To true Milwaukee Brewers' fans, names like Glenn Braggs, Joey Meyer, Billy Jo Robidoux, Mike Birkbeck, and Jaime Cocanower bring back vivid memories. Back in the 1980s, the Brewers' farm system continually pumped out top prospects. The hurlers were winning many games and the bombers were belting homers all over the place. What looked like the Golden Age of the Milwaukee Brewers became the Dark Ages, and years later, this team remains the worst team in all of baseball.
The problem was, one by one, these prospects found little to no success at the major league level. One after another they fell flat on their faces. Glenn Braggs made his major league debut in 1986 after spending just one-half season with AAA Vancouver. In that half-season, he batted .360 with fifteen homeruns. The fans of Milwaukee were excited by the potential of this mammoth slugger. Best known as the player who broke a bat against his back while swinging and missing at a ball, he was 6'3" of chiseled muscle. Unfortunately, after three mediocre years with the Brewers, he was traded for a journeyman pitcher.
Following Braggs' lead was Joey Meyer. Meyer more closely resembled an offensive lineman than a baseball player. At 6'3", 260 pounds, he was supposed to strike fear in the hearts of pitchers everywhere. A success at every rung of the minor leagues, Meyer didn't succeed in the majors. For parts of two seasons, he showed flashes of what made him a heralded prospect. Hitting only eighteen homeruns in his major league career, Meyer vanished from the Brewers and the major leagues. He was just another top rookie that failed.
Cut from the same cloth was Billy Joe Robidoux. Another big slugger who hit titanic homeruns in the minor leagues, Robidoux tasted zero success in the show. For parts of four seasons, he kicked around with both the Brewers and their AAA farm club. In nearly 400 at bats with the Brewers, he was only able to hit four homeruns. He would have a cup of coffee with both the Red Sox and White Sox, but his career was definitely a bust.
There were more than just sluggers that failed for the Brewers in the 1980s. Mike Birkbeck made his major league debut in 1986. He appeared in seven games that year for a poor team. Considering the rebuilding team was in need of young pitchers with potential, it looked like Birkbeck had a long career ahead of him. Injuries started to pile up and after four years on and off the disabled list, the Brewers cut ties with him. He would surface briefly with the Mets a few years later, but it was too late to salvage his career.
Lastly, there was Jaime Cocanower. In 1980, Cocanower won seventeen games for the Brewers class A team. Three years later, he posted a sub-2.00 ERA for the big club in a limited role. He would spend three years with the Brewers pitching for some of their worst teams. Though he was not overly successful, he lost sixteen games in 1984, his ERA was just over the league average. After a few appearances in 1986, Cocanower disappeared from the major leagues for good.
Every team has prospects that fail. The major league draft is an inexact science, but it seems the Brewers had more failed prospects than most teams. For every BJ Surhoff or Dale Sveum who had lengthy, although not spectacular careers, there seems to be too many players like Braggs, Birkbeck, and Cocanower. Whether it's failure or injury, the black cat haunted the team throughout the 1980s. Looking back, if just a few of the failed prospects had become successful major leaguers, the Brewers might have continued to be competitive throughout the following decade, instead of the laughingstock of major league baseball.