002: Davey Lopes, coming off 89- and 94-loss seasons, is brought back for a third season. For 15 games. He's gone after a 3-12 start. The team loses 100 games (106) for the only time in franchise history. Needless to say, there was a lot of badness to go around. Somehow, the Brewers ended up with two All-Stars. The game was played in Milwaukee. It ended in a tie. Bud Selig did this.

2003: Glendon Rusch starts 19 games. He wins once. Once. Let us repeat that: One win in 19 starts. One.

2004: The Brewers finished last in the NL with a .248 average. Pitcher Doug Davis went 1-for-64 (.016) to lead the way, but only Lyle Overbay hit above. 280. Pitchers Wes Obermueller (.385) and Brooks Kieschnick (.270) outhit nearly every position player.

2005: Seeking their first winning season since '92, the Brewers were 81-79 with two games left ... but lost 5-1 and 3-1 to the Pirates. Chad Moeller sucks up 199 at-bats by hitting .206/.257/.367.

2006: Derrick Turnbow goes 4-9 with 24 saves … and a 6.87 ERA. Note to Brewers fans: He remained the closer until blowing two games in early July.

2007: The Brewers finally crack .500 and finish just two games behind the Cubs. Oh, what if Chris Capuano hadn't gone his final 18 starts without winning a single one of them? Perhaps Brewers fans would still be dancing in fields of flowers and eating mounds of cheddar, with the retirement of Brett Favre but a blip of sadness in their World Series joy.

David Schoenfield and a cast of thousands contributed to this historical exposé.

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